The two-level approach to triathlon training

The two-level approach to triathlon training

Doing triathlons is hard. Because swimming in a crowd getting punched in the face is hard. Because riding a bicycle for extended amounts of time sitting on your crotch is hard. Because running long distances after spending long hours swimming and biking is hard. Not pooping your pants is hard. Figuring out what gear works for your body is hard. Finding time between work and family is hard. Maintaining the facade of some resemblance of a social life when you´re working out 15 hours a week is hard.

But in addition to that, working out when your on the brink of injury is also hard. And pushing through workouts when you´re buried under a mountain of fatigue is also hard. It is also the path to injury, crankiness and an unhappy wife.

I´ve begun my structured training for the next season and tried to create a useful training plan. In the past I´ve always struggled with too much structure. Sure you need some degree of structuring, but to the last minute? I am not so sure. Too often have I pushed through an interval session with very poor form because I was shot from earlier workouts. Too often have I beat myself up because business travel prevented me from following the plan. But where is the sweet spot between necessary structure and periodization and the flexibility you need if triathlon is not the only defining activity in your life?

For the 2018 season I will approach my preparation with a two-fold strategy or what I call the pancake and syrup approach. I will establish a rigid baseline plan (the pancakes) and add extra work on top (mmmmmh, the syrup) depending on how I feel, how much fun I am having and of course on what life allows for.

The baseline will be the TrainerRoad Sweet Spot Base, Tri Build and Specialty plans in the low volume version. I´ll add extra workouts depending on what´s happening. For example, last week I felt good and added another 60 minutes of tempo work. This week I am busted and only added a 60 minute recovery ride. Once the weather becomes rideable again I´ll throw in the occasional long ride. For running I´ll stick with my tried and tested „one hard, one long“ strategy. I´ll focus on the extremes, which means very slow long runs on the weekends and very hard and fast intervals in between. I´ll also work more on my running mechanics. The extra will be very much depending on my business schedule. Running is the easiest to do while traveling and my job will continue to demand a fair amount of international travel. When I´m away I can throw in additional runs without stealing time from my family and as a bonus I get to explore Europe some more.

My swim still sucks, so basically every yard in the water helps. But to establish a baseline I´ll go with two 2k-ish session per week, 40 – 50% tech drills.

All that gives me a baseline of 7 workouts per week (3 trainer rides, 2 runs, 2 swims) and my current plan shows that will amount to something between 400 and 500 TSS. Which is not bad and close to what I can sustain long term without too much trouble. The additional ride should add anything between 30 and 200 TSS, the run between 40 and 100 and an additional swim would be 50 more. I don’t expect to be able to add more than two extra, which would put a hard week at 800 TSS max. Sounds like a tall order.

I also won´t be able to follow a day-to-day plan. My life is currently just too dynamic. To make it easier to achieve my goals for the week I will instead start each week with a checklist of workouts I have to cover. There will be workouts marked „minimum requirement“ and others marked „bonus workouts“. Bar injury, illness or significant life interference I´ll do the minimum no matter what and with maximum quality. I will then add bonus session wherever possible. Easy.

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