Training to Get Faster

Triathletes running on a dirt trail
January 20, 2017

Mike Ricci



Each month in our newsletter we list some of the improvements of our athletes. This doesn't happen by magic or some special pill, but most of it is from what we do in the off-season. This time of year, right now, is when you get fast for this coming race season. The following protocol only pertains to athletes who are time limited, have been training for at least three seasons without injury, and have a sufficient aerobic base. Not to get too technical but if you are an experienced triathlete with a few seasons under your belt and take a month off from triathlon training, I am going to make a huge assumption that you have a sufficient aerobic base. Actually, my assumption isn't too huge.

Within each week, we do have our athletes execute swim drills, bike pedaling drills, and running drills. This is important in the off-season. So is the easy long swim, the easy long bike and the easy long run. The definition of long can be argued but for our purposes at D3 I like to define a long swim as somewhere around an hour. A long bike may be 90 minutes and the long run somewhere between 75 and 90 minutes.

With those two pieces of training out of the way, we get into the fluff side of training. There are no two ways about it. We hit it hard. Very. Hard. VO2 hard. In the pool, on the bike, on the run (treadmill or outside, weather permitting) and in the weight room.

Dr. Max Testa is considered one of the best cycling coaches in the world. I had the pleasure of listening to him present at my USAT Level III Coaching Certification class in 2005. What I walked away with was that in the words of Dr. Testa. "strength equals speed". The stronger you are, the faster you will race. The stronger you are, the more watts you can push on the bike, the faster you can run up a hill, and the faster you can swim. Getting stronger‚ means doing more hard work than you are currently doing, and raising your lactate threshold or MLSS (Maximum Lactate Steady State). Note, I did not say work harder, but do more hard work. There is a big difference there.

Taking this point even further, I looked into what the strength coaches think about strength and endurance. Mike Boyle is the premier strength and conditioning coach in this country and maybe the world. Alwyn Cosgrove is an Olympic level strength coach of triathletes, boxers, soccer players and others. It is Alwyn's belief that maximal strength levels should be achieved prior to endurance or energy system development. Quoting Alwyn, 'If we haven't built up appreciable levels of power, speed or strength, then what the hell are we trying to endure? A low level of power? A low level of speed? Conditioning coach Mike Boyle once pointed out that:

"It is significantly easier to get an explosive athlete in shape, than it is to make an in shape athlete explosive. The first will take weeks the second may take years."

Does that make any buzzers go off in your head? If you don't have speed and you go out to ride long, what are you learning to endure? Riding slow? Riding at a low level of power? Do you see how riding long, slow miles at 16mph is only going to make you good at riding at 16mph? For example, wouldn't you rather build your base speeds up to 20+ mph in training, so that when you add in endurance you can do your long rides at 19-20mph? Even better yet, learning to push 400 watts in training will make pushing 200 watts MUCH easier. A 200 watt average at an ironman race like Arizona or Florida will net a 160 lb. triathlete a 5:15 bike split. Being stronger means going faster.

Next month I'll talk more about specific workouts. In the meantime, take a look at our 'No Fluff Training Plan' it works. Trust me on this.

Let's look at a real life example of this: Starting in 1989 and continuing on for the next 6 years, one man dominated the Ironman World Championship. This man raced Olympic distance races all the way up until August, when he would start his endurance training for Hawaii. He did this for many years. Racing and training hard for months let him build up his strength and speed so that when he added in his endurance, the speed was already there. Like Mike Boyle says above, ‚"it is significantly easier to get an explosive athlete in shape", here was our future Ironman World Champ racing his butt (becoming explosive) off to win Olympic distance races BEFORE he started his training for the long distance racing. Boyle continues, "The first will take weeks, the second may take years". Exactly! If this athlete already has the speed, all he has to do is add in some longer distance training and then he is ready to race long and FAST. By the way, this same athlete also won the 1989 ITU World Championships after Ironman Hawaii. So, it wasn't like he was just racing Olympic distance races to race them. He was pretty darn good so I am sure he worked hard in his pre-Hawaii training.

With many of my athletes, they are given a solid four to six weeks off from any structured training. They are free to do whatever they want in this time period. When they come back onto the program, we usually give them a few easy weeks to get used to the training again, and then we'll start off with a little bit of hard stuff. This may mean a short tempo run of 10 minutes or even some short threshold efforts on the bike. When we work hard all season to peak for a race, then take a month off, then spend 4 months of "building base", what have we done besides having gone backwards with our training? For every month you take off from training, it takes about twice as long to get back those losses. So if you take a month off from training, it will take you two months to get your fitness back. Athletes work so hard to make improvements, so why let it all go to waste and let all that strength and power disappear? I am all for time away from training, and in no way am I advocating hammering your body 52 weeks a year, but what I am saying is that if you want to go fast you need to get strong, stay strong, and work on getting stronger. Riding and running long and slow for months will make you neither stronger, nor faster. Training with a plan and a purpose will get you stronger and faster. After all, if you need proof of this theory, you can look at our athlete's results, year after year. If you want to get faster, forgo the endless hours of low aerobic training and add some harder work to your early season training. Your results may surprise you!

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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