For pros, the trouble with having all the time in the world to devote to training is that you will adapt the training to fill the time. Because elite athletes have 20-plus hours a week to train, their training can be designed to take advantage of long, moderate-intensity sessions. If anything, these moderate-intensity sessions are the only way you could train for that amount of time each week. Twenty-plus hours of high-intensity training wouldn’t be effective because the workload would be so high that the athletes could never recover and adapt. Yet historically, even though age groupers frequently have less than half the time to train, the predominant training methods used with time-crunched athletes have been remarkably similar to what the pros do. The individual workouts have been shorter and the interval sessions have featured fewer or shorter efforts, but the overall training philosophy has been the same.
Effective training comes down to applying a workload to an athlete that is both specific to his or her goal activity and appropriate for that person’s current levels of fitness and fatigue. The load has to be high enough to stimulate a training response from the body, but not so great that it creates more fatigue than the body can cope with. And you have to give the body enough recovery time to replenish energy stores and adapt to the applied stress. Physically, the principal differences between training an elite athlete and an amateur are the workloads necessary to achieve positive adaptations, the workloads the athletes can handle, and the time athletes have available to train.
Amateur athletes can’t—or shouldn’t—train like pros because they don’t have the time necessary to commit to training effectively or, if they do have the time, because they can’t physically handle the workload in a way that’s beneficial for performance (surviving a training program is not the same thing as thriving on one). Fortunately, you don’t need to achieve the same workload that a pro does in order to make significant improvements in your performance. And therein lies the opportunity that time-crunched athletes can exploit. Because you have less training time to fill, you have the opportunity to use your time differently than a high-volume athlete would.
Overview of the Time-Crunched Triathlete Program Triathlon is a unique sport that places demands on your body that are different from those experienced by single-sport cyclists, runners, and swimmers. Traditionally, triathlon training programs have largely segregated these individual disciplines and trained them individually. The Time-Crunched Triathlete Program leverages the specificity principle of training—which I will explain in more detail in Chapter 2—to improve triathlon performance with fewer training sessions per week. The overall number of hours in the programs found in this book may not be much lower than what you’ll find in standard triathlon training programs; the innovation is in the structure of the program. The fact is, for athletespreparing for sprint and Olympic-distance events, eight hours of training per week is sufficient to achieve the ?tness necessary for high performance, especially for experienced athletes who may already have longer events (such as the half-Ironman, also known as the 70.3, and the Ironman) under their belts.
As my coaches and I worked with more and more time-crunched triathletes, we found that the critical problem wasn’t the overall time commitment, but the frequency of training sessions. As your personal, professional, and family schedules become busier, it becomes increasingly difficult to schedule more than one training session per day, and yettraditional training programs often call for up to 10 individual workouts each week. For many athletes, there is not even enough time available for six daily workout sessions per week (assuming one rest day each week). And as a time-crunched triathlete attempts to shoehorn more workouts into his or her schedule, training becomes a source of lifestyle stress—on top of being a physical stress. You become a slave to your training program.
The goal of the Time-Crunched Triathlete Program is to achieve greater adaptations from fewer training sessions, enabling you to be a successful, fit, and competitive triathlete in as few as four training sessions and 8 hours per week. In order to achieve the training adaptations necessary for high performance from so few training sessions, most of the workouts featured in the programs are “bricks,” or sessions that feature two disciplines within the same training session. As you’ll see in Chapter 2, there’s plenty of research to support a heavy reliance on brick training. More than just a time saving device, brick training allows for a greater degree of training specificity, which in turn leads to bigger improvements in each leg of your triathlon.
There are some limitations to what the programs described in this book can deliver. I will go into each of them in more detail in the coming pages, but it’s important that you have a basic understanding of what you can expect to accomplish with this program. The Time-Crunched Triathlete Program is designed for athletes competing primarily in sprint and Olympic-distance triathlons. And I use the word compete on purpose. These programs are designed to improve competitive performances in these races, not merely to enable you to reach the finish line. You can already do that, and many of you have done much more than just finish sprint, Olympic, 70.3, and even Ironman races. Your time constraints have placed some of these longer events out of reach, at least for the time being, but have not diminished your competitive drive or your desire to achieve race-winning or personal-best performances.
You will undoubtedly note that I have included a training program for 70.3 events as well. I felt it was important to include a half-Ironman program in this book because research conducted by USA Triathlon indicates that as triathletes gain experience in the sport, they continue to set their sights on longer and longer events. Within five years of entering the sport, many progress to the point where they want to step up to the 70.3 and full Ironman distances. The Time-Crunched Triathlete Program will not prepare you for a full Iron-distance event, and a 70.3 event will be a stretch as well. I have included a training program for 70.3 events because my coaches and I have successfully used these time-crunched principles with athletes we’re coaching for this distance, but there is a catch. Where the Time-Crunched Triathlete Program develops the speed necessary to make you competitive in sprint and Olympic-distance events, it’s not likely to develop the endurance necessary to make you competitive at the 70.3 distance. You’ll have the fitness to finish and have a good race, but you probably won’t be setting a personal best or contending for a position on the podium.
Since there is more to preparing for a triathlon than merely following a training plan, this book also includes information about optimizing sports nutrition for your training sessions and competitions (Chapter 4), recommendations about optimizing your racing strategy to take advantage of the fitness this program will provide (Chapter 6), and a strength training program (Chapter 8) to keep you fit and injury-free between periods when you’re specifically preparing for a triathlon competition.
I should also point out what this book is not: It is not a beginner book. If you’re new to triathlon, the programs in this book will work for you, but the book itself won’t teach you how to be a triathlete. You won’t find information about how to select a wetsuit or adjust your position on the bike. There’s not much information about the specifics of swimming or running technique, either. These are all important topics, but they’ve been covered extensively elsewhere, and there are great resources available for beginners. I recommend Your First Triathlon by Joe Friel.