Tri Training Harder Race Team: Favourite Session Blog
What does it take to be an elite age group athlete?
What training sessions does a top age grouper do?
Swimming is, has always been, and probably always will be, my least favourite of the three triathlon disciplines, but there have been times when the degree of loathing I feel for it has reduced to something close to mild dislike. Like many people, I don’t enjoy doing what I do poorly, so the natural consequence of this is that when I am swimming (comparatively) well, my tolerance for the sport goes up. For me, there is a strong correlation between swimming a lot and swimming better, so ironically the more I do something I don’t enjoy, the more I am likely to enjoy doing it…
My boredom threshold for the pool has held steady at roughly an hour, from the days I was a 90 minute (or slower!) Ironman swimmer to my more recent races where I’ve consistently swum just under the 70 minute mark. Although in the past I have swum regular 5 – 6 km sets, it probably works better for me to swim more frequently, with each session clocking in at around an hour, than to swim fewer times in a week, with one monster session. I prefer sets composed of efforts of around 4 – 8 minutes, at a pace which is “comfortably uncomfortable” and which are separated by comparatively short rest intervals. I therefore dislike sets which call for “best effort” reps, with long (>90 seconds) recovery intervals or those with big blocks (>1500m) of continuous swimming and quite enjoy CSS sessions where my Tempo Trainer dictates I go on the next beep, leaving me little time to think too hard about anything other than breathing! Of course, I have to do a mix of all of these sessions, since unfortunately for me, Philip (my coach) doesn’t tend to place much importance on what I like to do, preferring instead to focus on what is best for my swimming!
Here is a recent swim session I actually enjoyed:
400m Mixed stroke, 10 seconds recovery
2x100m Individual Medley, 15 seconds recovery
4x50m 25m fast, 25m easy
3x400m aiming to hold CSS effort, on the first and last 50m, up your stroke rate.
6x50m fast, 1-3 aiming to have a fast stroke rate, 4-6 with paddles keeping the same sort of rhythm as the first 4.
2x200m aiming to hold CSS effort, on the first and last 50m, up your stroke rate.
300m Mixed stroke
People often ask me which sessions I recommend to make big improvements on their run. I always tell them that you don't need to look much beyond the good old-fashioned Fartlek run. I believe this kind of session can reward you with good training gains across all distances from sprint to Ironman. It is one of my staple weekly training sessions around which all my other training is planned. This is for a couple of reasons; it requires a bit of organisation for me to fit it into my busy family and work life so my wife knows ahead of time that it’s her turn to bath and put our little boy to bed, and planning it around other hard swim/bike training sessions ensures that I am fresh for these other important workouts.
This year my Fartlek runs started in early March at about 60mins in duration, building up to a regular 2 hour Fartlek run. These are very tough – they might not look much on paper but don't let that fool you, by the time your cool down comes around you certainly feel like you have actually done a race!
My Fartlek run is always on a Thursday and I run the 16 miles home from work. This ensures that I get my long run in and that it's done on legs that have been busy all day at work, thereby simulating the long day you have already completed before the marathon in an Ironman. This gives me about 2 hours of running & teaches me to finish fast on tired legs. I can also test out run nutrition, making it then second nature on race day.
One of my favourite Fartlek runs is as follows:
30 mins or 4 miles, gradually building to the pace that will be required in your first interval.
12 x 1minute at interval pace (800m pace) with 1 minute at goal IM marathon pace.
6mins easy running
5 mins @ marathon pace
30 mins @ Threshold pace (10k pace)
10-15 mins warm down
It probably comes as no surprise, given my background as 1500m/5km runner, that my favourite session is a set of 400m reps. Over the years the speed and quantity have changed from short and sharp (when I was younger) to now 12-16 reps in around 66-68secs.
People ask me "doesn't it get boring?" but honestly for me the answer is no. It is both simple and complex – to simply run 1 lap of the track is easy but to do evenly, smoothly, to not tighten up as you come around the top bend and try and relax down the home straight (which always seems to be longer than the back straight) to cross the line, legs burning, lungs clamouring for air, but you can't stop now, stand up, deep breathes walk around, you've only got 40secs till it starts again…
If you have a good rep it's great but if that is rep 5 of 16 then you may be about to have session of your life or suffer badly.
That to me is beautiful, to try and get that session right, on the limit, but not in the red. To do it well you need to know yourself, what you’re capable of, and have good technique. It is my Go To session when I want to see where I am at.
10-20mins of easy jogging, drills and strides
12-16x400m @ 3km pace with 40-60secs recovery
10-20mins of easy jogging
Now that we’re coming into our off season and will soon be into our base phase I feel its an appropriate time to share my favourite turbo session called “Turbo Overgearing”. The early, dark and cold nights are looming and much more time is spent on the turbo which sometimes in itself can be a painful thought. I find this turbo workout makes the time go fast and really helps with my pedal technique and leg strength. Anyone who says that there is no technique to pedaling is a numpty and it’s not all about going out and doing the same old miles without any thought. A lot of benefits can be made on the turbo and if like me have a young child who’s in bed at 7, it’s the perfect way to get in my bike training whilst listening to the baby monitor – well, it beats watching Emmerdale and EastEnders!
I have spent quite a bit of time on the turbo of late. Don’t get me wrong, there is a need to be out on the road riding but the turbo definitely has its place for a busy athlete. I love this workout and it is the Go To session I use in the base phase working on my technique and leg strength. I like to do this workout early in the week to lead me into my other rides so that I automatically think about applying the good habits, I’ve taught/reminded myself on the turbo.
5 minutes easy spinning into a further 5 minutes as 30 seconds high cadence / 30 seconds recovery.
5 minutes as 90 seconds left leg focus / 90 seconds right leg focus / 2 minutes both legs really thinking about applying pressure on the whole pedal stroke not just on the down stroke. Try and visualize your leg scraping something off the bottom of your foot on the down stroke.
4 minutes 65-70rpm in the aero bars (nice and smooth)
1 minute high cadence
4 minutes sat up 60-65rpm
1 minute high cadence
Repeat the main set 3 times (remember to keep it smooth)
10 minutes easy spinning.