My First Decade of Triathlon, by the Numbers

My First Decade of Triathlon, by the Numbers

I did my first multisport event in the spring of 2006 at a local gym that hosted an indoor triathlon. It consisted of a 500-yard swim, a 12-mile bike on a stationary cycle, and a 2-mile run on a treadmill. My wife worked at the gym and told me about it. I was intrigued and looked up a quick program to train over about a six-week period. I had never swum a lap in a pool in my life. I had never really ridden a bike other than commuting around campus on a hybrid in college. I had been running a bit off and on since 2003, but never very competitive at all. The indoor tri was both challenging and fun, and I just missed my targets on all three disciplines. However, I had an absolute blast and was introduced to some great local multisport athletes.

Billy & JeffAfter finishing that indoor triathlon, I was instantly hooked, went out and bought an $1800 time-trial bike, and began looking at training in earnest for a “real” triathlon. That year, I competed in four local sprints, the very first being the MightyMite Triathlon in Forrest City, Arkansas, pictured to the right. That was just the start of a great hobby and passion!

When I first started racing in 2006, I was pretty much middle to front-third of the pack at these local races, but seemed to consistently move up each year. It was fun and exciting to be training, racing and slowly seeing improvements. Many of my friends today only know me as the athlete I am now, and forget or did not know that although I was never a “back-of-the-packer,” I was certainly not always as strong a triathlete as I am now.

I slowly progressed in race distance, completing my first half-iron distance race in 2007, then my first full-iron distance race in 2008. In 2009, I qualified to race at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships with a roll-down slot, and then also earned the last spot to race as part of Team USA at the ITU Age Group World Championship in 2010. I finished in the bottom third of my age group at the first, and about fifty percent at the second of these initial two “world” events.

In 2011, I claimed my first overall win at a local triathlon. Then, in both 2012 and 2013, I was able to reach the top-step at the USA Triathlon Age Group Sprint National Championship for the 35-39 age group. My best world championship finish also came in 2013 where I placed 5th in the age group at the ITU Sprint World Championship in London.  

In 2014, after two-years of focused iron-distance training, I did what many triathletes strive for and qualified to race at the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. I did not race as well as I had hoped to in Kona, but also did not completely fall apart… with just an “average” performance, I finished 108th of 193 in my age group. There is still so much room to grow and improve!  

Today, I continue to strive to become better and am excited to see where I can eventually take my racing.

To help follow along with my progress over the years, here are my USA Triathlon rankings from 2006 through 2015:

Jeff USAT Ranking 06-15

I shared the ranking data in a previous article and have had several people ask how I progressed from where I was when I started, to where I am now. Although I have coached quite a few athletes over the years, I still have the most data and insight on my own training and racing. Thus, I thought I would share the following thoughts and info, in hopes it will give inspiration to those out there who are putting in the hours training, and may not always see the improvements right away.

Log booksOne key point I will toss out first: most of your training should be planned with a purpose. Whether you use a coach, a training plan from a book or magazine, or design your own plan, track your training! Only by knowing what you did can you later analyze if it worked or didn’t, and then adjust moving forward. Over the years, I have used many tracking tools, initially using good old pen and paper on spreadsheets, then a program called PC Coach on my laptop. I adopted a Polar 625X running watch early on, and have since moved to Garmin’s multisport products for training, racing and tracking.

PC CoachI began tracking just the basics (time and distance), and over the years have added intensity, heart-rate, power, RPE and lots of other metrics. Without having done so, I would not have the data I can provide below.

When I began coaching in 2010, TrainingPeaks (TP) moved to a new platform and I began using their online software suite to log my training. Over the years, I backlogged my previous training so it would all be in one place. Here is a chart from TP showing my weekly volume in time for each week from 2006-2015:Jeff Duration 06-15

The average weekly training time for the entire ten years is about 10:41. That’s lower than I actually thought it would be. Breaking that into the first five years (2006-2010) and the second five years (2011-2015), the averages become about 7:41 and 13:42 respectively.

Jeff Duration 06-10

Jeff Duration 11-15


Although there are clearly many weeks with above 15 hours of training, multiple chunks of larger weeks, and several “big” weeks exceeding 25 hours, it is obvious that I have never sustained huge volume, week after week, for months and months on end. It’s also worth noting that in the 10 years of training, I have only had one sports related injury that forced any substantial amount of time off during the spring of 2010.

Just hours and miles don’t tell the whole story, but they can give some good initial insight into an athlete’s progression. Here is the above volume broken down both hourly and by mileage in each discipline over the years:

Jeff Hours & Miles

Initially I was comfortable running and lifting weights, and thus spent the most time there. I also spent a good amount of time in the pool that first year focusing on learning how to swim properly. As I progressed, I looked to try and balance out the time spent between each sport in relation to most triathlons.

Jeff PMC 06-15For those familiar with the Performance Management Chart (PMC), my Chronic Training Load (CTL), or theoretical “fitness” for 2006-2015 is in the image on the right.

What you see are some distinct peaks in fitness and also some deep valleys of recovery. Most recovery blocks were planned at the end of a season or after larger races, but a couple were unplanned: mono in early 2008, an achilles injury in 2010, and several other short illnesses that required a little time off.

Over the years, I have surely enjoyed training, but I also greatly enjoy competing. I have raced well over 100 running, cycling and duathlons during this 10-year period, but have focused primarily on triathlons and used these other events to better myself as a triathlete. Here are the numbers of triathlons raced each year:

Jeff Race Matrix

Frequency of racing is a great opportunity to really hone your skills and push yourself beyond what you can normally do in training.  

Other Keys to Improvement
Several other keys I have found to improvement over the years, in no particular order, have been:

  • Patience – With endurance, nothing happens overnight. Improvements take time.  Trying to force fitness too quickly too often ends in injury or burnout, and the breaks incurred often just delay the improvements you are striving for.  Stick with the process and the performance will come.
  • Consistency – Maintaining basic movement throughout the year is important. Keeping your hands in each of the disciplines, even if not super structured, will help tie major training blocks together.
  • Hard Work – Fitness and performance very rarely come by chance. Every athlete who excels has put in some serious effort. The hard work sometimes means putting your head down and actually pushing. Other times, the hard work may mean putting the ego aside and watching your friends ride away when they decide to hammer and you are on an easy day.
  • Dedication – I see this more as the mental side of the training equation. Only if you are truly dedicated to a goal will you have the determination to get out there and start that run in the cold, windy rain, when it would be much more comfortable to curl back up and stay in bed.
  • Recovery – It is not just how much training you can get it that counts, but rather how much training your body can absorb. There certainly becomes a point of diminishing returns in which you can exceed your body’s ability to bounce back. At that point you are only making yourself more fatigued and are most likely breaking your body down to the point your fitness may actually regress.
  • Targets – Set realistic goals that just challenge you enough. I have used time targets and placings as goals, but have found “rabbits” to be very motivating early on. I didn’t focus on trying to win anything at first… it was just not within reach at the time. Instead, I looked for the athletes who were consistently just a tad faster than me and would look to beat them. Once I was able to beat them, I would readjust my rabbits to be the next people ahead.
  • Flexibility – I am not referring to physical range of motion, but rather to the ability to adapt your training when needed. Family issues, sickness, jobs, and just daily life stresses add up and can interrupt a perfectly planned schedule. Be ready to change things up a bit when needed or skip a session when you 100% know it won’t work. It is very easy if you can’t get a whole session in as planned, to just blow it off, when at least doing a portion would still be very beneficial.
  • Support – Having a small group around you to help with your endeavors is critical. For me, my main support has come from my wife, Wendy and my coach, Justin. Additionally my training partners play a huge role in helping to push and motivate me. Make sure to thank your team for their support and do your best to allow them to share in your success.
  • Removing the “zeros” – This was a concept I took from a 2010 presentation I attended by Justin Daerr and Gordo Byrn. Essentially a “zero” would be a day with no training stress at all. Early on in my training, I almost always took a weekly off day, sometimes two or more. After this, I still had days off, but they were used sparingly and I found this actually easier to fit in the appropriate training for three disciplines. In the following chart, you can see when this change took place. Each red dot in the chart represents a day of training and the “Training Stress Score”, or TSS, associated with it. Starting around the middle of 2010, you clearly see much larger spans of continued training without a day of zero training.PMC with TSS
  • Big weeks – A “big week” is a focused block of training where you increase your normal heavy training load by as much as 150% or more. I did my first big week in the summer of 2011 when I attended the Endurance Corner Boulder Camp. A structured camp is the perfect environment to do this… you surround yourself with other people with the same mindset, remove most of the distractions of daily home life, and focus on training. I have successfully done my own “big weeks” twice since then, but have also attended the late-winter, Endurance Corner Tucson Camp every year since 2013. If you do a “big week” on your own, don’t be haphazard in how you plan it out. It can be a huge boost to your fitness, but can also leave you ruins if you overdo it.
  • BooksEducation – Over the years, I have amassed quite a bit of multisport literature that has helped build how I train, race, and ultimately coach athletes I work with. For me, it started with just two books, browsing the Internet and reading some magazines. Now it has grown to what you see on the right.
  • Do a lot more easy – Many athletes train too hard, too often. Below you can see my time in zones over the years. There are some data missing, as I did not always have a monitor or power meter for every workout, but it gives a pretty good picture. Heart-rate is for biking and running, Power for biking, and speed for running. Quite simply the bulk of my training has taken place in zones 1 and 2, or the easy to steady effort zone.Jeff zones 06-15
  • Training with Power – In the winter of 2010 I purchased a Computrainer and began using power for the first time on the bike. After only a couple of months, I quickly saw the value that using power could have in both training and racing, especially long course. Just putting a power meter on your bike will not make you faster, but learning how to utilize it to make your training more specific and dial in your efforts during racing is huge. Joe Friel was quoted as saying “Using a power meter in a long steady-state race such as a triathlon or long time trial is almost like cheating.” I wouldn’t go so far as to call it cheating, but if performance is your goal, there really is no better tool for gauging effort on the bike.

The last key element I would say is that you need to have fun with what you’re doing in both training and racing. Every session may not be “enjoyable”, but you should truly be overall happy with and enjoy getting out there to swim, bike and run. Ultimately, we want to get faster and fitter, but the true goal is to be happy, healthy, and make a few friends along the way!

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Jeff Fejfar

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