Monthly Triathlon Training Advice
How much time between triathlon races do you need? This guide explains how to recover, train and race at your best every time.
If you love triathlons, it can be very tempting to enter lots of events during the race season.
However, every triathlon you do takes a while to recover from. And if you enter too many, too close together, you won't give your body a chance to recuperate. Meaning you'll go from one race to the next, feeling stale, sore and tired.
In this blog I want to show you how long it takes to recover after a triathlon. And I'll give you some tips on how to recover and train between your races,
Recovery between triathlons depends on three things:
1. The length of the race
2. Your triathlon fitness and experience
3. How effectively you paced yourself on race day
Let's talk about each of these three factors individually:
1. The length of the race
The shorter the race, the quicker you'll recover afterwards. So if you race a sprint distance triathlon you might recover in a week.
Whereas if you race an IRONMAN 140.6, you might expect a longer recovery period such as a month.
You'll experience most tiredness in the first 48 hours after your race, so there is no benefit to training during this period while your muscles are sore and your body is tired. The best recovery straight after a race is total rest.
After the first 48 hours (or more) of acute fatigue, you'll start to feel more normal. But not quite fresh enough to resume full blown training. During this phase you'll experience a less intense, but longer lasting kind of fatigue. And it's better to train at a low intensity until you're fully recovered. This helps you stay fit AND recover from your race. If you train too hard during this phase you'll only increase your recovery time.
Recovery From A Sprint Distance Triathlon
Typical Recovery Time: 7 to 10 days.
Recovery From An Olympic Distance Triathlon
Typical Recovery Time: 10 to 14 days.
Recovery From An Ironman 70.3 Triathlon
Typical Recovery Time: 14 to 28 days.
Recovery From An Ironman 140.6 Triathlon
Typical Recovery Time: 21 days plus.
2. What difference does your fitness make to triathlon race recovery times?
If you've read the advice above, you'll now have some idea of how long it takes to recover from a triathlon. It's also worth remembering that these time-frames rely partly on your fitness and experience.
For example, a professional triathlete might race at their best for three consecutive weekends in a row. Whereas an experienced amateur might need a two week gap between races to perform well. And a beginner might need a four week gap to recover and get race-ready again.
It's important to consider your own level when you're planning your season or setting race-goals.
3. What difference does pacing make to triathlon race recovery times?
If you want to recover quickly from a triathlon, you need to pace yourself sensibly on race day. That doesn't mean doing a slower time. It simply means pacing your effort evenly throughout rather than going too hard in the first half of the race. This usually leads to faster race times.
Pacing is not such a major factor when recovering from a sprint-distance triathlon. Chances are you'll recover in 7-10 days regardless.
However, pacing is a moderate-sized deal in an Olympic triathlon. And a BIG DEAL for Ironman 70.3 or Ironman 140.6 events.
If you pace yourself optimally on race day, you will a) Race Faster and b) Recover Quicker.
Whereas if you race too hard, your legs will eventually get sore, which will impede your ability to continue cycling and running fast.
Racing too hard also impedes your body's ability to digest things like energy drinks and energy gels. So it's a double whammy of bad news - sore legs AND a belly full of energy drinks and gels all sloshing around, not being digested.
You should treat each discipline of a triathlon as part of a bigger race. So if an Olympic distance triathlon takes you around 3 hours, you need to swim, bike and run like you're in a 3 hour race. Not like you're in three separate short races.
For more information about pacing read my blog post about pacing an Ironman 70,3 race. And my three separate blogs about pacing an Ironman 140.6 swim, bike and run.
If you want to perform well at your key races, you'll need to give yourself enough time to recover fully from any previous events.
Recovery time depends on the race distance, your fitness and how effectively you paced your effort during your previous race.
If you want a flexible triathlon training plan with intelligent taper and recovery periods, check out our 200+ plans by Coach Phil Mosley, all with email coach access.
In this blog I want to share with you the secret to becoming a faster marathon runner.
In fact it'll help you become faster at any distance from 5km through to Ultra distance events.
It's not about being super skinny. It's not about training harder or doing more speed work. And it's not about your new running shoes or fancy GPS watch. You can't buy this secret.
What is it then?
The secret is: Running slower, more.
Ok, it's not a very exciting secret I'll admit. But the performance benefits can be miraculous, as I'll explain below. Let me start by giving you my own story before we talk about how you can apply it to your own training.
Between November 2016 and May 2018 I lived in Perth, Australia (I'm from England originally). While living in Perth I trained 2 or 3 times per week with a local group of marathon runners.
The thing that stood out for me was that they ran very slowly in training. So slow in fact, that I got annoyed at first. I felt like I was almost tripping over my own feet to maintain their pace. I worried I was wasting my time.
Some of the guys ran 85 miles per week, whereas I was doing more like 20. I found that when I did more mileage, I picked up more injuries.
On race days the guys would consistently run 2:45 or faster for a marathon. Which was surprising to me, given how slowly they ran in training. The steady runs we did together were at 7:30 mins per mile (4:40mins/km). If it had been my choice we'd have been running at more like 6:55 min/mile pace.
At one point I picked up a calf strain and couldn't run for 12 weeks. When I eventually made my comeback I decided to start running at a slower pace, just like my friends did. It was difficult at first. I'd be jogging along thinking: "This isn't even training. What's the point?".
Still, I carried on doing it for six days per week and I soon racked up eight weeks of injury free running. No strains, no soreness, no worries.
That was rare for me. And I was soon able to throw in a couple of faster workouts each week, in addition to my four slower runs.
Six weeks later the running group held a beer and pizza night. I drank five large beers (a lot for me) and I drunkenly fell into bed at around midnight.
During our pizza meal we'd arranged to meet the next morning at 8am for our local 5km timed Park Run event. It seemed like a great idea at the time, but when my alarm went at 6:45am I was seriously regretting it.
I nearly missed the start and was still carrying my sweater, phone and headphones when the race started. I was happy to see three of the other guys had also made the start line. They didn't look as bad as me.
The start gun went and two of them raced into the lead. I ran at what felt like a slow pace, worried I might get sick. It was a hot day too.
Thankfully the race soon ended. I was third finisher and my friends came first, second and fourth. I looked down at my watch, expecting to see a relatively slow time. And it said 16:42 for 5km, which came as a big shock. It wasn't a personal best, but it was one of the fastest times I'd run for a while.
The following weekend I went to another Park Run, this time without a hangover, and ran 16:21 for 5km. Clearly something was working with my training. Perhaps it was to do with running slower in training.
So what are the benefits of doing most of your runs at an easier pace?
⁃ Less post run fatigue, so you're fresher each day
⁃ Less musculoskeletal stress, so less injury risk
⁃ The runs hurt less, which makes them motivationally easier.
There are a couple of physiological benefits to slower runs too. One is that they improve your ability to use fat efficiently as a fuel. This means you can go for longer, while preserving your precious reserves of stored glycogen (your go-fast fuel).
The other benefit is that slower workouts help to increase your capacity to clear lactate and re-use it for energy creation. Lactate is a by-product of exercise and when it accumulates it increases your fatigue levels.
When I coach athletes we call talk about "Zone 2" training, referring to all the slower stuff. It is an intensity that has been defined as feeling Easy to Steady.
If you want to work with numbers, you would express your Zone 2 as a range, for example a pace of 7:30 to 8 mins per mile. Or 130 to 140 heart beats per minute.
Most athletes (particularly men) believe they need to train at the top of their Zone 2, or slightly above it. As if training harder is always better. "No pain, no gain." However it's usually better to train at the lower end of your Zone 2 range. You get similar benefits without as much fatigue or injury risk.
So what does your Zone 2 look like? It's important that you work this out, rather than just guessing it. You can either use heart rate or pace as your intensity measure.
For heart-rate based training, you can use your maximum heart rate as a guide. Whereas to use pace as your guide, you'll need to know your current threshold running pace.
If you don't know them, that's totally fine. There are two simple fitness tests you can do to find out.
1. Max Heart Rate Test
2. Threshold Pace Test
After performing these tests you can easily work out your zones using our online Training Zone Calculators for pace and heart rate.
And once you know what your Zone 2 range looks like, you should aim to do at least 80% of your training at that level. Once you've built up your slower running, you can introduce one or two sessions per week that involve faster running, such as fast reps, a short race or a tempo run.
By running in Zone 2 most of the time, you can build greater consistency. This means fewer setbacks and a gradual upwards trajectory of fitness. It's worked for me and I'm enjoying my runs more as a result.
So the next time you're training, don't feel guilty about going too slow. It's probably doing you more good than you realise. Hopefully you'll see the full benefits at your next marathon.
Phil Mosley's Marathon Training Plans With Coach Support
Swimming fast is about more than just seeking the perfect swim stroke. Here's how to break it down into two simple numbers...
You know how it is - swimming isn't like cycling or running. You won't get anywhere without a good technique and you're wasting your time until you learn how glide through the water effortlessly. It's hardly worth doing loads of hard swimming until you sort out your technique, right?
Well, maybe not - there's more to it than that. What if I told you that you could still swim fast, even without the perfect technique? Let me explain.
If you were to watch 20 of the best triathletes in the world training in the same pool, you would witness 20 very different front crawl swimming styles. Some would be long and flexible, with barely a splash. Some would be short and punchy. Some would rotate onto their sides on each stroke, like a chicken on a spit-roast. Whereas some would swim as flat as a barge.
And yet they'd all be swimming fast times that the rest of us can only dream of. Their strokes are by no means perfect, but the common factor is that they all swim for around 90-minutes (sometimes more) per day, and have done for years.
Pro IRONMAN athlete James Cunnama once told me: "When I went to Brett Sutton for coaching, he said my stroke was 'as pretty as a picture'. He also told me that I 'swim about as fast as a picture too'. He said I needed to do more swim training to build my fitness. Some people in his squad don't look like great swimmers, and yet they swim unbelievably fast."
Cunnama's experience suggests it's not essential to have a beautiful stroke in order to swim well. For all its complexity, the art of swimming actually boils down to two simple numbers.
1. Stroke Rate - how many strokes you do per minute
2. Stroke Length - how far you travel for each stroke
Elite open-water swimmers have stroke rates of between 75 and 95 strokes per minute, whereas age-group triathlon swimmers have stroke rates nearer 50 to 60 strokes per minute. With those numbers in mind, it's easy to see why elite swimmers swim faster than the rest of us. But the good news is that if you can improve your Stroke Rate (without shortening your Stroke Length) you will swim faster.
Your Stroke Rate is largely governed by your swim fitness - the fitter you are, the quicker and more powerfully you can move your arms through the water. Whereas your Stroke Length is largely governed by your technique - the better your technique, the more efficiently you can grab hold of the water and use it to lever yourself forwards. There is a cross over between the two as well, because your stroke rate will increase as your technique improves, and your stroke length will increase as you become fitter and stronger.
The conclusion to all this is that you need to attack your swim training on two fronts. One is to swim regularly and progressively, just like you would train for running or cycling. This will help you to become fitter, enabling you to increase your Stroke Rate.
The other is to seek poolside coaching assistance in order to improve your technique, so that you can become more efficient at moving yourself through the water (Stroke Length). As a by-product of swimming regularly, you’ll also improve your "feel for the water". In other words, you'll learn to feel whether or not you're moving well through the water, and how to correct it yourself.
If you can't get regular coaching, all is not lost - you can still improve by reading books, watching swim videos on You Tube or even better - check out the Swim Smooth Guru app to diagnose and fix your own stroke.
Having some way of measuring your Stroke Rate is important too so that you know if you're improving. I use a Finis Tempo Trainer Pro - a beeper that goes under a swim hat. You can also get watches that measure your stroke rate, including those by Garmin and Swimovate.
So don't give up. Follow a training plan if possible, so that your fitness keeps growing. And keep trying to improve your technique too, whether that's with a poolside coach or via self-learning.
Coach Phil Mosley Training Tips Blog
Train Smart. Race Hard.
Phil Mosley is a triathlon coach and triathlon magazine writer.
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