That is fantastic, really, it is. The honest truth is that fitness is just one small aspect of most people’s lives. Unless you are a professional athlete, outdoor clothing test subject or come from a long line of distinguished philanthropists, you probably work…a lot. You also clean, buy groceries, run errands, go to the dentist, go to family get-togethers, get the oil changed in your car, attend school plays, watch TV, sleep, read and stop to smell the roses (for only one second).
Most of the time, there are enough hours in the day to stay fairly fit, have some alone time and get the obligations out of the way. But, there is one small problem. You really, really, want to do a triathlon (or a marathon, or hike Mt. Baldy, or race mountain bikes, or climb El Cap., etc.). In order to accomplish these things, training is important, but so is everything else.
Good news, everybody, training for endurance events doesn’t have to be a long slog. There is a growing body of evidence that indicates that high-intensity intervals over short durations can deliver the same improvements in fitness as long aerobic workouts (chronic cardio). Furthermore, it seems, that the application of shorter workouts to endurance events results in a lower incidence of injury, lower levels of oxidative stress and inflammation as well as increased levels of overall enjoyment (once the workout is over, not necessarily during…).
So what does that mean, in practical terms?
Assuming you have a “reasonable” level of experience swimming, biking and running:
If you want to do a sprint triathlon, 3-6 hours of training is adequate per week.
If you want to do a half-ironman, 6-10 hours of training is adequate per week.
If you want to do an iron-man, 12-15 hours of training is adequate per week.
How is this possible? The key is to focus on quality, high-intensity workouts.
- Swim long once per week. This swim should be no longer than 60 minutes and focus on feel and technique with some interval work.
- 2-3 other swims should be interval focused. Limit swims to 30 minute maximum (i.e.,10x 100m or 20x50m)
- One long bike ride per week (2-4 hours) outside
- 2 or 3 30-60 minute interval sessions (on a trainer or in spin class is ideal, check out sufferfest videos for inspiration)
- NO LONG RUNS…Seriously, no runs over 2-hours
- Runs should be 30-90 minutes of hard work.
- Run workouts should consist of:
- One interval session (12x200m or 4x800m or 6x400m),
- One hill workout (5-10 .25-.5 mile repeats)
- Two “long-ish” runs (2-3 mile circuits for up to 90 minutes)
In order to reap the benefits of low-volume high-intensity training, it is essential to ensure your body can keep things together over a sprint, medium or long-course race. Strength/resistance training will allow you to maintain form as fatigue sets in. Mobility work is also essential to maintain flexibility and prevent injuries (foam rolling, lacrosse ball trigger point release, yoga)
Here is the tricky part: Belief in your training. Leading up to a long-course triathlon mental preparation is critical, you will not have had the opportunity to test yourself on a 200 mile bike ride, 2 mile swim, 26 mile run (and that is a good thing). As long as you are prepared mentally for the task you are about to undertake. I suggest visualization, meditation and yoga.
One disclaimer, the swim in an Iron Distance race is daunting. Failing on the swim can easily lead to death. Please, know your own abilities, practice in open water, do an open-water swim course that focuses on fear mitigation. Panic in the water kills.
Now get out, crush some intervals, accomplish something BIG and get fit in the process.
For more information on high-intensity training try the following (these articles have great links to the studies which support the information above):