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Game-Changing Training Rules

By Jason Gootman and Will Kirousis

How long should I plan to build up to a long-distance triathlon? How often should I do hill workouts? How much carbohydrate should I ingest during my races? How long should I chill out after my race season ends? These are all good questions — questions we are asked often. Of course, everyone is different, but we’ve got some really good rules of thumb to help you with these and other common questions. Stop winging it and use these rules to train more systematically.

Rule 1: Make one out of every two workouts a hill workout.
running hillFor cycling and running, alternate your interval workouts. One time, do a workout on a flat ground. The next time, do a hill workout. For example, if you do a running interval workout once a week, then alternate weeks. If you do two running interval workouts a week, make one of those a hill workout and one an interval workout on flat ground. Do the same for cycling. As an example of a workout, for a cycling hill workout, do five three-minute work intervals up a hill. Do the work intervals at the highest intensity that you can sustain for the total duration of work intervals (15 minutes in this case). After each work interval, coast down the hill and then ride easy at the base of the hill until you’ve accrued a two-minute rest interval. Do you live in Kansas? For cycling, do work intervals in a big gear, one that brings you into the range of 55 to 65 revolutions per minute (or in your biggest gear if that doesn’t force your cadence down quite that low). For running, use a treadmill and do your work intervals at 5 percent incline. We’ve never known a triathlete who’s come back from a race and said they rode or ran up too many hills in their training. Hill workouts are among the best bang-for-your-buck workouts — period. Get out there and get up some hills.

Rule 2: For training races (races other than your peak races), take one rest day after a sprint-distance triathlon, two rest days after an Olympic-distance triathlon and three rest days after a long-distance triathlon.
Races are challenging. They demand a lot from you and they take a lot out of you. Yes, you should “train through” training races. That is, you don’t taper for them like you taper for peak races. And after them, you should get back into workouts relatively soon. But not too soon! Races, even races that feel short to you, are challenging. Before getting back to your regularly scheduled workouts, take one rest day after a sprint-distance triathlon, two rest days after an Olympic-distance triathlon and three rest days after a long-distance triathlon.

Rule 3: The longer your peak race, the longer the race-specific-endurance phase.
We’re often asked: “How long should I train for my race?” To maximize your ability, training is truly a year-round game (with periods of more demanding workouts and periods of less demanding workouts). But your training should get specific for a certain period of time before a peak race. During this race-specific-endurance phase of your training, you build upon your endurance capacity with a systematic progression of race-specific workouts and a systematic buildup of frequency, duration, volume and load relative to the distance triathlon you are peaking for. The longer your peak race, the longer your race-specific-endurance phase should be.

 Race Distance Duration of Race-Specific-Endurance Phase 
 Olympic Distance  15 weeks
 Long Distance  19 weeks
 Iron Distance  23 weeks

Rule 4: The longer your peak race and the longer you’ve trained for it, the longer your break is.
You need a transition phase after your race season ends. This is a time to really recharge your batteries. During this time, you should work out a lot less (much lower workout load), workout with more variety (cross-train), and reduce the structure of your workouts and workout layout (don’t measure your ability, choose what workouts you feel like doing on a given day, etc.) We’ve developed formulas to determine how long a transition phase should be. Essentially, the longer your peak race was and the longer you trained for it, the longer your transition phase is. Simply take the factors below and multiply them by the number of weeks you have trained for your peak race. For example, say you trained 35 weeks this past year and your race season culminated with a long-distance triathlon. You take 35 and multiply it by 0.94. You get 33. That’s 33 days. Round up to the nearest number of weeks. So you’d take a five-week transition phase.

Race Distance  Transition-Phase Factor 
Olympic Distance  0.75
Long Distance  0.94
Iron Distance  1.13

Rule 5: Don’t exceed six training races in your race-specific endurance phase and don’t do races longer than your peak race.
Can you race too much? If your goal is to race your best in your peak race, you definitely can. For all races, you need to rest a bit going into them and you need to rest a bit after them. All of this interrupts your progression of workouts that are part of your buildup to your peak race. Of course, this is a worthwhile compromise in order to gain race experience to simply enjoy racing. However, if you race too often, you could end up coming short of your goals in your peak race. A good rule of thumb is to limit yourself to six training races during the race-specific-endurance phase of your training. This is the final 15 weeks (for Olympic distance, 19 weeks (for long distance) or 23 weeks (for Iron distance) prior to your taper phase. When you do a training race, you are likely to miss at least one of the race-specific workouts (a.k.a. long workouts) you’d normally do in that week since many triathletes do these workouts on weekends when races occur. This rule of thumb on training races limits how many race-specific workouts you miss. The shorter your peak race, the more frequently you can do training races since the priority of race-specific workouts is reduced, relatively speaking.

Rule 6: Take your bodyweight (in pounds) and drink half that amount (in ounces) of water per day — as a minimum.
This is the most undervalued aspect of a good nutrition plan. As a rule, if you come to us and want us to help you with your nutrition, we require that you drink this much water every day for at least three weeks before we talk with you about working on any other changes. Drinking enough water literally makes everything work better in your body. Drink this much water and your digestion is optimized, your food cravings stabilize and more. If you do nothing else to improve your nutrition, do this. Start today.

Rule 7: The bigger you are, the more simple carbohydrate you ingest while racing.
Everyone knows you need to ingest simple carbohydrate while racing, but how much? Do you just wing it? Research and experience reveal that there is a limit to how much simple carbohydrate you can digest while racing. Ingest more than you can digest and gastrointestinal distress (and a slower race) are a certainty. So let’s get you in the ballpark with some good rules of thumb for your bodyweight. Use these as starting points, experiment and fine tune the right amount for you.

Bodyweight (Pounds)  Cycling Simple-Carbohydrate Intake (Calories per hour) Running Simple-Carbohydrate Intake (Calories per hour)
 < 130  200  150
 131-150  250  200
 151-170  300  250
 > 170  350  300

Rule 8: While racing, consume 500 milligrams of sodium for every 20 ounces of water you ingest.
Consuming sodium while racing is key. But how much? Should you get it from salt tablets/capsules or from sports drink? There are many ways to effectively meet your race-nutrition needs. The real key is getting the nutrients you need in the amounts and concentrations that you need. As a rule of thumb, consuming 500 milligrams of sodium for every 20 ounces of water you drink gets you to a very good place. So if you drink water, simply consume this much sodium from salt tablets/capsules. If you drink sports drink, see how much sodium is in your sports drink. If there is already enough, you’re good to go. If your sports drink has say 200 milligrams of sodium in every 20 ounces, use salt tablets/capsules to make up the difference.

Learn more about Jason Gootman, Will Kirousis and Tri-Hard at tri-hard.com.

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