It's that time of year again. Spring is in the air, and so is the upcoming triathlon season. You've put in your miles over the winter, and your first race is creeping up.
Since you already have a good base (or will have in the coming weeks, depending upon when your first race of the season is), it's time to fine-tune your running workouts to prepare for race day. No matter what distance you're racing, from sprints to Ironman, these four key sessions are a great addition to your routine.
The purpose of these workouts is to teach, or remind, your body how to work at a higher intensity. By including these workouts in the month leading up to your first race, you'll set yourself up for a successful triathlon season.
Four Weeks Out: Tempo Run
Tempo runs teach you to tolerate an intensity just slower than race pace (for shorter triathlons). By doing them, you can accumulate a high volume of relatively intense work that improves both the aerobic and lactate-threshold systems.
The first thing you need to do is determine your optimal tempo-run pace. One way to do so is to take your best recent 5K time (or 10K for Ironman racers) and aim to hold a pace about 15 to 20 seconds slower per mile for around 20 to 25 minutes (40 to 45 minutes for longer-distance racers).
A variation for those who aren't able to hold the pace that long is to break the workout up into segments. You can do intervals of 4 x 5 minutes at tempo (up to 8 x 5 minutes) with just one minute of active recovery between intervals. This short recovery enables you to catch your breath, but isn't enough time to fully recuperate.
Three Weeks Out: Mile Repeats
Mile repeats can be done on a track, on your favorite route or, if you're lucky enough to have a GPS watch, anywhere you like. Mile repeats force you to run at or near your maximum sustainable pace; they'll also help build mental toughness. You want to try to maintain an even pace throughout each mile interval to avoid expending too much energy too early in the run. A sign of a good workout is when you're able to complete each interval in nearly the same time, give or take a few seconds.
Use your recent 5K or 10K time to determine your pace for each mile. Complete three to six one-mile intervals (depending on your race distance; the longer the race distance, the more intervals you should do) at race pace. Between repeats take an active recovery equal to half your work-interval time. So if you're running each mile repeat in eight minutes, you'll take minutes of recovery after each mile.
Two Weeks Out: Negative-Split 800-Meter Intervals
As race day gets closer it's important to decrease the distance and prepare your legs to run quickly, and nothing makes you feel faster than hopping on the track for some interval training. Negative-split intervals train your body to accelerate your tempo in the early portion of the run leg in races. Easing into race intensity after T2 enables you to get into your running rhythm and avoid using up all of your energy early in the run.
In this workout, aim to run the second 400 faster than the first. To determine your total 800-meter time, take your mile-repeat pace from the previous week, halve it and subtract 10 seconds. So again, if you were running eight-minute miles, you should shoot for 3:50 for the 800s. Then break it down further and aim to go through the first 400 in 2:00 and the second in 1:50.
For your recovery, just jog an easy lap (400m) around the track, then go right into the next interval. Complete four to eight of these intervals, depending on your fitness and race goals.
Race Week: 200-Meter Intervals
This workout should take place early in the week prior to your first race. The purpose is to reinforce quick turnover in your legs. Again, perform this session on the track so you can monitor the distance and pace properly. These intervals will not take much time to complete, nor should they, since you're tapering anyway.
Do six to 10 x 200-meter intervals with just a 200-meter jogging recovery in between. The 200s aren't intended to be all-out sprints, so don't be tempted to blast away. Instead, take your goal time for the run portion of your triathlon and determine your per-mile pace.
Then continue to break it down until you get your 200-meter time (note that one mile equals 1.6 kilometers). This way you're teaching your legs to run at that pace. Taking our eight-minute mile pace, this would translate into one-minute 200s.
These workouts can also be incorporated into the rest of your season. As always, make sure to include a proper warm up and cool down with these sessions. No matter what distance you prefer, by adding some energy-specific training to the mix you can teach your body to move faster and more efficiently.
Andre Tepen is an expert coach with Carmichael Training Systems, Inc (CTS). He holds a B.Sc. in exercise science from Southern Illinois University. To find out what CTS can do for you, please visit www.trainright.com.