Switching Gears: 6 Weeks to Your Big Race

Coach’s Note by Lance Watson

As we move along toward late April, most athletes will be finishing up their main foundation training period of the year, and will be anticipating starting some serious spring and summer racing. If your first big race is in June, you will want to start adding more intense sessions to your triathlon program. At the end of April you can move to a focused race preparation training block of 4-6 weeks. This training block will constitute shorter sessions and less overall volume to get ready for the intensity of racing, while maintaining some base to make sure you last all season.

Your overall program:

Since this will likely be your first peak of the year, your training program will still consist of base, but more specificity should be included. Your overall training volume should be reduced by 15-20% and at this point you will stop increasing the duration or distance of your base sessions. Continue to include one base session in swim, bike, and run at early season volume to maintain aerobic strength and increase your output gradually at these longer sessions. Try to get stronger in your base sessions. One way to achieve this is to build in speed or intensity throughout a longer ride or run: increasing pace by :05 every 20 minutes for an 80-minute base run, for instance. On the bike, ride at a higher average power (watts) than you have been doing and focus on stronger hill climbing. 

If you are doing strength training as well, for the last 4 weeks of this pre-season phase, move to a maintenance orientation of twice weekly sessions: this means less reps in the weight room and capping your lift weight. Maintain your core strength program. In the week before your first race, make sure you reduce volume and intensity enough so that you taper and sharpen for a hard effort.


Brick sessions and bike to run adaptation:

At this stage of the season you can start to do some bike to run adaptation, but perform these workouts judiciously to avoid over-training and over-stressing the body too early in the year. While running aerobically off the bike for 15-30 minutes once a week is a good early season method of adapting to triathlon specific mechanics, adding some intensity into these bricks will get you ready for the first race of your season. An example of a brick adaptation run would consist of a 75-minute bike with a 30 minute steady state build to 10 minutes at race pace at the end and then a 10-minute fast run off the bike. This is not a core workout of the week and should be performed only 2-3 times in a 6-week pre-competitive training phase.


Bike sessions:

To increase anaerobic power on the bike and train for changes in pace and heart rate, start adding hill sprints into your training. You can incorporate hills easily into your weekly base ride. Each hour perform 6-10 x :30 standing sprints w/1-2 minutes rest. 

Once a week do a workout that will fine tune your fitness for time trial style cycling by performing longer repeats in your aerobars. 3-4 x 10 minutes w/5minute recovery at 10 beats below lactic threshold. For these sessions pay attention to finding optimal power and cadence rhythm on the bike while maintaining efficiency in the aero position. 


Speeding up your run for racing:

You can move to race pace intervals on the run now, working on adapting to lactic build up and threshold development that will allow you to run fast off the bike. More intense sessions now will also build biomechanical efficiency and neuromuscular recruitment at race type speeds: in other words you want to increase your ability to run fluidly at high energy output.

Workout for running strong for 10k off the bike: 1k threshold set: 6-10 x 1k w/1:30 rest @ 10k pace. Start at sub-threshold and build throughout the set. Your goal is to be able to sustain the same pace through the set as your fatigue. 

Workout for biomechanical efficiency and neuromuscular recruitment: In an aerobic 40 minute run add a fartlek of 6-8 x :20-:30 w/1 minute rest. This sort of workout can also be maintained in a recovery or taper week, by decreasing the number of intervals and making sure you are taking full recovery between efforts.


Race adaptation swimming:

Once a week wear your wetsuit, even if it means for part of a workout in the pool. It’s important to get your shoulders used to the feel of the rubber and its buoyancy. Remember to rinse out your suit well after having it in the pool and be cautious of overheating.

Practice sighting by doing drills where you sight 1-2 x per 50, using a point on the wall of the building and trying to ignore the lane ropes and lines. Swimming side by side with a training partner (if there are three of you, you can take turns drafting) is also good practice for open water racing.

Perform a start speed practice set of 10x100 (25 start speed, 75 smooth). Focus on fast arm turnover, and getting out quick. 

Another strong pre-racing season workout is to perform swim time trials of 800-1000m several times over the 6 weeks. Focus on race cadence swimming, mid race focus, and maintaining effort and speed.


Mental Preparation: 

Now is the time to start taking key sessions more seriously, ensuring that you are 'up' and ready for training, working on distraction control, and emotional state to practice achieving an optimal psychological race state. 

Last but not least, keep focusing on all the details that make you a complete triathlete. As intensity increases, so do the stresses on the body, so continue your stretching, yoga, massage and ice bath protocol for optimal recovery, regeneration, and improvement.

Now is the time to start getting excited about racing. Review the goals that you set for yourself at Christmas and use these early race season training sessions and races to fine tune your mental and physical skills and to push your fitness to new levels.   



Lance Watson, LifeSport head coach, has trained a number of Ironman, Olympic and age-group Champions over the past 30 years. He enjoys coaching athletes of all levels. 

Contact Lance to tackle your first IRONMAN or to perform at a higher level. 

For more training tips, visit LifeSport Coaching on FacebookInstagram or on Twitter and tag #LifeSportCoach to be apart of our journey!


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