Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Basic Of Long Distance Triathlon Training

I am in the midst of creating a plan for my long distance triathlon training leading up to Ironman Malaysia 2014. It may take me a week or two to come out with something basic and while some Ironman hopeful has approached me privately to ask for pointers, this is what I can share, which will make up the bulk of my training approach. My limitation to these training is time as I would need to factor in family and work into the equation, much like how most of you will be doing.

For many Malaysians, this is their main worry. Having not brought up to embrace "water" and many only learn to swim later in life due to "near-drowning experiences", or forced. It could be the unfamiliar situation where we could not breathe normally in water and the "unknown creatures" in the sea.

Does strokes matter? Not really. For the record, I've done most of my triathlon using breaststroke and it has served me really well. However, over the past few years, I've trained hard using freestyle/frontcrawl and aim to swim as much as possible in races/competition using freestyle because that would allow me the opportunity to correct myself post-race.

I am assuming I am addressing readers that can swim at least 100m or 2x50m lap comfortably. Swimming will require you to understand the basic of propulsion and body positioning in the water. A good coach may be able to help and correct all these. For those that are limited both by time and money, you will need to unlearn what you already know and improve. 

Best way to improve on your swimming is to do repeats and intensity. By repeats meaning you do a fixed distance between 500m to 1000m. Your aim is to improve the timing and hopefully reduces the amount of strokes needed to achieve the same. Only way to do this is to improve your intensity. Be aware that swimming takes a lot (of effort) out of you for the same amount of time being invested for running and cycling. So, aim to go "hard or go home" when you hit the pool. 

Pragmatic approach to Swim training : invest in a session or 2 sessions a week up to 2-hours total with aim to build water confidence, breathing and intensity. There is no need to swim 2-hours during your training as you will reap more from repeats and intensity. 
Week Volume : 2 hours if you can afford it, otherwise, 1 hour is minimum.

This will be the largest volume in both hours and mileage that you will put in for your Ironman pursue. Cycling are kinder to your joints and it will allow variable intensity in a more controlled manner. Used wisely and correctly, cycling actually helps to stave off over training and are more sustainable in the whole Ironman training schedule. Utilise both cadence and heart rate training by varying the workout and intensity. Cycling is a good "recovery" cross training if you just ended a hard run. More so, cycling will help your running as they utilise the same group of muscles generally. Not having a tri-specific bicycle would not stop you from performing in a triathlon race. Many I know that owns a tri-specific bike struggle to keep the speed and that includes me. 

Pragmatic approach to Bike training : Safety is always an issue when we train on the road (using the bike). Best way to do this and yet be close to the family is to utilise a trainer. Invest is a good trainer that will serves you for many years, not one that will suit the budget and you end up buying/upgrading to another one is the case of penny wise pound foolish. Anything up to RM1000 is acceptable. Go for fluid/liquid/gel trainer if you can afford it, otherwise a good magnetic trainer will be a good training partner. Aim to clock in about 3 sessions of 1hour each on the trainer per week. Using it to work on cadence, burst of speed and of course, heart rate training utilising intensity training concept. If possible, get out once a week for a longer ride (more than 2hours) under the near-actual condition of the race (in the case of Malaysia, that simply meant under the sun). If the ride takes longer than 5hours, do consider to involve the family as an outing (and you get an automatic support car). Never cycle alone!
Week Volume : 5hours to 10hours depending on the distance of the ride. 

Run short distance and run frequently. I for one is not a firm believer of LSD or long slow distance training. It is good if running is your only sports and training for the Ironman 42km run is unlike training for a marathon. In my opinion, long hour runs are good for endurance and confidence (I can run 30km, 42km will not be an issue kind-of thinking). 

The negative side of LSD is that it actually causes the athlete to recover slower and risk him/her into over training when adding in the cycling and swimming workout in blocks of weekly activities. The average person would need about 2 days to fully recover from a long run (excess of 30km) and that would essentially meant wasted opportunity for training swimming and cycling.

The base built over the short runs has evidently helped me to perform better and finish stronger in the past years. It should not be any different from you. For beginner, it is important to run frequently and see about 10-15% improvement. An intermediate and experienced runner can run the same amount and only see 1% or no improvement. What differentiate these will be the quality of the training and nothing will help you to improve more than overloading via intensity workout at least twice a week and sustained by tempo paced run scattered around other days.

Pragmatic approach to Run training: I run about 30minutes per session which covers the distance of anything between 5km to 7km dependent on the "tempo-menu" or if I am doing intensity workout. For Ironman training it will be a fine balance to perform both biking and running in the same day unless I split them to AM and PM. This is in the pipeline. For basis of "base preparation", I am alternating my Run-Bike for the first 6 weeks before turning up the gear to include runs everyday except rest day (after a long bike ride). Having a 30-mins workout per day is actually a "barely away" approach for those of us that has family. You have the option to do this when the kids/family is having their shower before dinner or right when your wife is whipping up a meal. Key point here is go out, go hard, come back and resume family life.
Week Volume : Working on 2-hours minimum and working towards a hefty 5-hours. 

Tying It All Up
The above volume is between 12hours to 15hours weekly, which is the base of many Ironman training. Averaging it out, you will be working out up to 2hours/day on average. This is the reason why training for an Ironman event requires a lot of discipline and commitment. However, there is a "minimalist" approach to this and done right, can ensure success as well. The minimalist though, requires higher level of commitment as you can't afford to miss any session. being practical and spreading the training up to 11months before a race can and will ensure sustainability and prepare you beyond just 1-Ironman race. 

Having the discipline for training will automatically encourages you to start changing your lifestyle which includes starting to eat better and more nutritionally and provide you a guilt-free feeling of sleeping early as you need to be up early before everyone does to clock in the hours. I will write more on nutrition and how your diet nutrition split (Carb, Protein and Fat) be roughly based on during base, peak and race period. 

More detailed write up on bike fittings, run strides, recovery and even gym-strength activities will be suggested as we roll into the training plan. I do not claim to know everything, I will however, base my sharing on the things that i have done wrong in the 3-Ironman I did and incorporate the things I've done right in the past two years of lifestyle changing experience on both diet and training approach.

If you are planning a training, it is best to start recording and keeping track of your training now. It may be a good idea to start tracking your spending on gears, nutrition, repair and other items as a matter of record keeping and improvement on years to come.

Last thoughts for this blog entry : Why am I basing my training on time rather than mileage? The answer is easy, because mileage is subjective and time is absolute. Moreover, for long distance races like Ironman, you are to train as long as the time you will race. There are exception of course, and unless you are doing this for a living, the Earth still moves and you still have to work to pay off the bills. Finding the right balance ensure both harmony in family, work and training. Involve the family is the best way of doing this. Make them part of it. 

It is up to you to dictates what you want to measure your workout against at the end of the day. Most importantly is to make sure you can and will keep up with the changes and demand both in life and training. 

Soon: A skeleton training plan you can customise (I am still working at it!)


  1. do u think is possible to join half ironman at putrajaya if start training from now? never did Olympic distance before. But done a sprint

  2. Thanks bro. Come out with the customizable plan eh. I'm want to see how.