Here’s how to dial them in.
by AJ Johnson/ adapted by Vy Waller to an Olympic distant race.
While every athlete is different, following some general guidelines will help you
make it to the start line healthy and ready to race. Use these principles to tailor
your training to your own unique needs and to build a winning race-day plan.
With a progressive build involving race specificity and a taper to let your body
recover, you can be fully prepared to have the race you know you’re capable of.
12 to 14 weeks out
At this point in your race prep your training should start to become more race-day
specific. The key during this crucial time period is having the necessary volume
to cover the distance, but also maintaining the quality of each session.
By this time, you should be able to comfortably ride 15 miles. Over these 6
weeks, build to being able to ride the full 30 miles, or even slightly more. During
these rides, you should consider your race-day power/heart rate and ride in those
zones for longer intervals of 20 minutes to an hour. These rides also give you a
chance to get comfortable in your bike position and make any necessary tweaks.
What feels good for 15 miles may not feel good at the 30 mile mark. It also allows
you to experience what your shoulders, back and hips will feel like deep into the
ride. A 15 to 30-minute brick run off the bike is another way to make your training
more race specific. If you are cycling indoors you may want to run off the bike for
a 10 minute period and then return to cycling. Repeat.
The same principles apply to the long run. For most triathletes, running over 1
hour is not necessary. Keeping the long run to 45 minutes with some race pace
(or effort) intervals is a better option. If you do feel like you need to run longer, do
so early in this timeframe, 12 to 10 weeks out, to allow for more recovery but
ensure that you include the speed intervals in the run.
Most athletes do their long rides and runs on the weekends. I often suggest that
athletes swap the days for the long sessions. So, one Saturday would be the
long ride, then the next Saturday would be the long run. This gives you the
opportunity to have more quality in your long run versus running on tired legs
Next, these longer rides and runs are where you want to start to dial in your race
day nutrition and hydration plan. This process takes time, so if you haven’t
already, now is the time. Know what will be available on the course and see how
those products work for you. Carry your own only if absolutely necessary.
Weekday workouts should focus on race-day effort intervals. Consider your goal
times for the bike, swim and run and know your wattage, heart rate and/or pace
you need to feel comfortable at for race day for each section.
The last of these weeks can have a little less volume to allow for a micro-
recovery. This will give you the extra energy needed for a good final block of
8 to 4 weeks out
This block of training represents your last chance to add fitness. During the first
part of this block you can still be adding volume to your long days, but the
additions shouldn’t be more than 10 to 15 miles on the bike or 15 minutes on the
run. Big jumps in volume here can be very risky and cause a very ill-timed injury.
Your longest ride and run of the training should occur during this time.
If you haven’t already, begin adding in some long, steady swims for a set
distance, typically 2,000 meters. Perform a short warm up, one you can simulate
on race day, then swim at or near your goal race pace. Do your best to keep
even splits for each 500 by checking the pace clock or glancing at your watch.
Do some short heads-up swimming as well to simulate sighting for buoys.
Related Article: Sight Like an Alligator, Swim Like a Fish
Six weeks out is a good time for a long race-day simulation brick workout. Give
yourself a few easy days to rest before this key workout. The workout should
include a 2,000 swim a 30-mile bike and 5 mile run done in succession. During
each session, perform some work at goal race effort to further dial in your race-
day pace and nutrition. This workout will show you just how prepared you are
and gives you a more realistic idea of your splits for each segment.
This is also the time to finalize your race gear. Use your race clothing, aero
helmet and race-day wheels for at least part of this workout. Make sure
everything you need is in good condition. Use the running shoes you plan to
wear on race day run on at least some of your longer runs to mitigate the
chances of blisters, especially if you don’t wear socks and intend to use the
blister spray instead (right Alex).
4 weeks out
This is the time to really start dialing your volume back and allowing your body to
absorb all your training. In the last two to three weeks there is little you can do to
improve your fitness, but there is a lot you can do to harm it. Remember, it’s
better to go into race day 10 percent undertrained than 1 percent overtrained. If
you’ve been consistent over the past months, you’ll have the fitness you need to
Many athletes find that a gradual two to three week taper works best. Reduce the
volume of your long days and your weekly overall volume by 10 to 15 percent
each week. Continue to do race-pace or faster intervals during your sessions, but
they should all be shorter than in previous weeks. This will keep your legs
moving and sharp, but the reduced volume will keep fatigue to a minimum. Every
workout should end with you feeling like you could have done a bit more. Resist
the urge to “test” the legs. If you are feeling particularly good, save that energy
for race day when it matters most.
This is typically an awkward time for most athletes. Being used to long rides and
fatigued legs, you suddenly find yourself with time on your hands. Rest is the
key, so don’t take this time to remodel your house. You may feel tired or
lethargic, but don’t panic. Your body needs time to absorb all those months of
training and adapt. The more you can rest and recover the better.
Believe in your training and trust the process.
Good luck in the next few months and happy racing.