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Blog Post: How and when of speed work: Target your big race

Looking to get faster in your next big triathlon? Integrating speed work or interval training is a key factor in this quest. In this post, I focus on run and bike workouts specifically as swimming favors interval training year round.

When to start incorporating interval training depends on your “training age”. By this I mean, how many years you’ve been training and how long you’ve been doing hard sessions. If this is your first year, aerobic volume is the main focus. Once you have a good base, interval training can then be introduced.

Interval training starts 8 to 16 weeks prior to your big race. If you’ve been training for 2 or more years, incorporating hard sessions is a key element to ensure continued improvements from year to year.

For most of my athletes (novice to elite), we do some sort of interval training through most of the training year. This is called ‘non-linear’ periodization. Although aerobic training is always part of any triathlon training plan, too much time at long, slow distance training leaves the door open for detraining (loss of fitness benefits and speed).

The type and intensity of intervals depends on the demands of your big race. For example, the energy demands of Ironman racing are different from those in a sprint race. You always want to push yourself to race intensity or a bit faster to really prepare for a hard effort on race day.

Ironman racing requires mostly aerobic fitness (zone 2); improving your ability to sustain an effort over many hours throughout the day. Half Ironman racing requires mostly aerobic fitness as well, but in order to go faster, racing at a strength-endurance effort is how you go faster (zone 3). Olympic distance racing requires threshold effort (zone 4), with a smaller portion of VO2 max effort (zone 5). Sprint distance racing is a cross between threshold and VO2 max (higher percentage than at Olympic distance). Your ability to race at these levels means you must train at these efforts or above in the weeks or months leading up to race day.

Sample key workouts:

In all hard workouts, a good warm up is essential. It sets you up for a great workout and improves your rate of recovery. I suggest a “two-tiered” warm up. The first phase is easy, aerobic, the second phase is short efforts such as strides or pick ups. I have given large ranges in the interval sessions to accommodate varied levels of fitness.

Intervals can be done on the track, trail, road, treadmill or bike trainer. All provide great benefits.

  1. Ironman Run

Warm up with easy running for 10 minutes, then run 3-4 x 10 second strides. Run intervals:  10-30 minutes at ½ marathon pace, 5 minutes easy, 10 minutes at marathon pace followed by 10-20 minutes at ½ marathon pace. Cool down with easy running and/or walking for 5-20 minutes.

  1. Half Ironman Bike

Warm up with easy riding for 10 minutes, then ride 5-10 minutes of high cadence spinning (10-20 rpms above self-selected cadence). Bike intervals: 2 x 5-15 minutes at Tempo/zone 3 (RPE 6 of 10), 2-3 minutes easy spinning between. Followed by, 2-6 x 5 minutes at Threshold/zone 4 (RPE 7 of 10) with 2 minutes easy spinning between. Cool down with easy riding for 10-60 minutes.

  1. Olympic Distance Run

Warm up with easy running for 10 minutes, then run 3-4 x 10 second strides. Run intervals:  3-6 x 5 minutes at 10k pace with 1-2 minute jog between. Cool down with easy running and/or walking for 5-20 minutes.

  1. Sprint Distance Bike

Warm up with easy riding for 10 minutes, then ride 5-10 minutes of high cadence spinning (10-20 rpms above self-selected cadence). Bike intervals: 3-6 x 5 minutes at threshold/zone 4, 1 minute easy spin recovery between intervals. After the last interval, take 5-10 minutes easy, then ride: 3-8 x 1 minute at VO2 max/zone 5 effort. Cool down with easy riding for 10-60 minutes.

Confused by any of this terminology or need some help determining how to do your hard sessions? Want to learn what your threshold pace, heart rate, power is? Need help understanding more about how and when to do interval sessions? Sign up for a free consult (or contact me directly) and together we’ll figure out the best way to incorporate interval training into your plan to get you faster for your big event.

Contact Coach Mantak

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