Running for triathlon (part 2)

Mike Trees continues his running for triathlon article with a look at the ways in which you can get the most out of a limited amount of time.

“I would love to do triathlons but I don’t have the time!”

Is this you…?

The pace of life seems to be forever accelerating. I have a WiFi enabled laptop that goes with me everywhere and is permanently on line. The IT revolution has increased my ability to do work, but instead of saving me time, has made me busier. But not just me, as you are reading this I think I must have struck a chord with you too!

Let’s be realistic, the pace we live our lives at is not slowing down so we must plan our schedules carefully to make time for work and family and also time to train for triathlon.

Even though you may not be able to devote as much time to training as you would like, the following principles will help you improve. However, it is unrealistic to expect someone on five hours a week to improve more than someone training for 10 hours. On the other hand, it is also virtually impossible to predict future performance other than to say that it is dependant on the athletes sporting background, their lifestyle, training routine, and natural ability.

Your body becomes efficient at what it does most

We know that the body adapts to the specific training you give it so, perhaps we can cheat the system.

Train at race pace

If you want to run a race at 8 minutes per mile pace, train at this pace.
If you run at race pace over race distance, in my view that is a race! So, in
training I recommend picking a challenging, but realistic, race pace and breaking
the distance down into smaller more manageable parts. For your 10k run training
this might be as follows:

To run 50 mins for 10km it is necessary to cover 400m every 2 minutes, ie running 25 x 400m at 2 minutes per lap pace without resting. Initially this may be out of reach, so start off training with something that is attainable, eg 12 x 400m at 2 minutes per lap pace with 1 minute 30 seconds rest between each 400m. Over time it will become possible to increase the repetitions to 25 (which is 10km in distance). After achieving the distance, decrease the rest to only 30 seconds between each rep. When you are able to run 25 x 400m at 2 minutes per 400m with only 30 seconds rest, you will be capable of achieving your goal: a 50 minute 10km. A typical programme may look like this:

Race speed training: 10 week programme
Week 1 12 x 400m in 2mins, take 1min rest
Week 2 16 x 400m in 2mins, take 1min rest
Week 3 20 x 400m in 2mins, take 1min rest
Week 4 24 x 400m in 2mins, take 1min rest
Week 5 12 x 400m in 2mins, take 1min rest (Easy week)
Week 6 12 x 400m in 2mins, take 30 sec rest
Week 7 16 x 400m in 2mins, take 30 sec rest
Week 8 20 x 400m in 2mins, take 30 sec rest
Week 9 24 x 400m in 2mins, take 30 sec rest
Week10 12 x 400m in 2mins, take 1mins rest (Easy week)

This type of training would typically be started 12 weeks before for your most important race. The last two weeks would consist of “a taper”, which means that you would reduce for training volume and intensity to allow your body to recover and reap the benefits of training by getting stronger.

Similar speed sessions must also be carried out on the bike and in the swim and be integrated into an overall programme. Although concentrating on the run for this series of articles, I have included a sample schedule together for a typical week of a novice triathlete to help show how it all fits together.


Dump the long slow training!

In early winter it is beneficial to do longer slow training to help build up the aerobic system, however long slow training will only teach you to go long distances slowly. In standard distance triathlon you only have to swim 1,500m, bike 40km and run 10km.

If you swim slowly your body position will be lower in the water. It will affect your stroke, and unless a very good swimmer you will swim badly. I do not recommend long slow swimming. It is better to swim shorter distances faster and concentrate on swimming well. In cycling terms 40km is considered short and it takes power to go fast. This is developed in the gym using weights, or doing hill reps or by cycling at speed. The same is true for running.

However, if you have the time and enjoy doing long slow distance (LSD) work, please do it. Remember triathlon is to be enjoyed, so do what you enjoy. But, if you are short of time and your main aim is to improve, LSD training is not necessary.

Keep your carbohydrate levels high

Training at speed means that you burn carbohydrates for energy and not fat. In the old days, before sports nutrition was taken seriously, athletes used to train to burn fats for energy. Compared to carbohydrate, our body’s fat reserves are vast. Training the body to burn fats for energy is time consuming, as it involves lots of LSD training. If you are short of time you must look for a different solution.

The recent availability of carbohydrate gels offers one solution. Now it is possible for triathletes to easily pre-race carbo-load, as well as consume carbohydrate energy gels while racing. For standard distance racing, there is little or no need to be energy efficient, and thus no need to do the traditional LSD training in order to promote fat burning.

Don’t train hard every session!

Keep your recovery sessions short, about 30 minutes is good. This saves time. Over 30 minutes and you will not be recovering, but tiring yourself. Keep in mind that no more than 30% of your total training volume should be hard. The rest should be at an lighter aerobic pace.

Listen to your body

Heart rates are often used to help athletes train at their optimum pace. This is a very valuable tool, however before starting to train with a heart rate monitor, you must learn to listen to your own body. Does the training feel easy or does it feel hard?

A simple technique for beginners is to rate each session out of “10”. For example “1” may be  easy  walking, “3”  jogging, “5”  recovery pace, “7”  steady pace training, “8”  race pace, and “10” all out sprinting.

Although this is a primitive guide, it helps athletes to listen to their own body. The best coaches in the world can only present information and guide their athletes towards set goals. The best athletes in the world are totally in tune with their bodies. I stopped using a heart rate monitor every day when I realized that I could predict my heart rate fairly accurately by listening to my own body as I trained.

Strength training is the key

I do a lot of weight training, aerobic circuit training and core stability training with my athletes and the results speak for themselves. Running and cycling speeds are very much related to power-to-weight ratios. Power is needed in swimming, but also good technique to reduce resistance, is more important. For swimming I like using paddles to strengthen the final push of the stroke. Hill training is very good for both running and cycling, and this should be supplemented with
weight training.

The form of weight training you undertake will depend on your needs, strengths and weaknesses. A weight that is light for one person may be too heavy for another. I recommend talking to the professionals at your local gym, for specific advice on your particular needs.


I have not included this in the training schedule below, but that does not mean it should be neglected. Studies about stretching are often contradictory. I believe it is very good to help prevent injury, therefore vital. I have not set aside specific training time, because it doesn’t need big blocks of time. My best advice is, if you have a free few minutes pick one muscle group to work on and stretch it out. I have become an expert at stretching while talking on the phone, or waiting for the kettle to boil. You may stretch while watching TV! So long as a few minutes gentle exercise is undertaken to warm up the muscles before training it is not necessary that you stretch directly before or after a work out.

A longer bike ride!

On Sundays my athletes all start riding together. The distance depends on how much time is available. This is one session that will need to be longer than the others to get the body used to working for the length of time a race may take. This longer training should be done on the bike, and preferably on a hilly course to build up the cycling muscles. A maximum of 2 hours is all you need.
The reason I suggest a longer bike ride than a long run is that the heart and lungs cannot detect whether you are cycling swimming or running, so that many aerobic benefits from the bike will carry over to the run, but as the bike carries your body weight there is less likelihood of getting injured, which unfortunately is all to common in running.

The training schedule

If an athlete tries to do too much he or she will achieve little but get injured, sick or both and will eventually lose motivation. The following schedule was developed, based on the amount of time this triathlete had available to train and represents a week of ‘base training’ in February.

Triathlon training: average 5- 7 hours a week training

Tony is married with 3 children. He works over 40 hrs a week in IT, is chairman and coach of the local youth football club. His sporting background includes Sunday league football and squash. He aims to complete Windsor in under 2 hours 30 and improve his PB’s (currently S:1500m=31:10, B:40km=1:12:51 and R:10km=52:52

Comments: ”Since training with Mike I have become more focused on what I need to do to improve, I have started weight-training to get more power, cycle/run sessions are more structured and the swim sessions are helping me with my stroke work. The only problem is training has become much harder.”

Sun Hilly bike ride (1-2 hours) Aerobic ride, do not stand up while hill climbing!
Mon Recovery run (30 mins) Try to relax, tension wastes energy
Tues Swim (30mins) 15min of intervals, use paddles for strength training
Weights (30mins) Include leg press 4 sets of 12 reps, for power!
Wed Run 10 x 75m hill strides (30-45 mins) Keep on toes, bound, aim for power, not speed
Thu Bike track or turbo trainer (30-60mins) Fartlek style
Fri Rest
Sat Swim intervals (30mins) Keep to race pace
Track interval running, 400m intervals (30-60mins) Keep to race pace

It is possible to achieve a lot on a limited amount of training, so long as the principles behind that training are sound. Quality not quantity is the golden rule.

Jargon busters

Base training: One method of training is to divide the year into various periods, such as base, pre-race, race and recovery. In the base training period most of the strength building work takes place.

Energy gels: These are highly concentrated carbohydrate solutions that are easily absorbed by the body and converted into energy.

Fartlek: This is Swedish for speed play. It is similar to interval training, but not as formal The length of time or distance covered training hard and recovery periods are not fixed but depend on how the athlete feels.

Interval training: Training carried out at set speeds over set distances, with fixed rest periods designed to allow partial recovery. It enables an athlete to train at higher speeds than constant running.

Sources of energy: The two most important to triathletes are fats and carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates: The average person can store about 2,000 calories of carbohydrate, which will last only about 2 hours when training hard. To prevent these from running out, our carbohydrate reserves need topping up regularly.

Fats: When working at a slower pace the body prefers to burn fat for energy to spare our limited carbohydrate stores. Even very slim people have abundant supplies of fat for energy, that can power us for days on end.

Turbo trainer: A machine that allows athletes to cycle indoors using their real bike rather than use a gym-style exercise bike.

Did you miss part 1? Click here to read it now.

Mike Trees
Written by
Mike Trees
Latest News
Jason West PTO Tour US Open 2023 Run Milwaukee
Jason West set to make SHOCK return to Olympic-distance triathlon in October
Taylor Knibb wins IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships 2023
Taylor Knibb on stellar start list for IRONMAN World Championship in Kona
Katie Zaferes at WTCS Finals Pontevedra
Katie Zaferes forced to wait for Paris 2024 qualification after tough day in Pontevedra
Jan Frodeno PTO Tour US Open 2023 Milwaukee
Jan Frodeno credited with helping Liverpool FC soccer stars make flying start to new season
Mooloolaba ITU Triathlon World Cup / Vicky Holland
Olympic Bronze medalist Vicky Holland returns to triathlon racing following childbirth