Life in Balance: Triathlon Training Volume and Race Performances – Part 1

Today I was chatting with one of my athletes getting his post-race recap of the Rev 3 Cedar Point Half distance triathlon.   He was thrilled with his performance, his ability to overcome many hardships and mishaps during the race (who hasn’t taken a wrong turn in the heat of a race? ) and was most pleased at how his training consistency has led to a 45 minute improvement in his Half distance since last year.

Yet his training volume is still less than that of his training partner (who remains uncoached).  His partner and he used to ride at the same pace and now my athlete (I’ll refer to him as Paul) is so much faster than his friend, that often he “pulls him along” on training rides.   His friend (I’ll call him Peter) has been a bit baffled by Paul’s reduced training volume until the results of yesterday’s race in which Paul took 2nd place in his age group.

PMC - Performance Management Chart

Why bring this up? It’s not for me to sit here and write that less training time is better for you. It may be , but without knowing what you are currently doing, your recent improvements (or declines or plateaus) and what your goals are, you could need more training, less training or just different training.

Contrast this with another athlete of mine who did the exact same race who is doing not quite twice as much training volume as Paul.

Let’s put some numbers and figures to all of this…

His 4 key Endurance races this year are

  • Pittsburgh Marathon 5/4/2014 – DONE
  • Eagleman 6/8/2014 – DONE
  • Rev 3 Cedar Point Half 9/8/14 – DONE
  • IM Arizona 11/16/14  – 8 Weeks to go

That’s a long season and a lot of long racing.  He’s got a family and it’s vital that he remain in good health and balanced thorughotu the year.  That means that when we can afford to trainig wise, we back way off, allow him to recovery, let fatigue go away and let him spend time with family & work related priorities.   Nearing these final 2 races (Rev 3 Cedar Point and IM Arizona) it is becoming more important to get in adequate volume for muscle endurance, while maximizing his speed potential for those distances.

The question is how much is enough? Where’s the threshold of too much training?

There are two (ok, maybe 3) key elements to look at and still keep the formula simple.

  1. What’s his prior training volume/ training stress been like? 
  2. How much time can he currently commit to training
  3. How is he feeling physically, emotionally & in relation to his other commitments? 

I’ll make this a 2 part writeup and continue the discussion in Part 2. There is a lot ot consider and digest here, and it’s important as a coach and an athlete to keep a holistic approach to training volume and not simply fill all available time with training.

Let me know in the comments what questions have come up so far in reading part 1.


Week 1 Training Plan – First Time Finisher, Sprint Distance

First Time Finisher Training Plans

Week 1, Sprint & International Distance

Week 1 is about getting accustomed to a training routine.  In previous issues of Coaching Corner (#1, #2 & #3) I wrote about the “basic week” and how to plan out ideas for training blocks.  The great part about being in the “First Time Finisher” category is that you don’t need to dedicate a ton of time towards training.  Most of your training time is geared towards accommodation to endurance training and not towards eeking out tiny improvements that take a great deal of time.  You’ll find that you are making steady improvement with a simple practice of routine training times.

You don’t have to follow these exact schedules, but do your best to fit in at least 2 workouts or practices in each discipline this week.

A note about safety on the bike: You should be prepared for the most common biking incident which is a flat tire.  Carry with you a patch kit, a pump and/or CO2 cartridges.  All of this and a small tool set can be stored in a small under-the-seat zippered pouch.  I put a business card with my emergency contact information in the pouch as well.  Always wear a helmet and carry some type of identification with you.  A cell phone is also a great backup safety device that you’ll be glad to have when you need it.

Sprint Distance Plan – Week 1

Week 1 is about 2 1/2 hours of training.  The numbers listed for bike & run are total minutes of cycling or running.  The Swim specifics are linked below.

Day of Week Run Bike Swim Core/Flex
Monday  20 min  15 min
Tuesday  30 min
Wednesday ~500 yd  15 min
Thursday  25 min
Friday  50 min  15 min
Saturday  ~500 yd

Run 1: The first run is an easy 20 minute jog.  You should keep your effort at a “conversational” level.  If you are breathing too hard to say more than a few words at a time, you need to slow down.  If you are not able to run for 20 minutes continuously, then alternate running and walking as needed.  A 5 minute brisk walk to warm up followed by alternating 2 minutes running & walking five times, followed by a 5 minute cooldown will add up to 20 minutes.  Treat yourself to a tall glass of water when you are done!

Run 2: This is a slightly longer run of 25 minutes.  If you are following the run/walk plan, continue with 5 minute walking warmup and cool down with 15 minutes of alternating running and walking in between.  Try to slowly increase the amount of time you are able to continuously run.

Bike #1: 30 minutes of easy riding.  Get used to your bike, change gears frequently to become accustomed to how they work.  Practice pedaling fast and slow and note the relationship between your gear selection and how fast or slow you can pedal.  Have fun with this ride, see if you can get a friend to come along.

Bike #2: 50 minutes of easy riding.  For this ride, focus on staying in a gear that lets you pedal at a cadence of around 90 rpm.  You don’t need a fancy bike computer for this, just count the number of pedal revolutions you make in 10 seconds and multiply by six.  Fifteen revolutions in six seconds equals 90 revolutions per minute.  This may seem difficult at first, but if you practice it will get easier and it will pay off in the long run.

Swim 1: Practice Sprint-A

Swim 2: Practice Sprint-B

Core/Flexibility: I’ve grouped these together but in reality both Core Strength & Flexibility are ultimately key elements of a successful training plan.   For just starting out, see if you can incorporate 15 minutes 2 – 3 times per week.  I like to do 10-15 minutes of Sun Salutes as soon as I get dressed in the morning before starting other activities.   Here is a video of the basic sun salute.  Perform 3-4 of these to start your day, and it will take only 10-15 minutes.

Glossary of Abbreviations

Your coach planned workouts contain a number of space saving abbreviations. Once you become accustomed to them, your workouts will read like plain english. Review this list of abbreviations to help you get your bearings

‘ or min – Minutes
” or sec – Seconds
1:00 – One hour
00:30 – 30 minutes
AT-Anaerobic Threshold
ATP-Annual Training Plan
BCR – Big chain ring
bpm – Beats per minute (heart rate)
CD – Cool down
km – Kilometer
LT – Lactate Threshold (same as AT-Anaerobic Threshold)
M – Mile
m – Meter
MS – Main Set
MTB – Mountain bike
RI – Recovery Interval
rpm – Revolutions per minute
SCR – Small chain ring
WU – Warm-up
Y, Yd or Yds – Yards
Z – Heart Rate Intensity Zone (eg. Z3 – Zone 3)

Adapted from

A Few Examples

Here are a few examples to help get you oriented.

Swim Workouts

WU: 100 swim easy, 50 kick easy, 100 swim moderate, 50 kick moderate, 100 swim build speed, 50 kick build speed. MS: For the first set decrease times with each work interval. All aerobic-easy breathing. 4 x 100 (10″) moderate. RI 2 minutes. Kick 300 steady. 6 x 25 relaxed speed (15″). CD: 200 easy swim. Total: 1500


Warm-Up: As described Main Set: Four repetitions of 100 yards/meters at a moderate pace with 10 seconds of rest between each 100 yard repeat. Rest 2 minutes after this set. Then Kick 300 yards/meters. Next, swim six repeats of 25 yards each at a “relaxed” speed, with 15 seconds of rest between each repeat. Cooldown: Finally, swim 200 yards/meters very easy as your cooldown.

If a rest period is not specified, simply begin the next part of your workout when you feel ready to go. For example, you may be able to go immediately from a kick only set to a relaxed swim set with little rest.

Biking Example

Tempo intervals. On road or trainer. Do 4-5 x 6 minutes in the 3 zone (2-minute recoveries). Relax! Smooth pedaling. 80-90 rpm. Aero position.


The interval type is called a “tempo” interval, which are done in Zone 3 (you can use heart rate, rating of perceived exertion or a power meter to determine if you are in zone 3). Do four OR five six minute intervals in Zone 3 based HR, RPE or Power. Recover with easy spinning in zone 1 for 2 minutes between each interval. Pedal at a cadence of 80-90 revolutions per minute. (can be counted or viewed with the cadence function on your cycle computer). Use the drops on a road bike, or the aero position on a triathlon bike.

Rating of Perceived Exertion

Rating of Perceived Exertion

An extremely useful method of gauging intensity is your rate of perceived exertion. A scale called the Borg scale I find very helpful and easy to use.It begins at 6 and maxes out at 20.Why not just 1-10?In general, the Borg scale was designed to correspond to 1/10th of the HR at that level. In other words, a resting HR of 60, and a max HR of 200. You know from the discussion on HR that such a strict HR scale is not appropriate for everyone, but I find it to be a useful gauge for correlating your perceived exertion with your own HRs. Using it is simple; you just pick the level that corresponds to your exertion level.

Using RPE along with your Heart Rate

With practice and objective use, especially if you combine it with a HR monitor for awhile, you will become very sensitive to your relative training zone based solely on your exertion level. Although your daily energy levels will fluctuate due to sleep, nutrition, hydration and motivation, an objective determination of RPE should remain fairly constant. Note what RPE descriptions are associated with the HR zones determined above. If you are training your aerobic engine, your RPE should remain around 9-11. This will seem ridiculously easy and slow for some people. It requires a small amount of faith that you are actually improving your aerobic fitness while training in these zones, and if you stick with it in an organized, structured fashion, you will see improvements over time. Remember, a better aerobic engine means you will last longer, be fresher, recover faster and have more reserves for short bursts of energy.

RPE Charts

Download a color coded PDF file by clicking on the text:


Below is the same chart.