Triathlon Training Sport Rotation - Breaking the 10% Rule

a triathlete running with a water bottle
November 24, 2023

Mike Ricci




I have, in my schedule over the next year, to do a full marathon on December 10th, with a half mary in late November (as a training run), and IMAZ on April 15th, 2007. Its a very ambitious goal, I know, but I have no doubt that I can do it. I have a decent bike and running base, (80-100 mpw and 12-15 mpw respectively). Anyway, I have a training program for the IM that officially kicks off in late October (24 weeks), so I have up until then to build more base and add in swimming. My question is; how should I go about training for the marathon while also building base in the other two events? Currently, I have it worked out to where I run three times a week, bike three times a week, and will add swimming two times a week here in the next month (Monday is rest, or it might be a swim day). But doing this seems like its causing me to break the 10% rule in running. Is this ok, if I'm rotating out events (less risk of overuse injury?)? I'll post my tentative training schedule as soon as I finish, but would love some input.


Many times when I start working with an athlete they are usually stronger in one event than the other two. Typically I introduce them to something I call 'Sport Rotation' Whatever the weakest event is I have the athlete start a training cycle that helps them address this weakness specifically. You can read more about Sport Rotation here:  .

In the case of this athlete, the first thing to be addressed is the amount of volume they are training. Most of us have limited time and this case is no different, however, cycling volume for an IM should be closer to 150 miles per week, and 25-30 miles per week running. For someone with a strong swim background, three swims per week is adequate, but if this is your weaker event, then maybe four to five swims might be better. So as this athlete gets within 18 weeks of their Ironman race, I would suggest at least 3 hours per week of swimming, 8 hours of cycling and 4 hours of running (for the bigger weeks of training).

In order to be able to handle this volume, the athlete will have to slowly increase the volume; and this where the Sport Rotation method can be applied. With a December marathon on the schedule you can kick start the run focus in September. This will give the athlete plenty of time to build up running frequency (how many times per week) and running duration (how much time for each workout). Starting out with something as simple as 1 longer run of one hour, 1 shorter run of 30 minutes, and two to three fifteen to twenty minute runs will do the trick. Over time you will add ten minutes per week to the longer run, and eventually bring the shorter run up to one hour. The fifteen to twenty minute runs eventually become thirty to forty five minute runs as well. Yes, you break the 10% rule but if you want to improve you cannot do everything by the book.

While in the run focus, swim 2 days per week, one day focused on technique and the other focused on endurance. The cycling in this period should be one day of strength (hills) and one day of endurance if possible.

After the marathon, I would focus on swimming as it will be easier on your body. Just as you did with the running, I would swim more frequently, as much as five times per week. Make one day purely drills, two days of endurance, one day of swim pacing, and one day of speed. Keep off the run legs for a few weeks, but add in some extra biking, something like a day of race pace, and a few trainer sessions focused on high Zone 2 work or Zone 3 if you are an experienced cyclist. This is where a smart trainer, like a Wahoo or Garmin Tacx comes in great for the bike workouts. I would keep the swim focus going for four to six weeks.

Once you are ready to move into your last Sport Rotation phase on the bike, you should have plenty of power, so you'll need to keep that rolling and add in some endurance rides. From mid-January to early March, the focus should be on the bike. This would include continuing with the focused trainer workouts at ironman effort, some pedaling drills one time per week, and some mid-distance rides and one longer ride. Maintain the swim with two-three swims per week, and by this point running should be up to speed at three times per week. The runs should consist of one longer run (2:00), one tempo style run, and maybe one brick.

Once you hit the last six weeks of training you can go back to a balanced approach of three swims per week, three runs per week, and probably four bikes per week. This is the time to focus on race pace in all three events, and riding and running on a course similar to what you'll be racing on. Its also the time to work out your pacing and nutrition plans and dialing in your heart rate zones. Good luck with your Ironman quest!

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.

schedule a call