When I started participating in Triathlons over 4 years ago, I did very little research on what to do for training. I knew that I needed to be able to swim, bike, and run the distances of the race, and consecutively. That of course is not hard to figure out, and the training plan in my mind had me building up to that capability. In training, I never ran more than a 5K, nor did I ever swim more than 800 meters. Those were the target distances for my first race, so why would I do more? I also did all of my training at full speed. Just run and train harder, and you will have lower times right? I would end workouts completely bonked and have a hard time remembering my computer password when logging back into my work computer. I also wanted to have a family friendly training plan. This meant that all training would be done at work during the hours we were given to exercise (cool job I know). Thus, I would try to cram as much into the allotted time I had and honestly, I still try to do that. Long hours away from family and associated responsibilities for a “hobby” no matter how obsessed I am, is just not justifiable (this is also one of the reasons I usually stick to shorter distances). That first triathlon was a “learning by hard knocks” experience, and the one I participated in later in that same year helped me to see that a different training approach could really increase speeds and performance. I saw this in the examples of others and in my lack of proper training. But what is proper training? Here are some items I consider important (as of now) when implementing a training plan.
A Goal and a Date
This is rather self-explanatory, but I usually write or implement a training plan backwards from the date of the event I have scheduled. For example, if I do a sprint on the first weekend of June, my build will come to a sprint specified crescendo on the third weekend of May. If you subscribe to a training plan, download one, have a coach, or make it up yourself, the goal and a date question will be the first one to answer. That being said, I usually set up my whole season’s schedule in December or January with two or three “for sure” races, and then fill the rest in with tentative ones as the time comes closer.
Workload and Recovery
The next question I answer with my training plan is how much time I want to put in during each week, and when can I find the time to do the training. While the kids sleep or during work hours is the first option, and second option becomes “when it best suits the family”. Last option and least favorite is, “I know that is your fifth time changing a diaper today, and you are tired of the kids, but I will only be gone an hour”. Sometimes I will skip the workout to assuage matters on the home front, but that is to each athlete’s discretion. Priorities are important and as doing triathlons is a hobby, I can skip a workout and not suffer monetarily like professionals might.
Recovery is something that I am just learning more about, and people like Joe Friel have written novels on the topic. With my limited knowledge, I do know that recovery days, weeks, and months need to be implemented into your training calendar. I usually take a recovery day after a hard workout, and sometimes two. I also try to implement a recovery week every month. For example if my usual workload is around 6-8 hours a week, on the 4th week I will only put in 3-5 hours. You can really feel the difference those weeks too. It is hard to hold back and you get antsy, but for me it makes a great difference.
Simplistic and concise: every workout should follow a specific intensity level. This may be either according to heart rate, power, perceived intensity or smiley/frowney faces. Training all out on every workout is dangerous and draining. This simple guideline makes a world of difference in the smiley and frowney faces after each workout is over.
A place to go in order to view all of your data is for me a very important part of training. This documentation as an overall picture will help with governing your workload. It is also a neat thing to be able to say that you have decreased your mile/kilometer time by 10 seconds over the past 3 months. Without some form documentation you might not be able to do that. This documentation will also help you with your future scheduling of workload and recovery. When I started out I used a spreadsheet and kept track of things that I thought were important. I still use a spreadsheet, but now, however, because I use GPS devices, the online data collection interfaces are my go to sources for documenting my training. People differ on opinions of which company does the data best, but I won’t debate that here (I don’t really know either).
I go stir crazy in the winter on treadmills and the trainer, but I try to combat this with movies, different gyms, intervals, fartleks, and cross training whenever I can. Even during the summer months I have found it important to not run/ride/swim on the same outdoor course day after day. Cycling is a little more limited to the same few courses because road bikes are finicky with where they are willing to ride, but exploratory running is very important to keep me entertained. When I am entertained, I think less about the pain. Variation with your workload during your workouts is also important for muscle memory and recovery. In other words, no more all out sessions every time.
If you have noticed within this post that I have made sure I listed triathlon as a hobby. I need to continually remind myself that. When I have that in mind this keeps my priorities in control. Obviously with it as just a hobby, family life is more important, but sometimes during peak triathlon season it doesn’t seem like that as the family takes a back seat. Putting family first does not include leaving them for 6 hours on a Saturday so that a specific race can be experienced. However, it can become a very fun family activity if your wife or significant other is up to attending with the kids in tow. Some of my favorite triathlon experiences are when my family is at the finishing line, or somewhere on the course to cheer me on.
The above categories are the ones I currently consider important regarding training for triathlons. By following these guidelines training for me has become an enjoyable thing and oddly enough something to look forward to on a daily basis.