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.


Follow the Training Schedule or Follow Your Intuition?

One of my most enjoyable conversations during the weekend visit by guest coach Terry Laughlin involved a conversation with a dedicated triathlete who had reluctantly missed Terry’s effortless endurance “taster clinic” on Saturday morning.  She had a 4 hour training brick on her schedule that she simply felt she couldn’t miss, yet was disappointed by not being able to attend the clinic.   She made the trip to Terry’s REI lecture later in the day to say hello and express her regrets.

What followed was a thirty minute conversation on following the “schedule” vs. following your intuition.   All of us have chosen triathlon and endurance training because at some level it brings us enjoyment.  Furthermore, many of us are challenged at learning and improving our skills including swimming, running, cycling and transition.

In Sally’s case, she had an opportunity to meet and be coached by someone whose books she’d read, whose blogs she followed and who was in town for a rare pair of clinics!  Let me tell you that getting an internationally in-demand coach into town for organized and marketed clinics wasn’t a piece of cake…these were special opportunities.

Yet her training plan called for a four hour brick on that same morning and she wasn’t sure when she could fit it in otherwise.  She expressed her regret at not being able to attend the clinic and seemed genuinely disappointed.

Although I’m not Sally’s coach, I certainly appreciate her dedication to training.  However, as a coach, I encourage all of my athletes to make their own decisions about training, using my plan as a guide.  We all have other components of our lives that make us healthy and happy…training for a race is just one of them.   From the perspective of training plan design, coaches like to use catchphrases such as “key workouts”….workouts you shouldn’t skip.  But in the larger picture, there’s really no single workout that forms a keystone in your training…it’s the consistent and progressive training over a long period of time that creates your fitness and determines your progress.

This is a two way street when working with someone who helps plan your training. Many athletes don’t realize that they should communicate with their coach far more than most of us do. I remember when I first hired a coach and received my monthly blocks, I was shy or embarrassed to say that I didn’t want to do one thing, or that I preferred to do another thing.  In order to best follow your intuition as an athlete, it’s really important to understand the “why” of your schedule. Sometimes it just requires an awareness that it’s OK to feel like doing something different from your plan…but then discuss it with your coach or experienced training partners if you need feedback.

If Sally were my athlete, and had she asked me for “permission” to move her brick, change the brick, or skip it all-together so she could attend this clinic, I would fully support her desire to do so…that Saturday morning opportunity to attend a (possibly) once-in-a-lifetime clinic by a coach you respect is by far the more appropriate thing for Sally to do than a “key” workout on the schedule.

Will Sally’s training program be impacted by skipping a 4 hour workout?  Maybe a little…but assuming it’s not a repeated pattern of behavior…skipping long workouts, Sally will be every bit as prepared for her half-ironman in 3-4 months.   Are there other ways to structure Sally’s training to accommodate a clinic she’d like to attend?  Of course there are.  Swapping weekends, splitting the brick…the body doesn’t really know that there is a schedule to follow…coaches make up the schedules…they are artificial overlays onto the rest of our life’s constraints.   Either Sally or her coach could have easily accommodated the clinic…which in the long run would have had a much bigger impact on her overall development as an athlete and as person…than a single workout.

I’ll also add that Sally wouldn’t have needed my approval to attend if I were her coach…if she thought it was valuable, I would support her. If she’d asked my opinions about the clinic I would have shared them, positive or negative…and still supported her decision.  If Sally is curious about or interested in learning and being exposed to new perspectives…then who am I to discourage that?

The takeaway here is that as an athlete, trust your intuition.  Pay attention to those things that make you curious. Pay attention to your gut instinct when it comes to your training and progress as an athlete.  No matter how much you paid for a training plan, how much you respect your coach or how proud you are of never skipping a workout, nobody knows your body better than you do, and nobody can make decisions about how you spend your time better than you can.

Trust and respect your intuition. Then follow it.

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