Successful performance in a long and challenging event like a half-ironman requires many months of diligent preparation off a substantial fitness base. Following is a general overview of a sensible training program that will lead you to peak performance on race day.
Winter Training Program
Winter should NOT be a time for strenuous training. The goal is to develop an aerobic following the strict guidelines detailed in my book Power Month. Visit bradventures.com for information and additional extensive support for your triathlon training and nutrition.
Winter focus should be on developing good technique and economy of movement in the three events. Perform Key Workouts regularly that will help you develop the endurance to go the distance at goal events later in the season.
The timeline referenced for this article leads to a spring half-ironman competition. Naturally, you can adjust the times for your particular racing goals and season calendar.
For the months of December and January, you can shoot for the following time goals on your Overdistance Key Workouts:
Swim: Focus completely on stroke improvement, no intensive intervals or strenuous sets
Suggested Monthly Schedule (follow for December and January)
3 Key Runs: 1:30-1:45 HR: 50-75%
2 Key Bikes: 2:00-2:45 HR 50-75%
2 Moderate Run: :50-1:15 HR: 65-80%
2 Moderate Bike: 1:15-1:45 HR: 65-80%
6 Swim Drills: 40 minutes, see below
2 Long Swims: 3,000-4,000 meters. HR below 80%
Bike rides: under 1:15, under 70% heart rate
Runs: under :45, under 75% heart rate
3 Bike Drill workouts: :40 minutes on stationary bike (10 warmup, set of [2min Right leg only, rest one minute then, 2 min Left leg only]. Repeat 5 times, the cooldown for 10 min
Stroke count: 200 yards
Tennis ball in each hand: 200 yards
Catchup drill: 200 yards
Backstroke/Breastroke: 200 yards
Freestyle: 200 yards
= 1,000 yards
Remember that this is aerobic base building period, so all workouts should be performed at 80% of max heart rate or less. Notice from the total number of workouts and low intensity levels that December and January will be pretty easy months. The main goals are to get back into training in a manner that will not fatigue you in any way and refine the swim stroke. Heart rates will stay quite low, but you will get some nice long runs and rides in.
Spring Training Program
Here the difficulty begins to escalate as you leverage the work of your initial base period and start to develop the specific fitness required to race long distance triathlons. Note that the primary emphasis is still on aerobic heart rates, for this is where the most significant gains can be made in race performances.
Many triathletes make the serious mistake of hammering too many high intensity workouts. These workouts are fun and provide instant gratification, but they come at a great cost of energy. If you goals are Olympic distance, half-ironman and full ironman and you are below world-caliber performance level, you can improve by leaps and bounds by improving aerobic function. Conversely, anaerobic workouts will generate minimal improvement unless you have a strong base. Even then, the analogy fits that you can either 'fine tune a Volkswagen' (high intensity training) or 'build a Ferrari' (focus on aerobic development).
With a strong base developed, you can begin to introduce some race-specific training, such as long time trials on the bicycle or half-marathon running races.
Preparing for Peak Performance
When it is time to introduce intense training to prepare for peak performance, careful guidelines must be followed. Intense anaerobic workouts can deliver excellent performance benefits when they are conducted in the right manner. On the flip side of these outstanding benefits comes a high risk of burnout, fatigue and injury. Overdoing the hard workouts can easily result in you leaving your best race out on the training roads.
Following are my Four Rules of Intensity for anaerobic workouts. Observing these guidelines will enable you to properly absorb and benefit from your hard sessions:
Rule #1: Always build an aerobic base before introducing anaerobic workouts. The best way to determine that you have indeed built a strong base is steady improvement in MAF test results and generally feeling strong and energized from your training.
Rule #2: Always be 100% physically energized and mentally refreshed when you conduct an anaerobic workout. Never force your body to do intense exercise when your spirit is not willing
Rule #3: Never conduct anaerobic exercise for more than six weeks without a break. Benefits will dwindle the longer you exercise intensely without a break. This is true even if you are observing rule #4 and limiting frequency of anaerobic workouts in your schedule.
Rule #4: Limit anaerobic exercise to 10% of total weekly exercise time. Even during anaerobic training periods, time spent at high heart rates is only a fraction of total weekly exercise time.
After six weeks of anaerobic exercise, you should introduce a micro-rest period of at least two weeks. During this period, you should cut back on workout time and frequency by at least 50% to ensure that you are totally rested when you resume training.
During your anaerobic phase, total volume of training should drop sharply (at least 33%), and your basic standard fitness maintenance workout should drop too. For example, if your standard swim workout is 3,500 meters, drop down to 2,500-3,000 during the anaerobic phase. If your standard run is 1:00, cut it back to :40.
Types of Anaerobic Workouts
What are the best kinds of anaerobic workouts? I feel that it doesn't really matter whether you do intervals, hill repeats, time trials, group rides, etc. When you establish a strong aerobic base and conduct your anaerobic workouts sensibly when you are energized and motivated, you will benefit by going fast any way you want. In the old days before heart rate monitors, coaches and books about triathlon training books, athletes did pretty well just getting out onto the roads and going fast.
You can collect a file of magazine articles or dog ear book pages to conduct inspiring and effective anaerobic workouts. One sensible idea is to conduct workouts that approximate the challenge you will face in the race. In preparing for the Auburn International half-ironman distance event in May, consider sessions that reflect the competition distances and the hilly terrain. One of my favorite half-ironman workouts is an all-out 56-mile time trial on a course similar to the race course.
With a workout like this, you teach your body to complete the exact competitive distance at a pace superior to your race pace (because you are not saving anything for the 13.1-mile run). With this workout under your belt you will feel comfortable and confident when you settle into your race day pace. A half-marathon road race at full effort is another excellent example, as are brick workouts that stack a bike and run together just like on race day. I favor bricks of a 10:1 bike to run ratio (Bike 80, run 8 miles; Bike 60, run 6 miles). For half-ironman preparation, brick with at least the bike race distance and consider going all the way up to 100 mile bike, 10 mile run.
A long distance brick such as 100/10 can be conducted during the base building period (you ain't going to do too well if you exceed aerobic heart rates on a 100/10 brick anyway). As the race date nears, I suggest shortening the length of your workouts and increasing your intensity.
For example, a good key workout two months out from the race might be a aggressive pace 80-mile bike ride. One month out, the training should progress to the all-out 56-mile time trial.
Coming off of the base period and into fast paced efforts can be a shock to the body. You can prepare your body for speed by throwing in some prelude sessions where you get leg/arm turnover or cadence going quickly without overstressing your system. This is accomplished by interval work of very short duration, followed by short rest. Because the work effort is so short, your heart always has a chance to recover before lactate accumulates seriously in the bloodstream. These sessions should not be overly stressful; they should feel more like getting the kinks out before the serious stuff in the future.
As you transition out of the aerobic base period, here are some good workouts to prepare you for anaerobic sessions:
Swim: a series of 25-yard sprints followed by 25 yards of slow freestyle or alternate stroke. You will become accustomed to race pace and hard interval turnover rate
Bike: a series of accelerations lasting 1:00-1:30 with an equal rest period. It's nice to do these in the hills where you hard efforts can match terrain. Punch it up a short steep hill or rolling section and coast downhill. You can vary the accelerations to sync with the terrain. The drill is to acquaint the legs with a little pain before you go into long sustained hard efforts.
Run: a set of 40/20's lasting 10 minutes. This involves a brisk 40 second effort (at ~5k race pace), followed immediately by a slow jog for 20 seconds. This develops leg turnover without stressing the heart too much due to frequent rest
Remember that during the anaerobic period that all of your other workouts are characterized as "fill in the blanks". The top priority is to be 100% rested and motivated for your intense workouts. Volume should be a minimal consideration; accept that training volume should drop dramatically during the 6-week anaerobic phase. You use your experience and life variables to determine what you can do while ensuring that you are rested and ready for the hard stuff.
Race Day Tips
Peaking strategy before a race
The best way to get ready for a big race is to totally rest early in the week of big race, then steadily build in the final three days before the race. For example for an Olympic dist race - Mon moderate, Tuesday hard workout (like 20k bike time trial), Wed easy, Thursday off, Friday moderate, Sat moderate with 10 minutes of pickups at race pace in each event (like 10 x 50 in pool, 10 min time trial on bike at race pace, 5 x 2 min at race pace running), Sunday race. Just like in the pool with workout sets, the best performances usually come after you proceed thru a few warmup sets and then head into the main set.
The old school approach of "carbo loading" for a big race has rightfully been discarded and updated with advice to always eat a healthy, nutritious diet. Especially in the final weeks before a big event, it is helpful to cut back or eliminate some of your vices like sweets, junk food and caffeine and make efforts to eat clean, healthy, natural nutritious foods.
The day before the race I counsel athletes to eat a huge breakfast, a big lunch and a very, very small dinner. It is critical to get your muscles and your liver completely fueled by race morning, but just as critical to have digestive system light and empty when the gun goes off.
Here are some quick tips to help you improve your diet:
1) Increase awareness of junk food habit
· Eat plenty of fruit for dessert
· Notice when you are satisfied vs. idle snacking
2) Eat more healthy food throughout day
· Stimulates metabolism, regulates appetite
· Large balanced breakfast and lunch, healthy snacks
3) Shop exclusively at an alternative grocery like Whole Foods or Trader Joes. These stores do the homework for you!
· Discover healthy snacks to have around at all times
· Discover replacements for common foods that contain offensive ingredients
4) Eliminate BIG THREE offending foods from diet:
· Refined carbs - replace with whole grain products
· Hydrogenated fat - TOTAL elimination (deep fried, frozen, boxed junk food)
· Caffeine - Build energy naturally and cut back immediately
On race day, the most important thing of all is to have fun and remain in a positive frame of mind at all times. Extreme endurance events like a half-ironman are a physical and mental challenge. If you catch yourself harvesting negative thoughts, look around and enjoy the scenery - an instant cure. Remind yourself how lucky you are to be healthy and able to swim, pedal a bicycle and run. Negative thoughts and verbalizations will make your tired and stressed and compromise your performance. Take the opportunity to re-frame every negative thought or statement into a positive one. This is a great lesson for not only triathlon but all of life!