The Balanced Athlete

Triathletes training on a running track
December 13, 2016

D3 Staff


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Many triathletes gravitate towards filling their schedules with high volumes of training, believing that more miles or hours equate to better performance. However, solely chasing volume is not enough to maximize your potential. This mindset, which I call the "Rocky Effect," often leads athletes to believe that sheer volume alone will suffice to achieve their goals. While it may get you across the finish line, it won't necessarily help you reach your peak performance. Pushing for more volume in swimming, cycling, and running might allow you to cover longer distances, but it won't necessarily make you faster. Ultimately, the objective is to maximize your speed for the distance of your race.

While volume is undoubtedly crucial, it's just one piece of the puzzle. If you find yourself stuck at a certain finish time or plateaued performance, resist the urge to simply add more volume. Riding for six hours at a certain power output is not equivalent to riding for three hours at a higher power output, just as running for two hours at a certain pace differs from running for ninety minutes at a faster pace. Merely increasing volume won't meet the physical demands of pushing harder. Instead, focus on raising your lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR) for both biking and running. This involves incorporating short, intense intervals ranging from 5 to 30 minutes at zones 3 and 4, which helps develop the power and aerobic capacity needed for sustained speed over long distances.

Rather than solely focusing on total time spent training, pay attention to the time spent in the appropriate training zones during these sessions. Shorter but more intense workouts, when done correctly, can yield better results than longer, moderate efforts. Given the intensity of these sessions, most athletes can only manage two to three per week. It's crucial to allow adequate recovery between sessions to ensure sufficient energy for quality training. Consider focusing on one sport for several weeks before switching to another to bring up its specific performance.

Additionally, integrating race pace or harder intervals into longer sessions can enhance aerobic capacity while simulating race conditions. These intervals, typically ranging from 3 to 10 minutes for running and 10 to 30 minutes for cycling, teach your body to handle the demands of race day while improving overall endurance. Testing your nutrition plan during these intense efforts is essential to ensure it supports race-day performance under similar conditions.

Long-distance triathlon success hinges on striking a balance between volume and intensity. Overemphasizing one aspect over the other can hinder performance. Instead of fixating solely on volume, evaluate whether excessive volume is hindering your progress. Coaching involves tailoring individualized strategies to each athlete's unique characteristics, goals, and potential. When everything aligns, the results are truly remarkable.

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