Monthly Triathlon Training Advice
Are you a triathlete, cyclist or runner? Here's how to recover at the end of a tough season without losing fitness, putting on weight or getting bored.
After a long season of training and racing it's important to take some downtime so your body can recover. Not only does your body need a break, but your mind does too.
Taking a break may actually make you a better and happier athlete. Those who take proper end-of-season breaks often stay in the sport for longer, and therefore have a higher chance of reaching their potential.
Taking a break means easing back on your training and focusing more on the other aspects of life for a while. Such as your family, friends or career.
The problem is, "taking it easy" doesn't come naturally to endurance athletes.
For example, you might feel guilty about taking days off. Or worry that you'll lose your hard-earned fitness and put on weight. Or slip back into a sedentary life and never get started again.
It's not the case though. And in this blog I'll explain the best way to take an end of season break so you don't lose fitness or motivation.
The method I use was inspired by an interview I did with the triple World Champion triathlete Spencer Smith. He told me that after his last race of the season he would take one week of complete rest, with no training whatsoever. He said he actually looked forward to it.
Then for the next three weeks he'd do some light unplanned exercise, but not necessarily swimming, cycling or running.
For you, that might include indoor rowing, stand up paddle boarding, tennis, mountain biking or anything else that works up a sweat and doesn't leave you feeling injured.
After that he'd get back into his triathlon training, but only lightly for the first four to eight weeks. And here at My Pro Coach we follow a similar method for our end of season break.
How To Take Your End Of Season Break (In Three Phases)
Phase 1: One week of total rest.
After your last race of the season, take a week off. This is to break the habit of daily training and to let your body catch up on itself. If you really want to exercise during this period, you can go for some long walks.
Phase 2: Three to seven weeks of active recovery.
After the first week of rest is over, you should then do three to seven weeks of unscheduled, unstructured light cardiovascular exercise. It doesn't have to be running, cycling or swimming. Workout duration should be one hour or less, and done mainly at an easy intensity. Take two rest days per week during this phase.
Phase 3: Four to twelve weeks of structured, low volume training.
Note: We refer to Phase 3 as 'The Prep Phase' in our structured training plans.
Phase 3 is designed to provide an easy, gradual return to proper training. And is more about getting prepared to train, rather than preparing to race. You should stick with your sport, be it triathlon, cycling or running.
The weekly volume of Phase 3 is nearer half of what you might do later in the year. And most (not all) of the training is at an easy intensity.
Phase 3 is also a great time to try new things out. Like joining a new swimming club or riding online with Zwift. It means you can find out what works best for you, before the proper training starts.
The length of your Phase 3 depends on how many weeks you have until your target race. For example, if you have 40 weeks until your big event, you can enjoy 8 or 12 weeks of Phase 3 training. Whereas if your target race is in just 24 weeks, you should shorten it to more like 4-weeks.
Once you've finished Phase 3, you can return back to normal training again. From this point you can ramp up the training volume gradually each month, so that your fitness keeps growing.
How Not To Get Fat During Your End Of Season Break
So that's the three phases of recovery training covered. Now you just need to make sure you don't get too fat during your break. After all you'll be training less and probably socialising more.
It's actually OK to gain a few pounds during the recovery period. It's a great opportunity to dedicate time to family and friends, rather than focusing on your sport. So a small amount of weight gain is fine, because it's easy enough to lose it once you're back to full training.
That said, you still need to be a little careful. The more weight you gain, the longer it'll take to lose it. So two or three pounds is OK, but try not to gain more. You don't want the focus of all your winter training to be weight loss.
The secret is to roughly match your calorie intake with your activity levels. That means consuming less on the days you're not exercising. Easier said than done perhaps, but it's the only way.
For example a 40 minute run might burn 400-600 calories. That's the equivalent of a big snack or maybe three beers.
Whereas to gain a pound in weight you would have to consume 3500 calories, on top of your normal "weight maintenance" calorie intake. Over any time period.
So if you're not exercising, but you're still having that big snack or those beers each day, you'll gain about one pound of body fat every single week. And you don't want that.
Staying Happy During Your End Of Season Break
Aside from tailoring your diet and training during your end of season break, you should consider your mental well-being too. When you're accustomed to training most days, stopping or cutting down can leave a temporary void in your life.
The secret is to be pro-active about your extra time. Make a list of all the things you'd enjoy doing if you weren't always training. Examples might include catching up with friends, going to a concert or taking your kids to a theme park. And then simply arrange to do them while you have the opportunity.
If you're really struggling for ideas, you could use your spare time to service your bike, or research and enter races for next season.
Just remember we're only recommending one week of zero training, so the void shouldn't be that big. Rather think of it as a precious opportunity to do all the things you can't normally fit in.
That just about covers the basics of taking an end of season break. If you want more detail of what to do during Phase 3 of your recovery, check out our online training plans with email coach access, from $29 US. All of our 24 week and longer plans include this phase.
They're designed for triathletes, runners and duathletes - and by the end of 2018 we'll include cycling plans too. They range from 12 to 48 weeks, designed for novice, intermediate and advanced level amateur athletes. You can preview them all from here.
The Essential Guide to Triathlon Post-Race Analysis
Recently I did a video interview with Global Triathlon Network about post-race analysis.
Here I want to expand upon the advice I gave. I'll show you how to analyze your triathlon post-race data so you can train and race better in the future. If you’re a runner or cyclist, rather than a triathlete, the advice below will still be valuable.
It’s natural, whenever you take part in an event, to analyze your results afterwards. Apps like Strava, Garmin Connect and Training Peaks make this easier to do, and also help you compare your performances against others.
The problem is, unless you analyze your race results properly, it can lead you to draw false conclusions. This can be demotivating and might cause you to change your training regime unnecessarily.
In this blog, I’ll help you examine your race data based on facts rather than blind optimism.
Using Race Times and Splits For Analysis
The first thing that everyone does after a race is look at their race finishing time and splits. There's nothing wrong with that, I do it too. And if you’re anything like me you’ll feel one of three ways afterwards:
a) over the moon with happiness
b) crushingly disappointed
c) happy with one or two disciplines, and crushingly disappointed with the other(s).
That's partly because there are dozens of variables at play in a triathlon. No two races are the same. And no two days are the same. Comparing your race times or race splits is not an accurate method of analysis. You’re not really comparing apples with apples.
For starters, triathlons aren’t always accurate. The realities of planning a safe race-route near a swim and transition hub, means there is often some leeway in the distances stated.
And that's just the start. I've made a slightly boring list of race-variables below. Feel free to scroll on past it.
Boring List of Variables That Will Affect Your Triathlon Splits
The list above does not cover everything, but it still covers 33 different things that can significantly affect your race splits. Are you starting to get the idea? Hopefully you can see that race splits aren't always the best way to compare your performances.
Comparing Your Finishing Positions
There’s another way of analyzing your race performances. If you look at the results PDF for most triathlons, you’ll see how you ranked against other competitors by discipline. For example, your swim ranked 10th, your bike ranked 15th and your run split ranked you in 25th.
Sometimes these rankings are given by age group, sometimes by overall position and sometimes both. The example below is from my own race at IRONMAN 140.6 Barcelona.
Example of race results, with rankings:
Comparing your finishing position for different disciplines is useful, because it shows where your strengths and weaknesses were on that given day in relation to everyone else. However, it’s important to avoid jumping to conclusions from this information. There are two big reasons why.
The level of competition varies massively between events. I once had the fastest swim split at a triathlon and afterwards I thought: “I’m awesome!”. Then a week later my awesome swimming ranked me 80th at a different triathlon. In fact, in the example above my swim ranks 85th, although I paced it pretty cautiously.
Your performances in each discipline are affected by your pacing in the previous discipline. You could have a fantastic swim and bike, but a relatively slow run. But that doesn’t mean you’re a bad runner. It might just mean you were over-tired because you swam and cycled too hard.
The Best Way to Analyze Post Triathlon Results
So far, we’ve talked about the difficulty of post-race analysis, but let's now talk about how to get it right.
A couple of weeks before you start racing, you should perform three different fitness tests in controlled conditions, to establish a set of baseline data.
Armed with this baseline data, you can then analyze your race results objectively. No more guess work or false assumptions. After doing these tests you will have a better idea of how you might expect to perform on race day.
The 3 Essential Benchmark Fitness Tests:
(These URL links will take you to my articles on our My Pro Coach Athlete Help Center)
1. Critical Swim Speed Test.
To establish your current pace per 100 for a 1500 time-trial.
2. Critical Power Bike Test.
To establish your current power output and heart rate for a 1 hour time-trial.
3. Running Threshold Test.
To establish your current pace and heart rate for a 1 hour time-trial.
In all my training plans I include these benchmark fitness tests every eight weeks. They are to be done in recovery weeks, so that fatigue does not affect the results.
These three nuggets of performance data can then be used to evaluate your results. Just remember when analyzing your race data using your test results, you must factor in the accumulative fatigue of all three disciplines on race day.
For example, an Olympic distance triathlon is a 2 to 3-hour race. It is highly unlikely you’ll run your fastest ever 10km time at the end of it all. So, don’t expect to.
Post-Race Analysis Example
This small example of post-race analysis is taken from a 90km Half Ironman bike ride, by one of our coached athletes (David). I used Training Peaks for analysis here, but there are other similar kinds of software too.
Leading into the race, we knew David's FTP was close to 275 watts because he did a CP20 bike fitness test beforehand.
This snapshot of data shows us that David rode at 93% of his FTP for the first 45km. This is sometimes called your Intensity Factor (IF). It simply refers to the percentage of your FTP you rode.
Remember that FTP is a measure of your current 1-hour time trial power output. And that a Half Ironman is usually a 4 to 7-hour event. So ideally, he should have paced it a little more conservatively. I advised him to ride at 80 to 83% of his FTP. You can read more about Half Ironman pacing in my previous blog post here.
In the second half of the bike section, David’s power output faded as he grew more fatigued. He rode at just 67% of his FTP (compared to 93% in the first half) and his average heart rate was five beats lower.
It's also worth noting that the first half of the race was slightly hillier, which makes it easier to get carried away with riding too hard. Especially if you don't have the right gearing.
We performed a similar process for the swim and run. Comparing his CSS swim pace and threshold run pace to his half Ironman race pace.
His swim data looked good, but his run data showed that he underperformed. As you would expect, if your legs were blown from cycling too hard before a half marathon run.
We took into account as many variables as we could, such as the distance of the race, accumulative fatigue and hills. The analysis is by no means a perfect process because of the sheer number of variables involved. But using recent performance test data is always better than looking at race splits in isolation.
Interestingly, David was relatively happy with his overall race result. It was a new personal record, even though the analysis suggested he could have performed significantly better if he had paced it more conservatively.
The flip side of this coin is that I see athletes who are disappointed with their race result. And then after analyzing it using their benchmark fitness test scores for comparison, they realize they actually performed well on the day.
And that’s why it’s so important to use recent performance test scores, rather than guesswork or assumptions to analyze your triathlon race results. It'll help you stay grounded in reality, giving you a far better idea of how you raced and how to improve in the future.
Triathlon Post-Race Analysis - Conclusions
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.
Coach Phil Mosley Training Tips Blog
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Phil Mosley is a triathlon coach and triathlon magazine writer.
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