TRIATHLON: WORKOUT PLANNING & TIME MANAGEMENT
by Triathlon Coach Matt Koorey, as delivered at the Sansego Kona Training Camp.
It’s great to be back in Kona. The last time I was here I was at the ’95 Ironman as a very naive 26 year old, riding way above my limit in the front group that included Mark Allen and Greg Welch and then…blowing up so badly on the climb to Hawii that the Hawaiian Department of Road Works are still plugging up the hole I left in the asphalt. That was most certainly a case of WITH ego’, rather than Sansego.
What I am going to put to you today is a hybrid of my 30 consecutive years of racing experience, 16 years of full-time coaching and the privilege of a 3-year coaching mentorship under legendary triathlon coach, Brett Sutton.
So we’ll kick things off with WORKOUT PLANNING…
And instead of standing up here and proposing a supposed ‘perfect training week’, which of course there isn’t such a thing, I am going to put forward what I call my foundational principles, or the scaffolding, so-to-speak, that I use in planning the workouts and training weeks of my athletes, whether they be pro’s or age-groupers.
I have 3 Principles to put to you today….
Keep it Simple!
Workout Mix & Rules
1) SITUATIONAL AWARENESS
Quite simply….an honest appraisal of your circumstances.
What’s YOUR personal reality?
If I had to sum up this principle in two words I’d say that…..’circumstances matter’.
It’s an assessment of the of the individual….an holistic view on their daily reality.
So, whenever I take on a new athlete for coaching, the first thing I’m asking myself is…what are they bringing to my table…and how does this impact what I need to build for them?
And there’s obviously a lot of factors to consider.
What’s your relationship situation? Are you single? Boyfriend? Girlfriend? Married? Mistress?
Is your partner supportive…or resentful, of your training and racing?
Do you have kids? Are you running them back and forth to school, sports, play dates, and parties?
Work hours? Work stress, both emotional and physical?
Triathlon experience? Sporting experience in general?
Your strengths, your weaknesses?
Are you a busted up Master’s athlete that needs less road running and more treadmill and swimming time instead?
And very importantly….WHAT’S YOUR INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY TO DEAL WITH STRESS & LOADING?
Because how you deal with your circumstances can be very different to how the person sitting next to you might deal with the exact same reality.
It’s big picture stuff, and it’s vital to delve into the nitty gritty, to get the real picture, in order to build an effective training plan for the individual…and I say ‘effective’, because I am making the bold assumption that you all have an end goal in mind that goes something along the lines of…’I Want to Get Faster!’
My next principle in regards to workout planning.
2) KEEP IT SIMPLE!
Complexity can be your enemy.
I have athletes sending me elaborate spreadsheets, and pretty multi-coloured pie charts, with how many minutes each week for the next 24 months they want to spend at X, Y and Z intensity. And I’m all for planning, but for me this is just crazy and indicative of overthinking it.
They start talking about Macrocycles & Microcycles, and I sit there scratching my head, wondering if we are talking about training, or about some sort of Japanese motorbike.
It’s like they are trying to package everything up, and put it into a little China Doll Box.
Meanwhile, I’ve seen plenty of world class professionals over the years training to a very similar basic, weekly model, week to week, month to month, year to year….just with some seasonal variances within the key workouts. Repetition, repetition, repetition. Or should I say, persistence.
I’ve seen one of the greatest coaches in the world train people to World Olympic, 70.3, and Ironman titles, and Olympic medals, off 2, or max 3, single page training weeks per year, and who’s idea of periodization is, ‘yesterday, today and tomorrow’.
And I’m not saying that’s the only way to do things. But I am trying to make a point. And it’s hard to argue against that sort of track record.
So I do think it’s feasible to suggest that we should almost be able to plan our training on the back of an envelope. (The real coaching, the art side of coaching, lies more in the communications between yourself and your coach, anyway).
And this over-thinking trend flows into the workouts themselves.
In this era of gadgetry, everyone wants to measure this, measure that, quant this, quant that, use more and more gadgets. Look, I don’t mean to sound anti-technology, because I’m not…I certainly use tools in my coaching….in steering my athletes. But the coach needs to know what he’s doing with the tools…and I don’t just mean the application of what he’s read from the latest power training book or self-proclaimed training ‘Bible’. And the athlete, has to have the right head for it. For many athletes this stuff is just a massive handbrake and hindrance to their development.
Trying to micro-manage everything has some people walking around with that much crap going through their heads, they live in a world of confusion, constantly questioning what they need to change, how they can perfect things.
They become overwhelmed by all the options, theories and possibilities on how to train….and with a head full of thought, of doubt and uncertainty…they become frozen like a deer in the headlights. Analysis paralysis.
And so they spend more time planning than doing.
They’re the last one’s to swim practice, and regularly miss the first 500–1000m.
They find excuses to end sessions early, because of course, they need to get home so they can think longer and harder about how to improve the training they already don’t do enough of, due to all their thinking!!!
If you want a dream killer guys, I’ll tell you the near best one I know, and it’s called PROCRASTINATION.
And of course this isn’t the sort of head you want to take into a race. When you are on that run course, nudging right up against your limit, you’re in a dark place and you’re trying to find a reason to turn yourself inside out…this sort of head space isn’t going to help you any.
This is when you need certainty, belief and confidence…not a doubtful and questioning mind.
So by all means use the tools, but I implore you…don’t be capped or mentally destroyed by numbers.
Because every champ I’ve ever known has banged up right up against their limit and then, bust right through.
So you don’t want to just chase numbers…you want to chase feelings and sensations, and then press recall on those perceived effort levels…and assess the number that’s a product of that.
Your key indicator should always be WHAT’S GOING ON WITHIN YOUR BODY.
Trying to be so…’exacting’…can cause a real underlying tension, an unconscious stress that sees you totally miss a sort of economy-sweet-spot, where you don’t feel like you are working with your body, and it’s like there’s an internal resistance going on. You can find your timing is out, you look like you are fighting yourself or rushing things in the water, on the bike your pedal stroke gets choppy because you are trying to micro-manage or ‘chase’ a number, and in running you can start to lack balance in the stance phase of the stride, or lose some co-ordination, so to speak….all from an underlying tension, and the chasing of a number or a pace. You’re also likely to show a poor oxygen economy for the speed you are traveling at, as reflected by your breathing. A good coach can clearly see this in his athlete, and any athlete should be able to feel it.
But if in this circumstance you’d acted on the signals your body was giving you…maybe pulled it back a bit because that’s what the mind and body was telling you…you could have been right on it, right where you needed to be on that day, not just where a device told you to be.
Let things come to you, don’t force them. Respond as your body invites, not just as a number dictates.
The best computer you’ve got sits in the 6-inches between your ears!!
The feel is real, guys. Your perception and your intuition, these are your internal compass, so to speak. Primal instincts.
So I think many of us could do with a little more trust. Trust that ’the mind knows the goal and how to get there’. We’ve just got to keep preconception and ego out of the way’, so that we can respond to our body’s signals in a rational and productive way.
Being fixated on a pace or power number, saying that is where you HAVE to be, despite your body’s signals at the time…you become like the tree branch that stays stiff in a strong breeze instead of bending with it….the Principle of Non-resistance. Adamant that this is the way it has to be…but prone to a physical and mental breakage because of it..
Keep it simple guys!
Work with your circumstances!
Stick to the fundamentals. Forget the ‘fancy’’, forget the complicated, forget the sexy and the entertaining.
Turn off all the noise in your head…from all the information floating around in the triathlon world, to the triathlon magazines, trying to sell you their latest ’12 weeks to your best race’ training plan.
And then Set it, forget it, believe in it…and GET AFTER IT!
My Final Principle…
3) The Workout Mix and Rules
So for all my espousing of simplicity just then….there are still some concepts and rules I apply when it comes to the how to, when to, why to of the workouts themselves.
My Rule #1 is to understand that Triathlon is ONE sport…not three!
The Swim is not an All-Out Time Trial.
We ride the bike with a view to running well off it.
And we run on fatigue from the first two disciplines.
So we train accordingly…and always with what I call a strong ‘aerobic undercurrent’, underpinning everything we do.
And when I say ‘AEROBIC’…I don’t mean right up to the anaerobic threshold. I mean your Easy/Moderate and Medium intensities as I call them, capped at Sub-Threshold effort or in the case of most age grouper, the 70.3 effort level.
I’m a huge believer in coming from a real aerobic angle in our training…for both health and performance reasons.
Think of a glass of water left out unattended in the sun too long. The water level drops due to evaporation.
It’s the same with our aerobic capacity….it needs to be constantly attended to. And we want to add to it, year on year, with the right kind of work.
These are deeper-rooted, and longer lasting adaptations than any high intensity interval session is ever going to give you.
And they underpin a high performance level, building up your constitution, so that you can better handle the higher end workouts, recover faster from them and from your training in general, be able to train to a higher volume if your life permits it, and have the structural integrity to not breakdown and get injured.
If I wanted to get all scientific, then I’d mention the capillary and mitochondrial density growth that occurs within your muscles from this sort of foundational work, and potentially a better blood chemistry.
There’s no doubt this has been a significant contributor to the almost year-on-year development of Crowie throughout his career.
If you analysed a muscle sample from his quadricep today, and, compared it under a microscope with one taken 20 years ago…it’s a fair bet that the changes would be so extensive it’d be like looking at two very different athletes.
The harder sessions, the sexy one’s, at threshold and above, that people are so attracted to and believe are the one’s that make them faster…..sure, they can ice the cake, no doubt. But you need the cake first, and you need a solid cake. One that can support the weight of the icing you put on top of it. Especially if you have a tendency to lay that icing on a bit too thick, as so many do. And you need to maintain the cake. Always.
These higher intensity sessions, they’re a bit like making a withdrawal from your bank account. So you want to be making many more deposits than withdrawals.
You want to think about building your SPEED FROM UNDERNEATH, instead of top down. Gaining aerobic speed, getting faster on a lower level of lactate, flattening your lactate curve, instead of training to ‘tolerate’ a higher level of lactate. Two very different ideas.
Adding nytro to a small engine….it’s not going to beat a big engine to which you haven’t even added any nytro just yet.
And so a definitive, aerobic emphasis, is one strong concept I always have front of mind in my programming.
We also want to think about were we place workouts through the week.
So a few core ideas here might be;
Long or Intensive run workouts rob our legs of high end bike power…so ideally you don’t want to place an intensive, high-end bike session the day after a long run or intensive run.
2) Don’t even consider running long, then doing an intensive run session the very next day. That’s a licence for disaster. An injury waiting to happen. I know this one is blatantly obvious but you’d be surprised at some of the things I’ve seen in my 30 years in the sport.
3) Placing the weekly long run the day after the long bike….running on muscle fibres that are still carrying some cycling specific fatigue from the day before. To me this makes sense, and it works, teaching the body to economize it’s performance, to make specific adaptations for our sport. This is my preferred layout to splitting the long run and the long ride throughout the week.
4) I know some pro’s do double run days…like a long, easy run in the morning, then some tempo or treadmill work of an evening. But leave that to the pro’s, I say. It’s a potential marginal gain, for too much risk, for most age groupers and their circumstances.
But double bikes can work great for time poor age-groupers…1 to 1.5 hours in the morning, 1 to 1.5 hours at lunch or in the evening. What you want to do here is hit up a 30min quality block of, say,
strength work in the first one at lower rpm…then come back with another main set in the second session at normal or high rpm. 30 minutes of ‘work’ in each session, hitting different energy systems and cadences in each.
It’s a good way to extract some extra quality work from your training week without over-taxing yourself, and it’s time efficient. And the second session will be of more benefit in that you’re working on muscle fibres with some carry-over fatigue. So your body has to call in the foot soldiers to help you get thru’ the load. Adaptations 101!
In regards to swimming….I think Swim Workouts can be placed throughout the week with a bit more independence, but this still requires thought.
For example, I wouldn’t put Swim Heart Rate Sets on days where you are loading the heart on the bike or on the run. It’s important to recognise that the heart is a muscle, too.
On these days you want to train the lower levels of aerobic strata as your second session of the day, getting in the water for some longer, steady state aerobic type work, training a different system.
Often I’ll get my guys to throw on the paddles and buoy, so they can actually get after it a bit if they want to, but the aerobic cost and heart rate will be much lower because they are using gear. An insurance policy of sorts!
Even FLAT OUT with paddles and pull buoy is not really flat out in terms of the heart rate response. The heart rate will typically run a full ‘zone’ lower, about 10–15 beats, because of the resistance of the paddles, and the buoyancy from the buoy.
And if I can leave you with one very important thought today it’s this. Fatigue is general, not local.
So if you are really shelled from a workout in one sport, it’s not a good idea to think you can hit it up at high intensity later in the day in another discipline, just because you are using different muscle groups. Think holistically!
Let’s now talk about the dosage, or the ‘quantity of quality’, within your main sets.
This is something I am quite pedantic about, that I believe is integral to the success of a program, but I don’t see it mentioned too often.
Whether it’s Tempo, Threshold or VO2 Max work…the set you do needs to be scaled to your ability level as an athlete.
What I mean is, in general, a faster athlete will be able to handle a bigger set than a slower one. Not in all cases, but most. A 30-minute 10K runner will handle more volume in a quality set than a 50-minute 10K runner.
So if Crowie was running 10 by 1-miler’s in an Ironman prep, at between, say, 6:00 and 5:30 per mile….that’s a total of 55–60 minutes at a solid, high aerobic to ‘Sub-Threshold’ intensity….getting down close to his 70.3 effort by the end.
But your average age-grouper might experience a similar amount of loading from, say 5 to 6 by 1-miler’s. And if we say they are running these in, I don’t know….7 to 7:15 per mile…that’s roughly 35 to 40 minutes of work, and much more ‘absorbable’ for them. Thinking they should also do 10 x 1-miler’s…it’s overkill.
Take note. Good training is not just about what you can DO. It’s about what you can ABSORB. Very different!
Moving on now to…
So, I’ve got a shot up here with a reference to GOALS, and you’re all thinking…
what the hell’s this got to do with time management?
And, I’ll tell you what.
It’s that the best management of your time will come on the back of having GOALS…or VALUES…that are really compelling. That juice you!!
Goals that call you to action…that create enough desire, enough reason within you, to justify giving up some of the good, for the great.
To sacrifice for success.
Your goals are the driver.
Whether it’s a target race, or the goal of being fit and healthy. The strength of your goals will drive the degree to which you’ll commit, and, therefore, how well you will likely optimise the use of your time.
And only then will you find some of the extra time that you’ve always had.
We need congruency between our goals, and the actions we are prepared to take to achieve them.
And I’m not insinuating we have to make sacrifices at the expense of family, work, friends etc..or to disregard our circumstances.
I mean some really simple things that can have a big impact.
And we can obviously start by building efficiency into our training, with a Simple, Effective, Targeted plan, built around our circumstances.
Then, as is possible, look to do your first workout of everyday, first thing in the morning…..to reduce the chances of something coming up during the day with work or family…that’s going to mean you have to blow off a session.
And, if and when things get in the way, as they invariably do, and you can’t get a full session in, but you can get a little something done…then just do it. Don’t totally blow it off.
Even if it’s only 15 to 20minutes…do it…to help preserve your adaptations, to stay in touch with that particular discipline…it all counts, and it’s far better than nothing. After 72h of not touching on a sport we start to get some erosion from our aerobic cup as I was talking about earlier. Don’t make this optional. Decide and commit ‘now’ to acting this way in this particular situation next time it arises.
Or if you can’t get a full session in but you might be able to split it up through the day into 2 times 20–45 minutes…do it! Yes, it’s not ideal. But it’s how to make the most of a less than ideal situation. Improvise and overcome.
IT’S ONLY ‘YOU’ THAT CAN CHOOSE BETWEEN WHAT YOU WANT NOW, AND WHAT YOU WANT MOST!!
Commit to turning off your iPhone or computer of an evening…turn off, or limit, your TV time…
Finding a way to get to sleep even 10 minutes earlier each night is over 1h a week.
20 minutes is nearly 2.5 hours…
How many times have you thought to yourself of an afternoon that you could do with a nap of that length?
The recovery benefits of sleep are amazing…it’s close to the greatest available performance enhancer there is. So find a way to get what you can…all that you can.
Not just for your performance, but for your health.
You can prep any required nutrition for the next morning the night before…in time you might have otherwise used to check Facebook or e-mails.
Lay your training gear out, have the kettle filled, get the coffee mug ready…so you can find an extra 5 or 10 minutes to train in the morning….1h extra training a week is over 50h of extra training a year, and that might be 3 to 5 weeks worth for the average age-grouper. So between two examples here, we might be able to find 10 minutes extra sleep a night, and 10 minutes extra training a day. WIN — WIN!! Marginal gains!
Don’t buggerise around before, during or after swim sessions, and between sets. Save the socialising for later. I can’t believe the training time I see some athletes give up here. Seems to me that very often there’s an extra 500, 800, or even 1500m plus to be had sometimes, here.
Think and plan ahead in regards to upcoming business trips and travels as well.
For this trip to Kona, I’ve had to look at my commitments at the camp, look at the energy I will need to do the job expected of me and that I expect of myself…and look to where I can get some training done around the camp…because it’s important to me. Fitness, health and racing fast…they’re high up on my value list. So I develop an improvised training plan for while I am here. I’m not prepared to drop a bucket-load of fitness. And I’ll even do my plan on the back of an envelope!!
What time block do I have before and after camp each day?
Will there be a small window of opportunity to train at lunchtime at all?
Is there a gym?
Will I need to pre-prepare breakfasts, lunches, snacks to allow me to use these blocks?
These are the questions I’m asking myself…and they are driven by compelling goals, and my life values. As they say, ’You’ve gotta want it’.
And at risk of talking about myself too much here…having been training and competing for some 30+ continuous years now…and I mean continuous because it’s such a way of life for me that I never really take time off, or maybe it’s just that my ego is so big and tied into the sport, I don’t know, but…
I’ve got just a ‘bit’ of wear and tear on this chassis of mine these days and doing some strength training is becoming integral to me staying in one piece.
But what I don’t have is the time to visit a gym, or at least time that I can justify allocating to it, given my other obligations as a father and a husband. So, just like juggling around work trips, I improvise and overcome here, too.
And that’s obviously my ‘Home Gym’ in the photo on screen.
I use that weight for bicep curls….ok, I use it for squats.
I use my back-porch step for calf raises and lowers, to maintain structural integrity in my lower legs to help ward off injury.
I use those stretch cords to keep my shoulders in one piece for swimming.
And I use the Theraband to work my Glutes.
Now don’t laugh at this one….when I brush my teeth…I use that time to do isometric abdominal contractions. For me, I’m inclined to do that with much more consistently than getting down on the floor or on a Swiss Ball.
Meanwhile, you are all sitting here thinking…this guy’s a deadset fruit loop.
But don’t worry, you’re not alone…my wife thinks I’m nuts, too, but…she’s hasn’t left me yet.
So my home gym’s not perfect. But it’s a very short, purposeful, effective and improvised plan that makes efficient use of my limited time and doesn’t compromise my family.
Guys, if you truly want it, if you really do want to improve….then you’ve got to make sure the degree to which you want that to happen, and the actions you are prepared to take, are aligned with your goals.
Bring enough ORGANISATION and DISCIPLINE to the table, and you can FIND time you never thought you had.
Create HABITS in your behaviour….
HABITS that not only give you bonus time, and make efficient use of your time…
but that build the PRIDE in yourself for your level of commitment,
that build your CONFIDENCE,
and your BELIEF in yourself.
It’s like a Snowball effect.
Suddenly you can start to find inspiration beyond the latest Craig Alexander ‘Specialized Training Day’ video on Youtube.
You begin to find it from within.
So, to anyone that’s serious about improving, I say…
Expect more from yourself.
Hold yourself to a higher standard.
Give yourself more uppercuts, instead of pats on the back.
Tune-in to yourself.
And just get after it, with a real passion for what you do, day in, day out.
Matt Koorey Coaching (MKC)