Going Fast

Reading between the lines last week, you might have picked up my point that you’ve got what you’ve got when it comes to training time. In a limited time situation there will always be the temptation to do every session as fast as you can.

The trouble with this strategy is understanding the specific speed requirements for our event (see Fundamentals of Pace). If we don’t understand the specific needs of our events then our hard efforts might be wasted because we’re training the wrong physical and mental systems for what’s actually required to perform.

Fatigue Speed
When I outlined the training camp last week, I made the point that we placed the highest training load at the beginning and the fastest training at the end. We then did a long run to finish the camp (and ourselves) off.


The structure of the camp ensured the following:

At least one decent swim. Whenever possible, I like to start the day with a very challenging swim in a group environment. As a coach, I like to flush out the impact of a tough swim on an athlete. It’s important to learn how your body performs after a big swim. I use my swim fitness to sit on my competition’s feet while they overwork.

Show your speed when fatigued. We waited until we were tired before we lit it up with a maximal effort TT. The TT was: on the bike, at altitude, uphill and done when fatigued. Each of these components has an impact:

  • Bike: With older or fragile athletes, true max-effort training should be done on the bike. It’s far safer. (As a side note, low volume swimmers are missing out on high intensity volume that’s very well tolerated by your experienced competition.)
  • Altitude: Always choose your camp location for the best training, not altitude. Given that the good training was at altitude… we were not able to achieve the same sort of maximal power and heart rates — we were forced to be more “aerobic.” Although we were mentally training to go “all out” — physically, our effort was capped below true max.
  • Uphill: When tired, we needed a hill to elevate our effort/pace/power. I like uphill intervals (done in TT position or with good run form) as a safe, and very specific, form of intensity.
  • Fatigued: Because of the nature of a triathlon (water, fast air, slow air) you’re never going to be fresh when you need to go fast. Therefore, I like to train the body (and mind) to go fast when fatigued. You should have seen the guys’ faces when I told them that it was an all-out TT! Not only did we all perform great, we backed it up by running 2.5 hours at high altitude. Those are the sorts of sessions that build very specific late-race performance.

Anybody can rip for 15-30 minutes when fresh. Being strong when fatigued is where you create race performance.

Take your mind there before race day.

The Nature of Tri Speed
What does our mind need to learn?

Open Water Swim Speed: I used to think that my “problem” in open water was my 400 time (VO2 max pace). I figured that if I could just “get there” then I’d be able to hang on. I was mistaken. The two things that limit open water swim performance in the AG field are pace control and capacity to recover at speed.

  • Pace Control: The field has no idea how fast it is starting. Learn how to moderate your start so that you can speed up when it matters. At the beginning ride the insanity! From behind it is worth at least 10 seconds per 100.
  • Capacity to Recover At Speed: Does your swim program teach you how to recover while swimming fast? If you don’t have this skill then the constant pace changes of open water will fatigue you, then spit you out the back.

Bike Speed: Where can you get away from someone on a bike course? The age group fields are so competitive that it’s near impossible to escape on the flats. So you need to train to tolerate pace changes in rollers as well as sustained intensity on the climbs. However… you must learn what level of variation you can tolerate. Most of the athletes around you are going to be wrecking their run legs. I like the unbiased feedback of my powermeter because it never gets excited.

Something that we’ve noticed is the higher performing athletes have less variability within their bike splits. The faster athletes are using their power more wisely. When I started out, I figured that my goal was to learn how to go bananas on the bike. I was mistaken. The goal is to create superior steady-state stamina and learn to tolerate pace changes without compromising run legs.

Run Speed: What’s “fast” for the second half of your run leg? How much energy do you have to expend to reach that point in your race? If you want to train specific speed then building the capacity to go “fast” at that moment is the most specific form of speed you can have in your portfolio. Even for the shortest distance in triathlon, it is verydifferent than what you can do when fresh.

Learn to go fast when your competition are slow.

Categories: Lifestyle, Planning, Training

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