You Gotta Have a Plan

Or you are running backwards


So here you are. It's already the middle of January and you're still putting off your training. You know you want to get back into it, but it just feels good being lazy, doesn't it? Your knees don't ache as much, your calves aren't cramping up in the middle of the night, and, wow, you have time to go to the mall on a Saturday!

But guess what? While you're sitting in your LA-Z-Boy recliner sipping on a soda and watching football, Jim, Mary, Steve, and Donna down the street are dusting off that bike, lubing it up, and getting back on the road. They're getting on the road because they want to beat you. I know I do.

So you have a choice. You can sit there, eat your popcorn, and revel in your abandon, or you can get ready to put up with some aches and pains, because the training season has arrived. The first triathlons in Florida are less than three months away. That's not all that much time. Are you going to let yourself get whipped at the first race?

I have an idea. Instead, why don't you start doing your base training? It's not that painful, and you will thank yourself in the end. Base training consists of what is called Long Slow Distance, or LSD, for short. And that's exactly what it the training consists of - long, slow workouts in each discipline.

Briefly, what this does is build muscular endurance. That means that these long, slow training sessions get your body used to going for long periods of time. Then when you show up at the first Coca Cola Classic sprint in April, you will have two positives on your side:

- You will have the mental knowledge that your body is ready for the distance. A triathlon is, first and foremost, a mental challenge.

- Your body (or more specifically, your central nervous system) will know that it is ready to handle the trauma of a sprint triathlon. You've been doing six mile runs, so how much can a three mile run hurt? A ten mile bike? No problem. Swim 800 yards? You can do that in your sleep.

Now, let's say you're a regular person. You have a job. You have a spouse, kids, a house with a thirty-year mortgage, and student loans to pay off. You're not racing in triathlons for money. You race in triathlons because they're fun. You like being in shape. You enjoy showing up on the weekend and seeing your friends. Maybe you even have some competition brewing in your age group.

But the Christmas holidays just finished, and you didn't have time to keep training. In fact, the last workout you did was when you carried that case of beer from the trunk of your car to your in-law's barbeque on New Year's Day. Face it: You're out of shape.

Don't freak out! It's not the end of the world. You just need to mentally prepare yourself - the first couple of weeks back into training are not going to feel very good. Running may be awkward. You might fall off your bike. You may have forgotten every swim tip anyone ever taught you and start flailing around in the pool like…like a triathlete who hasn't been in the pool in four months.

Don't panic. I'm going to walk you through the steps to a successful early season. It's a lot easier than you may think. Regardless if you've been racing for ten years or if this will be your first triathlon season, almost all successful athletes do something like what I'm going to outline in the next couple articles.

Step number one: Set realistic goals.

Chances are that, unless your name is Peter Reid or Lori Bowden, winning the Hawaii World Ironman Championship Triathlon is not a very realistic goal. I can guarantee you that they have only one race on their mind, and only one goal - to win in Hawaii. Everything else works towards that.

There is nothing wrong with making that your goal. Someone has to win the big race. But there is a difference between having one big goal and having smaller, achievable goals. By setting yourself smaller, less difficult goals, you reward yourself by having a real chance to attain them. You can then build on these smaller successes and use them as the platform to spring to international success. But that may take a few years, so for now…

Here's a good example. Rich Sumrall, who should be familiar to most of you as one of the top Coca Cola age-groupers, is already very strong in all three disciplines. In the sprint races he's usually almost as fast or faster than some of the elite racers. So a reasonable, realistic goal for Rich would be to race in the elite division this season and place in the top five. I don't know if he's going to be around as the Air Force may have taken him overseas, but Rich is capable of doing this, if he puts the training in.

But Rich was a college swimmer, and he's an exceptional athlete. You may not be that fast just yet. So what kind of goals can you set? Like I said, realistic goals. You need to take an honest look at your current skills, your background, and your ability and determination to go the extra mile.

Set your long term training goals

A long-term training goal can be as close as three months or as far away as two years. It is one specific goal that your training is ultimately focused on. If your goal is to do well in the Coca Cola Classic Sprint Triathlon series, then you will need to prepare to race well consistently throughout the entire season. If your goal is to do well at a half-Ironman or Ironman race in the middle or at the end of the season, then you have the luxury of focusing your energy on just one or two main races.

Whatever your goal is, make sure it is clear in your mind. Write it down on paper and tack it to your office wall. Stick it in your wallet. Remember it, because goals keep you motivated.

Set specific workout goals each week

Each week you should have at least one or two key training sessions that you concentrate on. For instance, this week I have three goals: run a good track workout on Tuesday evening, run a PR at a 5 kilometer road race on Saturday, then ride 100 miles on Sunday morning. The rest of my week works around these three workouts. Of course, there's no guarantee that I'll PR on Saturday, but it's a reasonable and realistic goal. (There's no guarantee that I won't sleep late on Sunday, either, but that's another story!)

Focus on an early season race, a mid-season race, and a late season race

If you want to have a long triathlon career, then you need to get ready to accept one terrible truth: you will not race well at every race. Even the fastest men and women in the world have off days. It's just one of those things. Here is where the saying, "Two out of three ain't bad" comes in. If you pick three races as your goal races, then it won't decimate you if you do poorly at the first one. You have two more chances during the season to do well. And you will.

Pick three races during the season that you will focus on, train for, and rest for. I'm not saying do only three races; I'm saying lay it on the line at three races. These are the races you want to have breakthroughs at. This is where you can get psyched up and jump up and down when you win your age group. It's okay to be happy when you achieve a goal. It's a good thing, and you worked hard for it. Enjoy yourself.

Step number two: What the heck is LSD?

So this is the first time you've heard this term, huh? Well, in a nutshell, it is long, slow training that builds your endurance. And triathlons, even the shortest sprints, are definitely endurance events. If your lungs don't burn as much, if your legs don't spit out lactic acid, and your stomach doesn't tighten into a ball during a race, then guess what? Either you're not working very hard, or you have built a solid endurance base.

LSD should be the backbone of your training. January and February are the best months for us American triathletes. Here in Florida, the weather is cool, it's not sickeningly humid, and it's the perfect time to get outside and do some easy training with friends.

But you're out of shape, you say? And you don't understand this LSD stuff?

No problem. Start slowly. Let's look at a four week example of LSD training for a second year triathlete (with a job, spouse, kids, et al) with limited time who is just getting back into training. This is only a sample to show you how you can build the distance in each discipline without hurting yourself. And consult a doctor before you start any training plan. And don't sue me or ESM!

Week 1 - everything is nice and easy

Monday: run 3 miles
Tuesday: swim 2000 yards
Wednesday: run 3 miles
Thursday: bike 15 miles
Friday: swim 2000 yards
Saturday: bike 20 miles (am) run 4 miles (pm)
Sunday: off


Week 2 - everything is still nice and easy

Monday: run 4 miles
Tuesday: bike 20 miles
Wednesday: run 3 miles
Thursday: swim 2400
Friday: bike 20 miles
Saturday: run 5 miles (am) swim 2500 (pm)
Sunday: off


Week 3 - make sure you keep it nice and easy!

Monday: bike 25 miles
Tuesday: run 5 miles
Wednesday: swim 3000
Thursday: bike 30 miles
Friday: run 3 miles
Saturday: run 7 miles (am) swim 2000 (pm)
Sunday: off


Week 4 - slow down! Speed comes soon enough!

Monday: bike 15 miles
Tuesday: run 3 miles
Wednesday: swim 2000
Thursday: run 5 miles
Friday: bike 20 miles
Saturday: run 3 miles (am) swim 2000 (pm)
Sunday: off

Now, if you come from a swimming, running, or cycling background, you will most likely need to increase the volume in most areas of the sample above. But for people new to the sport, this is a reasonable sample of how to get a month of base mileage in.

There's also a reason that the third week has the longest distances. Read Joe Friel's Triathlon Training Bible or Tudor Bompa's book on strength training if you want to know why - it's called Periodization.

"But how do I get faster?" I can hear you asking. "I want to win, and I want to win now!"

Of course you do. That's where speedwork comes in. And that's

Step three: Time for some speed sessions.

And I'll write about that next week. See you on the road.

Marty Gaal - January 2001