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Training for Triathlon: How to get Faster!

Training for TriathlonAthlete: I want to go faster this year.  What’s the best way to do that?

Yes, I get this question often.  As in, with nearly every athlete I speak.  Regardless of the skill level, what kind of training for triathlons they are doing, and whether it is sprint training or Ironman training, most triathletes (yes, including me) want to get faster.  Swim faster, bike faster, run faster… even transition faster.  Well, other than transitioning faster, if you want to swim, bike, or run faster, I have one big piece of advice for you:

SLOW DOWN.

Wait, what???  Ummm, were you even listening?  I said “faster”!  I’ve already got the “slow” part covered.  I’d like to experience the other end of the spectrum please!

Well, yes, I heard you and I was listening but my advice remains the same.  Allow me to explain…

Training for Triathlon – Endurance 

While we have events named “Sprints” in the triathlon world, they aren’t really sprints.  In Track and Field, there are true sprint events.  In swimming, there are true sprint events.  A true sprint is something that takes less than a minute to accomplish.  The fastest people on the planet finish the 100-meter dash in ten seconds or less.  Ever heard of Usain Bolt?  He’s a sprinter.

Training for Triathlon BikeSprinters rely solely on anaerobic fueling to complete their events.  This means they don’t need oxygen to perform.  Sure, they need to breathe and all that but, when it comes to racing, they are working purely from an energy delivery system that doesn’t use oxygen.  Hence, anaerobic.

In triathlons, the fastest triathletes on the planet do our “Sprints” in nearly an hour.  Uhh, just slightly longer than the ten second burst you see during that 100 meter dash.  To race for an hour (or more), regardless of who you are and how genetically talented you might be, you will need to work primarily from an aerobic based energy delivery system.  That means oxygen is being used, which means you are probably going to metabolize some fat for fuel, which now means it is an endurance activity.  Your ability to move oxygen and carbon dioxide becomes more important than every other factor.

I am sure there are some people who would disagree with me but my view is that all triathlons are endurance events.  I don’t care how tough you are, how much you can handle, and so on.  If you are racing triathlons, you are an endurance athlete.

So, having established that, the question then becomes, what’s the best way to maximize one’s endurance potential?  If the name of the game is processing oxygen (and, thus, carbon dioxide), what can one do to get the most of our their potential aerobic system?

Training for Triathlon – Moving Oxygen

As I said at the start, the simple answer is slowing down.  If you accept the fact (fact, not theory) that triathlons are endurance events, then building your aerobic base should be the main goal for the bulk of your triathlon training year and this applies whether you are sprint training, Ironman training, or anything in between.  All training for triathlon, in my opinion, is basically the same with variations in the “long workouts”.  So, what’s the best way to build one’s aerobic base?  Well, as much as we all don’t want to admit it, the answer is simply base training.

Training for Triathlon RunYour aerobic potential is built primarily during those long, slow workouts in Base 1 training.  Whether it is your long run or an aerobic-level bike ride on some random weekday, the more time you spend at level 2 efforts, the more you are building your aerobic engine.  Building that endurance machine develops your entire cardiovascular system (e.g., heart, blood vessels, lungs, blood, etc.)

In addition to the long-duration swim, bike, and run workouts, your aerobic potential is also developed by consistent, repeated exposure to those activities.  So, accept that it isn’t just the “long run” or “long bike” that matters.  Even those 45-60 minute, level 2 runs during the week are critical.

Lastly, not only should you focus spending a significant amount of quality time in that Base 1 range, but you must do so consistently and often for a lengthy period of time.  A high level of endurance potential often takes years to mature.  So, be patient!

Training for Triathlon – Conclusion

So, you want to get faster then right?  You want to set a PR, mount the podium, get some hardware, or reach the pinnacle of the triathlon world, earning a spot to the Half-Ironman or Ironman World Championship?  Well, do it then.  Be committed.  Make the decision to train smart and train consistently.  This all starts with an effective plan that focuses on developing your aerobic base to its greatest potential.  Do that, over a long enough period of time, and those goals are just going to get closer and closer with each passing year!

I hope you found this helpful and informative.  If you have any questions or commentary, please leave it below.  I greatly appreciate feedback, comments, questions, etc. to any of my articles.

Thanks for reading!

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