Triathlon: one sport, many faces

By Massimo Massarini, Doctor in Sport Medicine, Vitalia Progetti Salute
Three different sports, 4 different distances, many different courses, changeable weather conditions: this is the picture of triathlon whose swimming-cycling-running legs varies from 750-20-5 sprint, 1500-40-10 Olympic, 1900-70-21,097 70.3 to 388-180-42,195 Ironman.
In fact, race time for the triathlon sprint is about 65’, 95’ for the Olympic, and 4h10’ for the 70.3 and something above 8 h for the Ironman. Of course to compare the different competitions we took into account the winners’ times, which may largely vary in case of hilly courses and extreme weather conditions and are, by far, much shorter than the average competitors’ time.

Moreover, the longer the distance, the greater will be the time gap between the top athletes and the middle of the bunch.

Running section in the sand
Taking in account the race time for the average participants will help in understanding, which could be the training strategy accordingly to the selected race distance. Obviously, we’re always considering an aerobic discipline but the intensity that can be sustained for 1hour and a half is pretty different from the one that can be maintained for 12 hours.
In fact, the shorter the distance the higher will be the average sustainable intensity: in sprint triathlon, best athletes can perform at anaerobic threshold intensity or even slightly more, but the longer the distance the slower the pace.

What kind of fuel

Exercise intensity is largely due to available energy sources: it’s well known that fats are the largest fuel reservoir of the body, however, fat needs more oxygen to produce energy or they produce energy at a slower rate. For this reason, when the body needs to move fast, the energy production accounts on a mix of fats and carbo. The amount of carbo increases with speed but has a limited duration. This is the main reason of the higher intensity in the shorter distances.

Swimming in triathlon race
Short duration competition, less than 90 min., can be performed at a high percentage of exercise intensity, where carbs accounts for almost the 80% of energy source, but carb reserves in the body are limited and for this reason, for longer performances, we need to rely more on fats. The shift to fat oxidation reduces the energy production and subsequently slows the speed.

How to workout for the different triathlon distances

We have already explained the physiology, which correlates to energy production and exercise intensity and duration. It’s now time to use this knowledge to design training plans for the different triathlon distances.

Considering that the shorter the race the higher the intensity, it’s intuitive that training for a sprint will require much more speed work and anaerobic threshold intervals than training for an Ironman.

General tips for triathlon training

However, a solid base of aerobic training in zone 1 and 2 is fundamental preparing for any triathlon distance, as well as strength sessions to prevent muscle loss that could occur with high volume aerobic program. Going deeper into training, it’s advisable for those going for the long half and full Ironman to extend training duration to two thirds of the racing distance in each single sport in different days of the week.

Our advice is to combine long ones with short sessions which will be aiming to neuromuscular and specific strength training and can be performed indoor on simulators. Their utilization allows you to be extremely precise in the load distribution and have a terrific effect on muscles, another tangible benefit is the improvement in running and cycling technique, which translates in energy saving for the long distance.

Outdoor sessions will focus more on general endurance and will prepare the body for the long haul increasing plasmatic volume, mitochondria and fat utilization.

Mixing these different training styles is becoming more and more popular because allows to save time and to be more efficient.

Tips for the Sprint and the Olympic Triathlon

  • Train the transitions with combined swim-race and bike-race sessions
  • Take care of strength training because it is essential to develop power and therefore speed.
  • Devote time to targeted training on cycle simulators and treadmills
Train for your triathlon with Skillrun

Half Ironman and Ironman Tips

  • Extend the training duration to 2/3 of the race distance in each sport on different days of the week.
  • Take care of the carbohydrate load in the 2 days before the race
  • Check the HR during the match both to avoid going too high in intensity and to understand if you are going into hunger crisis.
Allenati serenamente in casa per la frazione di bici con lo smart trainer mycycling.
Skillrun, Skillbike and mycycling are perfectly designed to provide an extremely realistic feeling in running and cycling. Their user interfaces provide loads of useful biometrics such as power, cadence, stride length, contact time, symmetry, heart rate. Training sessions can be precisely designed to target each power zone.

Their use allows to be extremely precise in the distribution of the load and to have a formidable effect on the muscles, another tangible benefit is the improvement of the running and cycling technique which translates into energy savings over long distances.

/related post

Skeleton: a little-known protagonist of the Winter Olympics

Together with luge and bobsleigh, skeleton is one of the three main sledging sports and its competit...