Routine training

In search of a life/work/training equilibrium

For the majority of amateur endurance athletes, finding an effective balance between the desire to train hard (and the necessary time this requires) and all the other aspects of life that impose responsibilities upon is – perhaps – the hardest part of our sport. Work, family, friends; pool times, track club times, train times; wind, rain, snow. It’s tough. We look, listen and read with awe- no, with downright jealousy as the pros build entire days, weeks and months around their training. How we’d love to be full-time athletes: wake up; hit the pool; breakfast; out on the bike; lunch; rest; gym; rest; run; eat; sleep. How good would that be?

In 2009 I was fortunate enough to spend 7 months doing just that. Well, I didn’t quite reach the ‘4 sessions a day’ level…but I did manage regular multi-session days and to build almost every day around my training. Having been a mildly obsessed marathoner for 3 years, I was used to training daily. But transitioning into triathlon was made substantially easier by having ample time to plan and perform. I loved it. I think at one point I even convinced myself I was a full-time triathlete!

7.45pm, Wednesday Jan 13th 2010: “I’m sorry, er… the pool shuts at 8pm tonight. Er, yeah so the brochure is wrong yeah. And the website too. Yeah, 8pm tonight and 9pm…no wait, 9.30pm Monday to Wednesday, and then it’s different on the other days [pointing to the incorrect brochure]. And also the pool is half-closed on Monday and Tuesday for lessons and a club. Yeah.” Okay – I think – don’t get mad. I abandon the pool and head home; a hasty mental re-jig dominates my mind.

10.20pm, Wednesday Jan 13th 2010: I step off the treadmill – drenched in sweat – and towel down the machine, still clutching my iPod which ran out of battery 25mins ago. I peer outside as the heavy snow continues to fall in ever deepening flurries. Upstairs I lay on my mat and stretch out leg muscles that have spent 2 hours running. This sucks. I’m three days into my return to working life and already I hate it. 1h15 journey, each way (adverse weather conditions add to this). No time for dinner. 9 weekly training sessions, not including gym work. I’d honestly forgotten what this was like.

10pm, Tuesday 19th Jan 2010: I’ve decided this can’t continue; I need a routine. Outside – even – of work and social life, a triathlete still has to contend with pool and track availability, as well as locations to bike; and this challenge is magnified for those that live in big cities.

After careful perusal of leisure centre times, I’ve formulated what I hope is an easy, accessible and reliable routine.   The logic is that with a set routine I leave nothing to chance. When my coach sends me my 6-weekly blocks I know how to plan. When I have track work I know I can access a track. When a long and difficult swim set is called for I know I have the pool time and space. Naturally flexibility is required for when something crops up – that’s life – but with a routine (and easy options for modifications) I should have no problems getting it done.

Clearly a routine is no substitute for actual time. But having had unlimited time, I have a new-found appreciation for what all of us amateurs sign up to when we become endurance athletes. It’s extreme, and it takes real commitment, motivation and devotion. But if we can manage this, we can manage a little Ironman!

So let’s see how this works. Of course that does just leaves the snow!

T minus…

…6.5 months, or 29 weeks, or 202 days.

That’s how long I have left until the big day. Ironman Switzerland, July 25th. Nervous? A little. Excited? Very. Now that we’re into 2010 what I’m embarking upon is suddenly far more real: the flights are booked, the hotel is paid for, my competition schedule is planned out, and the third phase of my training plan is starting.

Speaking of figures….. We all have ‘A’ races, ‘B’ races, time targets, PBs, and friends to beat… and there’s nothing wrong with keeping things on the low down [that’s down low – ed.]. But sharing objectives can be fun, it kind of makes them more real and makes you that little bit more accountable to them. So here goes:

Half Marathon: break 1h30. Olympic distance: 2h15. 70.3: break 5h10. Ironman: break 11 hours.

How am I going to give my self a shot at this then? Well, phase 3 of my training plan is focused on ‘strength endurance’, and looking at the sessions I’m in for a lot of hard work. There are 3 sessions of each discipline per week, with alternating quality run/quantity bike to ensure my fitness increases through pushing the boundaries followed by adequate recovery. This means pushing the pace one week then pushing the distance (or rather, time) the next to enable the body to adapt. The swim is also moving into a fitness build phase, overloading the system with harder and longer swim sets balanced with periodised recovery.

Keeping motivation through these cold, dark, and icy months is testing. But with stated targets in mind I feel I’ve got every reason to swim/bike/run every day, to work hard, eat well, and to keep my mind on the job.

And for anyone doing an Ironman this year and in need of a little extra motivation, check out this video!

Trew winter training

So… I haven’t posted anything training-related of late. This doesn’t mean I haven’t been doing any! Quite the contrary I’m happy to say. I took the decision – whilst self-coaching my way to the half ironman – that I really needed to start working with others more tri-experienced. Why?

Well…. Sure I reckon I could post a decent time in IM Switzerland next year by continuing with what I was doing… but would that be enough? Would I be satisfied? What has experienced shown me?  After my first marathon I felt elated (or more specifically relieved) to have finished, but immediately (quite literally) this feeling was overtaken by a recognition of what I could have done…, and therefore what I wanted to do. I knew I could have trained better, or smarter (not necessarily more – v important distinction) and that I simply wasn’t satisfied with my performance. 5 marathons later I’m – to be honest – still not. I simply didn’t want to go through the same process with triathlon.

So Ironman. I know I want to be the very best I can be in Switzerland on July 25th. Yes like anything it will be a learning curve, and once I finish I’ll want to go quicker (of that I’m certain). But I just don’t want to leave anything to chance. 12th October marked the start of week 1 of a six-week block working with Olympic coach Steve Trew. Steve’s got me really focused on quality, not quantity. I’m doing 3 sessions of each discipline a week, building carefully but most definitely working hard. That said, he also focuses his athletes on good technique – something often forgotten with bike/run (in contrast to swim) but winter is the time to perfect form and build strength. His guidance – and the fact that I’m expected to stick to and feed back on the training he sets – is helping me make the most of each and every session. I’m really motivated for the challenge ahead.

Steve also organises periodical training camps; I spent this weekend in Hertfordshire with his group of athletes and also swim coach Dan Bullock. Mixing with fellow triathletes ranging from novices to World and European qualifiers was great, and having access to expert advice, video analysis and tuition was invaluable.

There are a number of coaches around offering on-line or distanced coaching, setting training for you, reviewing results and guiding accordingly. I would strongly recommend this for any triathlete; it’s especially beneficial given the complexity in balancing three sports. Now all I need to do is do the training….!

Triathlon training: a typical week

Compared to my last two years of marathon running, this year’s training has been something of an experiment. For my second, third and fourth marathons (Berlin 07, Paris and Amsterdam 08) I followed Mike Gratton plans religiously with barely a session missed. This regimental approach improved my distance running substantially, bringing my marathon time down by 40 minutes and my half marathon best to 1h33 over twelve months. But the transition to triathlon required something different.

From January I committed to a long ride every weekend, and morning swims of gradually increasing length twice weekly. However, to ensure successful completion of the London Marathon I maintained 5-6 runs per week, modifying Gratton’s plan.  This worked, with further PBs over the half and marathon. A typical week looked like this:

Mon: run (1hr steady). Tue am: swim (30-40min). Tue pm: run (intervals or 1hr steady). Wed: run (1-1.5hr steady). Thu am: swim (30min). Thu pm: run (tempo, intervals or 1hr steady). Fri: run (45mins easy). Sat: bike (3-5hr). Sun: run (2hr steady).

After London I scaled back the running, increased the frequency of cycling and increased the time spent swimming. The bike was the real focus, culminating in the series of three sportives. Rest and recovery was key after a tough first four months to 2009. An integral part of this is psychological recovery: entering a new phase of training for a major endurance event requires total commitment, enthusiasm and mental strength. Without giving the mind and body adequate recovery neither will be ready to get the most from the training. I typically take 3 weeks active rest after spring marathons and 5 weeks in the Autumn. Part 2 went well and my cycling improved nicely.

Part 3 of my training experiment started last week after returning from holiday and recovering from a strained neck/back. Although I have two triathlons to aim at, these are design for experience and as such I’m not aiming to ‘peak’ through extensive tapering. Last week looked like this:

Mon: run (1hr steady). Tue: swim (40min cold water). Wed: swim (1hr, 3k). Thu: run (1hr steady). Fri: bike (3h45, 64 miles).

Unfortunately a good friend’s stag do got in the way of Sat/Sun – a life outside of training is clearly important, but I try to fit things around social commitments generally. Early morning runs, or cycling to the location of a get-together work well for example. However, I expect to add another swim and bike to this, and if staying healthy a further run and bike.

For the Ironman I’m going to follow a structured plan created by an expert. But for now it’s about learning to manage three disciplines and – so far – my 2009 training experimentation has worked. I feel great on the bike, increasingly confident in the pool and am maintaining the benefits from two years of running and 5 marathons!

Things I need to do

Summer training objectives are racking up! Recent events, coaching sessions and conversations with triathlon pals have made me realise the true extent of the task ahead.

I’m enjoying the swimming, and now I need to ramp up the volume/time/distance of my training whilst incorporating drills and technique work. I’m pretty clear on my bike requirements: for sportives I need to become a better climber; for triathlon I need to get physically able to maintain a streamlined efficient position for longer. I feel good about my running, but I still reckon I can increase my threshold pace and the duration over which I can maintain it. I know I can go quicker over 10k and 1/2 marathon, and a shot at a 3h10 marathon is tantilisingly in reach if I continue to improve. So how am I going to achieve all this?


1/ Coaching – Swim for Tri technique sessions.

2/ Drills – Do them! Buy some fins.

3/ Open water practise – With and without a wet suit.


1/ Improve core strength – Incorporate exercises into weekly routine.

2/ Hill reps – Weekly session.

3/ Position on bike – Get this assessed. Practise on the drops. Get Tri bars?


1/ Threshold pace – Do more threshold work.



1/ Training pals – Join a Tri Club? Join a bike club?

2/ Training plan – Follow a generic plan? Follow a tailored plan? Get a coach?

3/ Fitness assessment – Find out my true max HR, VO2 Max etc.

4/ Drink less! – Cut down number of days drinking.

5/ Rest – Ensure 8 hours sleep each night


I’ll review (and add to) these objectives periodically to monitor progress.