SEASON PLANNING

By Nenad Rodic
posted 04/05

“If you fail to plan, plan to fail!”

Season planning is the most serious aspect of every training program. While an athlete may choose specific workouts that suit him/her better he should never try to make a serious season plan without help from a coach who is well-versed in this realm. When planning a season, one must start with a goal, whether it is a race or improvement of certain aspects of performance. If you are a novice triathlete and you have a goal of finishing one race at the end of the season, it is wise to make a yearly plan that emphasizes basic skills and fitness. If you are a seasoned professional, you may want to make a two or three macro-cycles in your season plan depending on how many races you plan to be in top shape for.
Generally coaches recommend a cyclic plan that increases in volume and intensity as the season progresses. Presented is an example of a 20-week plan for an advanced age-group triathlete with an explanation of what each mezzo-cycle represents and improves.
Have in mind that weekly schedules vary a lot, especially in the race specific mezzo-cycle. There are ITU racers who train running up to 10 times a week, most of it track. On the other hand there are some Ironman athletes who exclusively ride the bike during certain periods.
Presented are weekly schedules that are not that radical. They can vary significantly based on your needs.

TWENTY WEEK PLAN FOR AN ADVANCED TRIATHLETE

MEZZO-CYCLE 1 BASE 4-6 WEEKS

IMPORTANT: Keep your heart rate low at all times. Short sprints that do not elevate the HR are welcome.
It is time to increase the number of blood capillaries surrounding muscle fibers since this facilitates the transport of fuel and oxygen to muscle cell mitochondria. The inability of muscle mitochondria to up-take free fatty acids from the blood stream seems to limit the oxidation of fat at intensities over 50% of VO2max. Should you choose to skip this important part of training, you will never race an ironman to the end. Instead, you’ll barely survive. Every effort above the desired HR is counterproductive. This is a perfect time to develop technique in all three sports. Work intensely on flexibility. Eat food rich in oils (nuts, olive oil …) so your metabolism gets used to burning fat. If you’re trying to lose weight do it during this cycle by training in the morning without eating. This will deplete your glycogen depots quickly and make your body use stored fat.

DATE SWIM BIKE RUN TOTAL
MONDAY     LSD AM 1 hour 1 hour
TUESDAY EN1/SP3
1 Hour 30 min
LSD with speed play lunch or evening 90 min (high cadence ride 100+ rpm)   3 hours
WEDNESDAY     LSD AM 90 min 1 hour 30 min
THURSDAY EN 1 1 hour 30 min   LSD evening 45 min track/drills 2 hours 15 min
FRIDAY   1H PM (high cadence ride) EASY 30 min optional AM 1 HOUR 30 min
SATURDAY EN1/SP3 1 hour 30 min LSD 2 hours AM LSD 30 min off the bike AM 4 hours
SUNDAY   LSD am 4 + hours   4 hours
TOTAL 4 hours 30 min 8 hours 30 min 4 h 15 min 17 hours 15 min


Myth number one: If you train in the winter you will burn out by the end of the season. If you don’t like the sport and training, you can burn out after two days, and if you are a true athlete you’ll never burn out and stop training.

Myth number two: You should use the small chain-ring only at this time. You should try to develop a good pedaling technique by doing high cadence workouts. Cadence does not depend on gears only but on speed also. If you are going 60 mph downhill it is natural to use the biggest gear you have since you’ll still be at 120+ rpm. Back to top

MEZZO-CYCLE 2 POWER/ AEROBIC-ANAEROBIC 3-4 WEEKS

It is wise to do this cycle at least once a year. If you race Olympic distance triathlons you should do it in every 16-20 week macro-cycle. The goal is to increase your high end or, as I like to call it, ceiling. Emphasis is on the VO2max energy system. Increased VO2max will allow you to achieve faster race speed through anaerobic threshold training in later cycles. If you like to lift weights this cycle is the proper time for it since it will not interfere with development of other systems (vascular, aerobic efficiency, fat metabolism etc.). Make sure that all VO2 workouts are done at the time of day when you are most alert and ready for hard work. Be careful when working on power development on the bike since injuries can easily happen.

DATE SWIM BIKE RUN TOTAL
MONDAY Vo2max 3000 1 hour   LSD 1 hour 2 hours
TUESDAY   AT power 1 hour 8*(2’ big gear 2’ ez)   1 hour
WEDNESDAY EN1/EN2 3000 1 hour     1 hour
THURSDAY     VO2 1 hour 16*(1’ fast 1’ ez) 1 hour
FRIDAY EN1 1 hour technique LSD 1H 30 min LSD 30’ 3 hours
SATURDAY T30 test AT AT-VO2 2 hours total- 70 min pace line or 35*(1’ HR 165+ 1’ ez) in the descending manner AT 30’ @165-170 HR after the bike + 10’ ez 3 hours 30 min
SUNDAY   LSD sub 130 HR 4 hours +   4 hours
TOTAL 3 hours 30 min 8 hours 30min 3 hours 15 hours

Olympic distance sample

Myth number one: You should not climb hills in big chain-ring. In order to develop muscles and power for time-trialing you need to get used to huge gears and low cadence in training. Climbing hills in big gear also helps your pedal stroke since using the backside of the stroke (upstroke) is a necessity in this drill.

Myth number two: weight lifting improves power. It does if you are a power lifter. At best, weight lifting is a good injury prevention method and a way to balance out some muscle groups. Triathlon racing requires very little power; at the pro level around 300W. To sustain this kind of power you need to be fit and efficient, not bulky, big and powerful. Back to top

MEZZO-CYCLE 3 AEROBIC OVERLOAD, PEAK/TRAINING CAMPS 3-4 WEEKS

This mezzo-cycle is crucial for ultra-distance athletes. Olympic distance racers can skip this cycle or make it very short (7-10 days). The overall stress on your body is the greatest during this training. You are developing efficiency (LSD work), race speed (Anaerobic threshold work), and pace for ultra distance racing through maximum aerobic function work. Hours of training are massive (25-35 a week for an age grouper and 30-50 for a pro). Given the nature of the sports and specific energy demands for each one of them, it’s obvious that the majority of training will be done on the bike. If you’re still struggling with few extra pounds, this cycle will take care of that. Besides, training in energy deficit will increase your efficiency in burning fat and your likelihood of surviving an Ironman. Training through fatigue helps to increase biomechanical efficiency. Fatigue will make your muscles find the best stroke for them and muscles will remember (muscle memory).

DATE SWIM BIKE RUN TOTAL
MONDAY     LSD 1 hour 30 min last 40 min 155-160 HR 1 hour 30 mi
TUESDAY EN1/EN2 90 MIN RACE or 90 min ride all hills hard AT+   3 hours
WEDNESDAY     LSD AM 2 hours 30 min / PM 1 hour 30 min 4 hours
THURSDAY EN1/EN2 90 MIN 20 min warm up 8*(1’ 30” fast 30” easy) 1 hour 1 hour AT 3 hours
30 min
FRIDAY   LSD 1 hour optional 1 hour 30 min last 40 min 150-160 HR 2 hours 30 min
SATURDAY EN1/EN2 90 min LSD TT bike 3 hours 30 min LSD off the bike 1 hour first 40 min 150-160 HR @Maximum aerobic function 6 hours
SUNDAY   LSD am 8 + hours   8 hours
TOTAL 4 hours 30 min 14 hours 30 min 9 h 28 hours

Ironman distance sample

Myth number one
: I am training a lot; therefore I can eat as much as I want and whatever I want. This cycle is the time to pay special attention to your nutrition. Make sure that all your water, mineral and vitamin needs are met. Then comes protein. Energy is irrelevant. You should have enough to survive the workouts but not more. You would be surprised how far you can get with so little.

Myth number two: I feel really tired; I should rest. The point of this training is to be tired and train tired. If you are always rested and full of energy you will never develop the efficiency needed for an ironman.

Myth number three: Pro cyclists are so fast because they take drugs. No. They are fast because they train 50000 km a year (1600 hours approximately) that helps them develop an amazing biomechanical efficiency. Back to top

MEZZO-CYCLE 4 RACE SPECIFIC 3-5 WEEKS

All training you have done until this moment was so that you can endure and do this cycle properly. It is at this time that your body will learn to work on race pace. Most work will be in race-simulated conditions (TT bike, terrain similar to the race profile, length and ratio as is in the race). If you’ve done the overload cycle correctly you will not have trouble recuperating from hard race pace training that follow in this cycle. Notice how there is a lot of easy days since hard ones are extremely stressful. This mezzo-cycle can be stretched throughout the whole racing season with some modification, and rest periods.

DATE SWIM BIKE RUN TOTAL
MONDAY     Easy 30-45 min optional 30 min
TUESDAY EN2 race pace 90 min 90 min ride TT bike 30-45 min @155+ HR   3 hours
WEDNESDAY     LSD AM 2 + hours 2 hours
THURSDAY   Easy 1 hour 45 min optional 1 hour 45 min
FRIDAY   Lsd 90 min LSD 30 min 2 hours
SATURDAY EN2 90 min TT bike 100+ km holding 150+ HR 3 hours @Maximum aerobic function Of the bike 45 min holding 150+ HR @Maximum aerobic function 5 hour 15 min
SUNDAY   7+ hours   7 hours
TOTAL 3 hours 14 hours 4 hours 21 hours

Ironman distance sample

Myth number one: You should always race harder than you train. You should never race harder than you train. Race-specific training is there to teach you and show you what you can do and how to do it. Do not hope that on a race day you will be granted extra prowess from some unknown source and go faster than you trained for. Back to top

MEZZO-CYCLE 5 TAPER 1-4 WEEKS

I’ve heard coaches talk about the taper being directly proportional to the length of the race. There is nothing further from the truth. Longer the race, shorter the taper needs to be. A sprint swimmer (50-100 m) can taper up to six weeks while a distance swimmer (1650) will get in full racing shape with 7-10 day taper. What is to say then about an ultra-distance racer (ironman)?
The length of the taper is a function of muscle fatigue, muscle breakdown and muscle size. Fatigue and breakdown are mainly caused by high intensity (triathlon almost does not have it). Depletion of fuels and depots is irrelevant since you can refill them within 48 hours regardless of your training regimen. A taper, in my opinion and experience, has a purpose to fine-tune your body and mind to the race set mode.
Generally, if you are a man you need longer taper than if you are a woman. Athletes with more muscle mass need longer taper than those with less muscle. More intensity (sprint-Olympic distance training) requires longer taper than Ironman. One thing you do not want to do, especially if you’re racing an ultra distance (IM) is to loose fitness, hence the short taper. You do not want to gain weight, by training less and eating the same, hence the short taper. And, you do not want to have too much free time to think about the race and get nervous, hence the short taper.
You want to decrease the volume in taper but keep or increase the frequency of workouts. No workout in taper should require more than one day of recuperation.
Taper is highly personal and giving an example of one would be foolish. It is best to try a few different things and discuss them with your coach. Your coach knows more than you about training, but he/she is not empathic and cannot know how you actually feel unless you tell him/her, so feedback in this cycle is essential.

Myth number one: Taper is time to rest. Taper is time to be alert and precise in everything you do, especially rest and diet.

Myth number two: I should not do any hard stuff in taper. Most intense workouts are performed during taper but their duration prevents them from being overall too stressful.

Myth number three; I should feel like crap until the race day. Perhaps first couple of days of taper until you fill up the glycogen depots you might feel sluggish. After that, if you’re not feeling like you can fly you’re doing it wrong. Back to top

SEASON VOLUMES BY AGE AND ABILITY

In hours of training. my recommendation is not to increase volume by more than 25% annually. If you are coming from some other sport like swimming or cycling and know what kind of volume you did in the years before starting your triathlon training and build from there. Depending on the event (ultra or Olympic) the volume ratio by sport should be S:B:R 20%:50%:30%. This can greatly vary. If you race ITU of course you’re going to spend more than 50 % of your overall workout time running. If you’re racing Ironman you may need to ride 70% of your total workout time, and if you have a strong background in swimming you may not want to waste time and energy on that training and spend less than 5% of total training time in the pool. It is up to your coach to customize your training in this regard. I don’t think anyone should try to race triathlons unless they train at least 400-450 hours a year. Professional triathletes train up to 1600 hours a year (over 30 hours a week average).

ABILITY BASE CYCLE POWER CYCLE PEAK CYCLE RACE SPECIFIC CYCLE-RACE SEASON (TOTAL HOURS PER YEAR)
NOVICE-UNDER 16 6-12 10-13 10-15 10-13 (400-500)
MEDIUM-UNDER 21 8-18 14-18 14-20 14-18
(500-600)
MEDIUM ADVANCED 9-22 17-22 17-24 17-22
(700-800)
ELITE JUNIOR OR AGE GROUPER 13-25 20-25 20-27 0-25
(800-1200)
PRO ELITE 14-26 22-26 22-40 22-26
(1000-1500)

Note that there are people who train much more than I recommended and there are people who train way less and do extremely well. It is up to your coach to devise a program that’s going to bring you the best results.

By Nenad Rodic, Founder of triathlonplace.com