How to get the balance between Swim, Bike and Run In Triathlon.
By Tom Davis
Just doing one sport it can be hard to balance life and training, but try doing 3, and it can become overwhelming to work out how to make everything fit. Not only to work out what time you may have, but also how to combine swim, bike and run, recovery, hard sessions, easy sessions… the list goes on.
The hardest, and probably the most important, place to start is firstly working out what your goals are. Once you've got that it's a lot easier to work out what you need to target and how to put a triathlon training plan together.
From there, start with your weaknesses - as that's likely where you can make the biggest improvements, and program your strengths around those key sessions targeting the areas you want to improve. Obviously how much work you can tolerate in each sport depends a lot on your background, and where you’ve come from. For instance, trying to do a max effort bike session after a hard run isn't going to work… the impact from a hard run just doesn't allow the legs to push on two wheels, and in fact running in general is the hardest to add into a plan. It carries the most load, and creates the most muscular damage, hence requiring the most recovery, and carrying the greatest risk for injury. Most athletes always complain that it's their run that is letting them down in a triathlon, however a lot of the time, that's far from the big picture, and by becoming more efficient on the swim and bike, the run naturally improves with clever programming.
Next, it's important to schedule in adequate rest so you make sure you adapt to the training - its all well and good doing the work, but it's the periods when you rest that improvement happens!!
There's also the interaction between sports to consider… Its easy to think you need to do hard sessions all the time in all 3 sports - but that quickly becomes a recipe for disaster as everyday has something that is hard, meaning the body never has a chance to adapt and recover. That's where maybe getting a triathlon coach can come in really handy, as they can take a step back and really look at the bigger picture - and long term development of an athlete, rather than self programming, where it can be easy to always want to push harder or do more. A lot of athletes come to me saying that i do three sessions of each sport week in week out, and that's great, and a good structure to begin with, but when i start looking into how the sessions correlate to one another, it just becomes a routine of smashing themselves as hard as they can, until they are forced to take some recovery.
The best way is to have a focus, so maybe for 3 weeks you want to look at improving your bike FTP - there's your hard sessions. I would then say for that three week block, that 90 percent of the running is then easy or aerobic - any intensity is minimal to allow the space to hit those hard bike sets, and the swimming is a mixture of intensities - but backs off to aerobic if you are feeling tired. That's just one example, and will obviously depend on time of year, goals, and also you as an athlete as i previously mentioned. And that is where having a coach can also bring a different perspective to the training, and can maybe highlight some areas for you to work on that maybe you haven't considered, or can help to put the plan together in a different way which may allow for adequate recovery.
Ultimately the question of how to match all three sports is the big question of triathlon… it's what the sport is, and what makes your event a success or not, so isn't really something you want to leave to guesswork… You're investing all that time and effort into training, and getting to the event, you need to make sure that you both enjoy, and do yourself justice come race day. There's nothing worse than either getting injured before the event, or going into the race with doubt if you've done enough, and that's where a coach can work wonders for confidence, and belief that you are in the best place possible to deliver!