Train Like a Triathlete

Train Like aTriathlete!!Training is a touchy subject to bring up with people I am finding out, especially those that have been doing it a long time. People get set in their ways, and long distance runners and cyclists become married to the training methods that got them to where they are, and no amount of data or studies will sway them. It’s a lot like nutrition. There are tons of studies out there showing that carb loading (the act of stuffing your face with pasta the night before long run) has no benefit and actually can cause you to run slower, yet you still see Runners World magazine and coaches telling people to do it. The other practice is Gu’s. The best analogy I ever heard about the practice of using gels or gu’s during a race is the log/pine needle story. If you want to burn hot for a long period of time you use a log (or fat), because you only need one. If you build a fire using pine needles (sugar) you have to keep throwing pine needles on the fire to keep it burning.

I can hear the crickets …

So in training the disconnect happens when you talk to “runners” or “cyclists”. They have built themselves to the point where they can run a marathon, or do Furnace Creek, and most have gotten there by doing long mileage in training. And that works when all you are is a runner or cyclist. As a triathlete this is the road to injury. There’s an old joke that goes around the triathlete world (and probably why they are looked at with disdain by other sports) where if someone runs a marathon the reply is “that’s cute … how long was the bike before that?”. Likewise, if they bike 100 miles the reply is “now go run a marathon”.

As “douchey” as that sounds, there is some truth to it. Where I went wrong for years, and where a lot of triathletes go wrong, is we try to train as a runner, a cyclist, and a swimmer instead of training like a triathlete. This is where the runner or cyclist missteps as well when they tell us to “train for the mileage” like they do. What they fail to realize, for the most part, is that while they are running 20 miles as a workout, that’s ALL they are doing. A triathlete also has to find time for a long bike and a long swim.

I will say this to runners all the time when they question my mileage. “You need to train for the marathon portion or you won’t make it”, they say. “No,” I reply. “I need to train to run a marathon after bike 112 miles”.

Crickets again …

All of my injuries, including the most recent one that cost me Chattanooga, have been due to me not heeding my own advice and trying to train as long and as hard as I can. This has resulted in fatigue (not tiredness … there’s a difference), Achilles strains, and inflammation flare up’s. I thought that by gutting through the pain I was feeling it would get better, but instead it got worse. It’s not at the point where I can’t race though, in fact I have a Sprint on Saturday, but I know that an Ironman would probably put me down for months and I wasn’t willing to risk that.

I read a lot, and I make sure to read opposing view’s as much as I can so that when I make a decision it’s not coming from a single-minded view (an example the folks in Washington should try once in a while), and what I have been reading recently is “Time Crunched Triathlete”. The longest run he has in his plan for a 70.3 race is 90 minutes. The longest bike? 2 hours 30 minutes. His plan is based a lot on intervals, so although you are training shorter time frames, you are pushing pretty hard th whole time. You can also look into Jonathan Bailor who also advocates for shorter exercise times at higher intensity. One of his workouts revolves around the bike on a trainer set to the hardest gear (measured in you having to stand and push to get it to move), doing a minute, then resting 2, 5 times. That’s it. I tried that once last year and thought my legs were noodles afterwards. There is merit to this plan I think.

I know a lot of people reading this are not going to agree. Hell, even Jennifer argues with me about this. She feels she needs to run the full mileage to mentally prepare her, as does Mary, and to some extent Kate (though she cuts off her long run at 18 miles). But the thing is, mentally does not equal fitness. It’s two different things, and personally if I can get the fitness with less time, I want that.

Flame On!!

5 thoughts on “Train Like a Triathlete

  • July 13, 2014 at 10:52 am

    I’m 69 and started triathlon at age 65. Age and 20 lbs of extra weight take their toll on those long training runs. Shorter work-outs and hard intervals have worked for me in the pool and on the run. I recover faster and have pushed through several plateaus. I admit I love those long bike rides though. I start out planning for a 90 minute ride with some hill repeats and come home after three or four hours of tempo work. Fortunately the winter months consist of indoor rides that force me to do intervals and that really helps. I love your blog. Keep up the good work. I’m planning my first full distance race next year at age 70. Hopefully you’ll be able to do one too.

  • July 10, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    Yay for Time Crunched Triathlete! For about a year it’s been on my night stand or coffee table and I constantly page through it. My husband even knows to never move it. I’ve done the sprint plans a few times, sometimes modifying it, and the Intermediate Oly plan last year. I’m going to use Intermediate Oly again this year. Although it’s only four workouts a week, it’s intense, and I found that I really did need to give myself a considerable time to recover mentally after the race. I’m hoping for my first 70.3 next fall (either HIM Augusta or River Roux here in Louisiana) but I’ll definitely be doing it using TCT. And yes I know I sound like a walking ad for the book but I love it!

    • July 10, 2014 at 3:17 pm

      It’s definitely has some good point. I will use some of it, and modify as needed, but the time based works well for me.

  • July 8, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    Great ideas here John. I’m not sure how high intensity fits in my training as I’m still fairly new to it. I’ve made huge gains in endurance by doing long rides and swims. I seem to hurt my body right now if I run long. I’m certain that I’ve become faster doing interval training so both probably help. It’s tricky to figure out what works, sifting through all of the info, some of it misinfo. Good luck on your sprint this weekend.
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    • July 8, 2014 at 3:01 pm

      That was my point as well … swimming and biking I can handle … running not so much … and the thing is that as a triathlete you do not need to run all those hours and miles

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