Alistair Brownlee and Ashleigh Gentle on stepping up to the T100 distance from short course triathlon

Thinking about stepping up from sprint or Olympic distance triathlon to take on the PTO 100km middle distance? We share some top tips from short course veterans turned long distance stars, Alistair Brownlee and Ashleigh Gentle.

Writer & Long Course Triathlete
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For pro athletes, the PTO’s race series looks set to be bigger and more competitive than ever before. And the Professional Triathletes Organisation is also set to introduce the 100km race format to the age-group ranks alongside those pro races.

As more details of the T100 age group races are revealed, plenty of age-group triathletes will be looking to step up from sprint and Olympic distance triathlon.

But if all your swim-bike-run experience so far has been in short course racing, you might be wondering how to adapt your training and racing for middle distance triathlon, and beyond. We spoke to two professional triathletes, well-versed in stepping up from short course racing, to get their insights.

Australian pro triathlete Ashleigh Gentle has become known as the Queen of the PTO 100km, successfully stepping up in distance after her short course career. Olympic legend and double gold medallist Alistair Brownlee, Founder of Brownlee Fitness, has become a dominant force at the pointy end of long distance racing. Read Ashleigh and Alistair’s top tips for age-group triathletes looking to up their distance.  

Don’t be intimidated by the distance – ‘It goes by a lot quicker than you might think’

Racing for 100km might seem like a daunting prospect for age-group triathletes who are accustomed to racing over the sprint or Olympic distance.

But Ashleigh doesn’t view the increased time spent out on the race course as something to be too worried about. “I would say try not to be intimidated by the distance. If you’ve only done a sprint or an Olympic, it’s more just a sense of pacing yourself.”

Ashleigh Gentle PTO Tour US Open 2023 Milwaukee
Success in stepping up to the 100km distance involves being able to pace yourself, says Ash Gentle [Photo: PTO]

“You’ll quickly get a handle on the distance. If you’re able to sign up to more than one [100km] event, then you can ease into it. Pace yourself really well and see how it feels on the first one. If you feel quite comfortable and think that you held back more than you’d like, that’s when you can start pushing the boundaries to see how fast you can go.”

“Racing on these multi-lap courses, the distance goes by a lot quicker than you think.”

Experience the ultimate triathlon party at the PTO European Age Group Open in Ibiza

Increase your training volume in a way that’s sustainable

Something that can put a lot of age-group triathletes off going up to middle distance races like the PTO’s T100 is concerns around the time commitment, and injury risk, that comes with training for a longer distance race.

But the increase in training volume doesn’t have to be as drastic as you might think, says Brownlee. “It is possible to train for most triathlon distances on lower hours, even if you’ve only got 10 hours in a week to train.” How many hours you’ll need to spend training really depends on your goals. Of course, if you want to be at the sharp end of the racing – you might need to commit a bit more time. “If you can commit more hours, you’re just going to be able to train to complete whatever distance you’re racing faster.”

But whether you’re looking to complete, or compete over the 100km distance, the priority should always be on using your training time well. “I think for most people, it’s not necessarily about upping your volume to do more long distance,” says Alistair. “It’s about using the time that you have as effectively as you can in your week, so that you can consistently train for several months at a time.”

How to avoid injury when increasing your training volume

If you do have more time to commit to your triathlon training, and you’re looking to up your weekly training volume to optimise your performance over the 100km race distance – what’s the recipe for avoiding injury?

Alistair’s insight is that sustainability is the most important thing. “If you are increasing your training volume, do it slowly and build up over weeks and months to avoid getting injured. People will tell you various formulas for doing that, but I think it’s very individual. It’s important to go at your own pace.”

“Avoiding injury as you step up in distance is really all about considering sustainably what you can do in your week.”

Keep the aerobic sessions steady: How to maintain speed while building endurance

Another concern for short course age-groupers is that by going up a distance, they’ll lose some of their speed. But you only have to take a look at the likes of Anne Haug – who can dominate over both the full IRONMAN distance and the fast and furious T100 races. Or Taylor Knibb – who was able to take the win at the PTO US Open, secure her qualification for the Paris Olympics and become IRONMAN 70.3 World Champion in the space of one month – to see that it is possible to mix speed and endurance.

Increasing your training volume isn’t an automatic road to losing speed, says Alistair. “I don’t actually think you lose speed by doing more volume of training. The risk of losing speed comes when you do too much of your training volume at the ‘wrong’ intensities.”

PTO European Open 2023 Ibiza - Alistair Brownlee
Alistair Brownlee recommends keeping aerobic training easy so you can perform better quality speed sessions [Photo credit PTO / Darren Wheeler]

When you start training for long distance triathlons, it’s important that your easy aerobic sessions are actually easy. “Those middle intensities don’t do a very good job at training your aerobic system. Plus, they fatigue you too much to really be able to do your speed sessions properly.”

The key is going easy on the aerobic efforts, so you can go hard on the quality, speed sessions and really get the most out of your training. “As long as you keep the aerobic sessions steady enough, and you still do regular speed work – you’ll be able to keep hold of your speed over the three triathlon disciplines.”

Nutrition and hydration are key for performing well over 100km

Fuelling during a race is something that short course age-groupers – particularly those racing the sprint triathlon distance – might not have had to put too much thought into. But “fuelling is a huge factor” when you’re stepping up to the longer race distances, says Ashleigh Gentle.

“I hardly thought about nutrition in Olympic distance and that’s probably not a good thing. I’ve learned a lot over the last few years that would’ve helped me if I could turn back time!”

Use those longer, aerobic training sessions to practice fuelling – particularly on the bike. The nutrition you can stomach, and the quantities, is highly individual, and something that you’ll only fine tune through practice.

“Trying to practice the hydration and fuelling that you’ll use in the race during training is key,” says Ashleigh. “I’m pretty lucky that I’ve been able to stomach the nutrition pretty well. The first few races, I was probably still under fuelling a little bit. But then I really tried to push those boundaries to see what my stomach could handle.”

Having a fuelling strategy in place during your race – and sticking to it – is also important. When the heat is on, it can be easy to forget to take on fluids and nutrition. Even pros with as much experience as Gentle can get it wrong from time to time: “In Milwaukee [the 2023 PTO US Open], I don’t think I hit my nutrition targets at all. I was just in the hurt locker, and I didn’t ever find my rhythm. When that happens it’s easy, no matter how much experience you have, to forget that have the gel or the sip of drink.”

Practice makes perfect when it comes to dialling in your nutrition and hydration. But the more thought you put into it during training – the better chance you have of being able to perform at your best out on the race course.

For short course age-groupers, stepping up from sprint or Olympic distance triathlon to middle distance and beyond might not be as big of a leap as you think. Focus on building up the volume at a steady rate, training at the correct intensities and practicing your nutrition and you’ll set yourself up for success over the T100 age group races.

RELATED: Why race the PTO 100km distance?

Jenny Lucas-Hill
Written by
Jenny Lucas-Hill
Jenny Lucas-Hill is a writer, content creator and communications professional. A long-distance triathlon enthusiast, she has three full Iron-distance finishes to date & also loves watching the sport.
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