Going Old School: Training by R.P.E.

Triathletes running on a dirt road
June 12, 2018

Mike Ricci


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Throughout the history of triathlon we have seen many advances in various aspects of our sport – equipment, apparel, nutrition, training protocols, racing formats, etc. With the onset of heart rate monitors, GPS devices, power meters (for both bike and run) and other fun gadgets there is one mode of monitoring and measuring metric which has remained constant– the tried and true rate of perceived exertion (RPE). While there are obvious benefits to using various technologically advanced tools and making the training process three or four dimensional, it seems too many athletes struggle to develop their internal gauges which can ultimately stunt their athletic growth.

As a coach, I am a big proponent of using technology and the data it generates to guide an athlete’s training progression and applying that information to their racing when paired with RPE. I often ask my athletes to paint a picture for me of how their body is responding to the training demands using RPE and other internal cues including the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Freshness
  • Attitude

What should a Vo2 swim or threshold bike interval feel like? It can be all too easy to simply peg a number on our watches or bike computers without developing any sense of what it feels like.

We can get so attached to our devices that it becomes a distraction. Instead of focusing on the process we get fixated on chasing a number. To maximize our athletic potential and make the most of our triathlon journey I believe we should embrace the idea of developing our internal clock. There are many ways to do this. One of my favorites is having athletes complete a session without using any kind of device or covering up their power meter or bike computer. I find this especially good for the active recovery sessions and periodic quality sessions. 

A couple of comments I recently received in TrainingPeaks include:

  • “Running without a Garmin feels like I’m cheating."
  • “It’s so ingrained in me to wear one that I feel naked without it, or like I’m doing something wrong or like the run doesn’t really count if I don’t track it.”

I am confident you will find a sense of freedom when periodically rolling out without any kind of device. Additionally, it is not uncommon for technology to fail during a race. How would you be able to respond to a situation where your HR monitor, bike computer or power meter suddenly stopped working during a race? Hopefully you have the athletic confidence and ability to not panic while using your internal gauge and RPE to guide you.

Brad Sengis a USA Triathlon and USA Triathlon Youth and Junior Certified Coach, and also the current coach of the CU Buffaloes Triathlon Team. For over a decade he has worked with athletes of all levels and abilities to help them achieve their dream. He also has a long list of personal accomplishments in the sport, including racing Kona four times as a professional and having several top 10 finishes at IRONMAN events. 

Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport.  His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.

Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.

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