Here in Austin the triathlon race season stretches from early April to late October with many opportunities to race at sprint to Ironman distances in between. That's a long season of training and racing! How does a person with a family, a job, a life, manage to set PRs and not burn out? Sustainability, consistency, and periodization.
Sustainability – Be realistic about how much time you have to spend not just on actual workouts and races, but on the preparation, the commuting, the showering, the refueling, the visiting with teammates, the shopping online and in the real world for gear, interacting with your coach, etc. Then figure out how to use this time as effectively as possible by organizing your gear, finding ways to eliminate commute time, or doing more interval training to pack more punch into less time.
At one time I could ride directly from my home to routes on safe roads in nearly any direction. I kept my cycling gear in a heap in the garage. Now I have to drive to the start of most of my outdoor rides, so I purchased a 5 gallon bucket at Home Depot, and all my ride gear lives in it. When I take my gloves, head band and vest out of the wash, they go right back in the bucket with my shoes, helmet, chain lube, Road ID, sunglasses, sunscreen, etc. All I have to do is get dressed, pump up my tires, grab my fuel, phone and water bottles and pack my bike and bucket into the car.
If you’re a parent, you may need to train at odd hours (early mornings, late at night) to avoid disrupting your kids’ schedule. Just make sure that you are still able to get enough sleep, or your routine will not be sustainable. Making sure your workouts are focused and short will help – a bike trainer can be a life-saver in these cases since it keeps you close to home and allows you to get more quality work done in a short period of time using interval workouts. Keeping your sights set on shorter distance events that require much less training time is also helpful.
Consistency/habituation – It has been said that what defines you is not what you do every once in a while, but what you do every day (or frequently). You will not become a better swimmer or runner or cyclist if you only practice that discipline once a week or less! And you will not have a stronger core if you only work on it only now and then.
As you reflect back on last season or forward to the one ahead, decide what part of your training you wish to change. What do you want to do better? Set your goals, and then work steadily toward them. You will become a better swimmer if you find out how to fix a stroke flaw or two and then practice swimming correctly 3-4 times a week, even if just for 20 minutes after finishing another workout at your gym. You will get stronger glutes for running and climbing on your bike if you learn several ways to strengthen them, and then work on these 3-4 times a week with a bit of rest in between when you feel you need it. You will become a better runner if you increase your mileage from 6-10 mi/week spread over 2 runs to 15 or 20 mi/week spread over 3-4 runs, assuming proper form and recovery. I like to use a check-list in Excel that has all the items I want to do every day like roll-out and stretching, as well as those I want to do frequently like core work, squats, lunges, etc. Every night I check in with this list and do what I can to check things off for that day. I also plan ahead for the next day before I head off to bed to make sure I know how I will structure my day to get those things done.
Knowing if you prefer to train with a group or on your own either with or without a coach can also help with consistency. If you attempt to train on your own but really prefer to train with a group, you may find your ability to get work done every day to be difficult, even with a coach to guide and motivate you. Your preference may be different for each sport. For instance, you may love to run alone but prefer to hit the road on your bike with a group to feel more safe. Try out both environments, and be realistic about which suits you best.
Periodization -- Because we all don’t have the time or energy to train everything well all the time, we have to pick and choose what to emphasize at different points in the season. You may decide that your pre-season will include much more strength training than your regular session. You may pick one or two core strength moves from your pre-season routine of 7 or 8 that you want to continue to do throughout the season without having to spend a lot of time on it. If you have an issue with open water swimming, you may want to focus heavily on that one month, keeping running and cycling at maintenance level, and then switch focus for the next month. You might not swim, bike or run at all for a while during the off-season to make room for other pursuits like hiking, cross-country skiing, rock-climbing, yoga, etc to keep your body and mind fresh. Decide how you will approach your build-up to your goal events, and choose what to emphasize at different points in your season so that you can build and maintain strength, speed and endurance in all three sports as needed.
So this season as you think about what events you want to do, be realistic about how much time you can spend on your training on a consistent basis while still getting enough sleep and time for the rest of your life, adjust your training schedule to optimize your consistency and motivation, and then figure out how shift your emphasis on the swim/bike/run/strength elements of triathlon throughout the season to keep your training moving you forward and also fitting into the rest of your life.
If you need help balancing your training and figuring out how to best use your training time, contact me for a consultation: casey at gothedistancecoaching.com.