Jack of All Trades Master of None?
Spreading your training across three or four disciplines can be challenging. It is not realistic nor recommended to match the training loads of single sport athletes in swim, bike, and run simultaneously. The individual event that propelled you into the sport may still be your strength or maybe it’s not anymore. We talked about focusing on your limiter during the off season or doing a run focus in the late fall after your final race of the season, but now the season is almost here and you don’t want to give up fitness in one discipline to gain time in another. So, what do you do? Here are some strategies to help you get an extra boost in each discipline without altering your training too much:
Join a Masters Swim Group
Following the blue or black line on the bottom of the pool can feel like a chore at times, especially if you are on your own. Meeting up with some swimmers of similar ability at least occasionally can raise your game and re-energize your swimming. Try to find a group that does more swimming than socializing. Ideally the workouts have a focused main set with a purpose. The goal is to be optimally challenged so find a lane that matches your current ability level.
Participate in your Local Mountain Bike Series
If you look at the time breakdown of XTERRA races, the mountain bike leg has the greatest opportunity for time savings. Participating in a few local races will not only improve fitness, but greatly improve your handling skills. Most races have beginner, sport, expert and pro categories allowing you to start where you are comfortable and move up as you gain confidence. Just make sure you’re ready to sprint for the hole shot! Most triathletes have a well-developed diesel engine, but rarely clean the pipes with near maximal efforts. A 10-20-mile cross-country mountain bike race can be a good wake-up call and get you out of your comfort zone. Throw in a transition run when you’re done to simulate XTERRA. Pure mountain bikers will think you’re crazy and maybe you are.
Run a 5k or 10k
Often triathletes trying to gain speed and fitness in their run train for a marathon or half marathon. It’s true that you will gain run fitness, but often the extra miles you put in take away valuable time and repetition from your swim and bike. If you want to gain speed and fitness in your run, hop in a 5k or 10k. You will get a quality workout without needing extended recovery time. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and see what sort of pace you can run in a hard, short run only race. Maybe you can’t hold the pace you thought you could, but after a few short races maybe you can!
Find Local Races that Fit with Your Training Program
Doing shorter events or single discipline races in your area allow you to easily incorporate them into your training schedule without having to skip workouts because of travel. We recommend events that are around an hour or less for the most part. If they are much longer you end up treating these events more like ‘A’ races which requires modifying the rest of your training week. Strategically placed local events also allow you to meet the people in your area that are strong in that discipline and might just give you a new training partner or two for key hard sessions, and we all know misery enjoys company.
Increase Frequency Not Necessarily Volume
Many triathletes train each discipline 2-3 times per week. These sessions are often quality workouts, but sometimes this just isn’t enough repetition. If you feel like you have plateaued, try spreading out your volume into 4-6 sessions per week instead of 2-3. Longer sessions can cause a breakdown in form because of fatigue. Shorter, but more frequent sessions can allow you to improve technique. It’s not realistic to do this with all three disciplines at the same time. Instead try this with one at a time starting with your limiter. Sports that require more motor learning, such as swimming, respond better to shorter, more frequent sessions.
Modulate Your Expectations
Fitting local races into your training plan might require adjusting expectations. This means giving up your ego and pushing yourself within your own abilities. The goal is to attain a performance level higher than you might be able to do in your own in training. Keep in mind that you might be in the middle of a training cycle and fatigued from previous workouts so a PR is likely not the goal. Just don’t be the person with a list of excuses before the race starts, like “this is just my threshold workout” or “I’m in the middle of a big training block.” Bite your tongue and think positively about your personal goals of the race. These are your best opportunities to experiment with race-day strategies and find something out about yourself.