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Finish Fast: Sprint Triathlon Training

Sprint triathlon training with Lance Watson and Bjoern Ossenbrink.

A sprint triathlon consists of a 500 to 750 m swim, 20 km bike and a 5 km run. All three elements require specific individual training to build your endurance and skill level, along with combined training, known as brick workouts.

Here’s a six-week basic and experienced sprint-training program to help you prepare for your first sprint triathlon or help you race faster over the distance this season. The program will help you to prepare with the least possible interference to the rest of your life. It doesn’t matter if you are a weekend athlete with a demanding career or if you are a enthusiastic sprint distance age-group triathlete who spends most weekday mornings in a pool.

Your training background

You might start this triathlon training program with a strong athletic background in one of the three triathlon disciplines. In this case you can modify the program to your needs. If you feel you need extra swim training and your cycling is very strong, please add another swim workout and drop a bike training session. In general, you need to build your training to a continuous 20min swim, a 50min bike and a 35min run.

If you have already done several sprint triathlons, your goal needs to be to drop the time in your weaker disciplines to decrease your finishing time. Train your weakness to become a better athlete.

Swim Training

The swim, for many triathletes, is the biggest challenge. Gaining confidence in the water, if you have not swum for a while or are new to swimming, can be a big task. For the swim training you will need a swimsuit, goggles and a wetsuit.

Swimming is very technical, so it is worthwhile to have a swim or triathlon coach give you a few pointers and drills to improve your swimming technique and efficiency.

It is important to gradually increase the distance of your workouts. Break the workout down into smaller intervals and include some 50 and 100 m fast efforts in order to recover properly and focus on your technique.

Beginner Swim Tip

If you’re new to swimming, do not swim longer than 15 minutes for your first couple of workouts. Include drills in your warm-up and cool-down. If you practice technique, your stroke will become smooth and efficient. This will also increase your overall swimming speed and drop your race time even more. During the weeks leading up to the triathlon you will increase the swim distance without stopping. Your goal will be to swim the race distance while staying comfortable in the water with a balanced and efficient stroke.

Open-Water Swimming

Some sprint distance triathlons are not held in a pool, but in a lake or ocean. You need to practice open-water swimming on a day when you have an endurance/recovery swim practice starting three weeks before the competition. The key to open water swimming is to remain relaxed in the water. Always swim in a group, wear your wetsuit and a bright colored swim cap. Aim for targets to help you maneuver straight in the water. Use water towers, houses or signs to help you swim straight and back to your starting point.

Bike Training

Bike riding is the easiest element for most triathletes. All you need are a bike (road or mountain), a helmet and bike shoes. Make sure you are fit properly on your bike by an expert. A proper position is very important to enhance comfort and power.

Beginner Bike Tip

The goal for your bike program is to increase the time and distance you can ride without stopping. If you are not confident to ride on the roads, try to find a local park or bike trail where the traffic is low. Riding in a park trail will give you training resistance and the bike-handling skills you’ll need on the road.

It is very important to simulate the same terrain you experience in your race. Focus on your cadence (or pedal repetitions per minute, rpm) and shifting gears. Try to hold your cadence between 85-100 rpm. On a flat section your cadence should be about 95 rpm and on uphill sections it will drop to 80+ rpm. An average cadence of 90+ will help you transition to your run easier as your running cadence should be around 80-90 strides per minute.

In general, intensity will be determined by the route you ride. A route with hills will increase your intensity and workload. Riding three to five minute hill repeats with a lower intensity and lower cadence will increase your aerobic endurance and strength. Performing the two to four minute hill repeats with a higher cadence at a sub maximal effort will increase your anaerobic strength. By following these tips your 20km time trial speed will increase.

Run Training

All you need in terms of equipment for running is a good pair of running shoes. Running is the last leg of the triathlon and will is often the most grueling on your body. The goal for your run program is to build your endurance and leg strength in order to run comfortably for 5km after a 20km bike.

Beginner Run Tip

If you are new to running, you should start very slowly with run/walk workouts (2 minute run-1 minute walk). Each week, increase the amount of running by one to two minutes while keeping the walk recovery the same. Monitor the intensity of your running workouts by your breathing. If you are not able to talk easily you might be pushing too hard. This indicates that you need to back off your speed.

Choose a flat or hilly running route to control your running intensity. More experienced athletes should choose a one to two minute hill and run maximum effort repeats leading up to the event. These workouts will give you the extra advantage over your competitors and increases your running speed.

Transition Training

The “fourth discipline” of triathlons are transitions. Traditionally, there are two different types of transition workouts you need to train for: the swim-to-bike and the bike-to-run. The swim-to-bike transition often involves running out of the water up to 500m before getting on the bike. The bike-to-run transition begins when you dismount from the bike and start the running leg. You need to practice both transitions by creating small transition zones at home or at the pool. Lay out all your required gear and practice clothing changes and bike mounts and dismounts. The more you practice transitions the smoother your event will be and you will exert less effort. Soon you will find out what gear is necessary and how fast you can adapt to the next discipline.

Bike-Run Brick Training

It is critical to practice running directly after a bike ride. The sensations you will encounter fluctuate from “rubber” legs to stiff muscles or just tired legs. Start by doing a walk/jog directly after your bike ride. As your muscles become trained, decrease your time walking and increase your running time. The first 10 minutes is the critical part of the brick workout.

PLEASE SEE the latest issue of Triathlon Magazine Canada (V5I3 – May/June 2010) for the complete sprint training programs (6-week basic OR 6-week intermediate).

LifeSport head coach Lance Watson has coached a number of Ironman, Olympic and age-group champions. He enjoys coaching athletes of all abilities who are passionate about sport and personal excellence.

LifeSport Senior Coach Bjoern Ossenbrink has extensive international experience in coaching, sport science, and sports administration and holds a Masters of Science Degree in Exercise Physiology. Bjoern has competed as a World Cup professional cyclist and in long distance triathlon events.

Visit www.LifeSportCoaching.com or write coach@LifeSportCoaching.com for coaching enquiries.