Training Principles

Alright, you’re signed up for a race. Now what? One practice which you will want to adhere to from the start is to keep some type of training log. This will do wonders down the road if you hit a sticking point and want to identify if you’re overtraining, or just to look back at the progress you’ve made. See or for good articles on what should be recorded each workout. I use software called Training Peaks which serves double duty as my training log and also to automatically share with my coach so he is notified when I’ve completed a workout. He can then post comments for me, which may be a simple “good job” or, if he notices something amiss, a few sentences to address any of his concerns or ask me a follow-up question about how I felt.

When executing your training plan, be advised that that one very common mistake that triathletes of all levels make during training is doing the bulk of their workouts at a moderate-hard intensity, with very little volume at either low or high intensities. In recent years, a school of thought has taken hold which was quantified by an exercise scientist named Stephen Seiler, who called it the 80/20 rule. When analyzing the training logs of world-class cyclists, skiers, runners, and triathletes, he found that they did approximately 80 percent of their training at low intensities, and the other 20% at moderate to high intensities. Further studies have supported this approach. In your day-to-day workouts, keep in mind that unless you’re specifically doing a high intensity section, you should be breathing comfortably hard but not panting. If you can’t say the phrase “Old Macdonald had a farm” in one breath without gasping at the end, you are likely going too fast. (Side note: don’t do this in the middle of a group run or you may get some strange looks.) For more details on the 80/20 rule, read “80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster By Training Slower” by Matt Fitzgerald.

A corollary to this rule is to not race yourself in training. If you did a 6 mile run last week in 54:00, don’t try to do it this week in 53:30. If you happen to run 30 seconds faster, great. If you don’t, don’t worry about it. If you find yourself speeding up at the end of a run because you feel good, that’s ok. If you are exhausted but sprint at the end of a run to make a certain time, that’s not ok. It is crucially important to keep in mind that one day’s workout should never substantially affect the next day’s workout. You may be a bit sore, but if you are unable to complete your scheduled workout the next day then you obviously went too hard.

As a general rule of thumb, you should do a race distance bike or run workout about 10-20% slower than you plan on doing it during the race. Similarly, if you want to do a bike or run workout at race pace, you shouldn’t go further than 50% of the distance you will go in the race. Do not worry that this will cause you to be undertrained with respect to your goal times. There is a phenomenon called “race day magic”, which even weekend 5k warriors are familiar with. The adrenaline of the race and the thrill of competition will drive you to go farther and faster than you did during training. Some estimates have placed this benefit at the ability to go 10% faster over a similar training workout, or up to 100% further when holding the same speed as a training workout. Trust in it. It will be there.

Next: Triathlon Gear