You've been racing for months now, but you may have one more big goal race on the horizon this season: XTERRA Maui, Ironman Hawaii or the ITU short-course world championships.
But regardless of whether your season's final race is a local sprint-distance event or big-time international race, you should be looking for one last jump in fitness to help you peak for your best performance of the year. The following tips will help you light up the bike course and still have energy left over for the run.
Boost Your Power
Your lactate threshold (LT) is the intensity at which lactic-acid accumulation in your blood exceeds your body's ability to remove it. Studies have shown that trained athletes can race at their LT for about one hour. By training at or just below your LT, you're training your body to work hard and remove the lactic acid from your blood, effectively increasing your LT.
After training at this intensity level, you'll be able to produce more power, and therefore more speed, at any given intensity below your LT.
Steady-state intervals are ideal for triathletes who are trying to increase their lactate threshold. These intervals should be done at a perceived exertion of approximately eight on a scale of 10 and will be difficult, but not maximal, efforts. Pedal cadence should be roughly the same as your racing cadence, optimally in the 85 to 95 rpm range.
Ideally, you'll work up to a total of about 60 minutes of these threshold intervals by the time of your goal race. They can be divided into 6 x 10, 4 x 15, or 3 x 20 minutes, and recovery should be nearly equivalent to the length of the work interval. Short-course racers should focus on the shorter-length intervals, while long-course racers should strive to complete the 60 minutes in one or two intervals.
Bump up Your VO2 Max
While training at or below your LT is great for increasing the amount of time you can race at that intensity, if you can raise your maximal power production and aerobic capacity, it will allow your LT to improve as well.
Power intervals are short, maximal efforts designed to improve your maximal aerobic capacity, or VO2 max. The goal is to increase your top-end speed and power. Pedal cadence should be higher than you would normally maintain in a race; above 110 rpm is ideal. Typically, the total amount of time spent performing power intervals in any given workout will amount to about 20 to 30 minutes by the time you're ready to begin tapering for your goal event.
These intervals can be divided into 8 x 2, 6 x 3, 5 x 4 or 4 x 5 minutes, and recovery should be equivalent in duration to the length of the work interval. As the work-interval duration increases, the intensity must decrease in order to allow you to complete the workout. Racers of all distances should start their intervals at one to two minutes in length and strive to complete the intervals of four to five minutes in length in the month leading up to their goal race.
Build Power Above LT
The weeks leading up to your goal event are the perfect time to focus on increasing your power at intensities just above LT. These workouts will be crucial for short-course racers as well as long-course athletes whose goal events have many turns or short hills.
These intervals are also useful for improving lactate-buffering ability, or lactate tolerance, which allows you to surge above your LT, accumulate large quantities of lactic acid and recover more quickly.
Descending intervals are short, maximal efforts. This workout is performed much like a swimming or running ladder, with recovery intervals equal to the length of the previous work interval. Descending intervals are best performed on an indoor trainer or flat section of road to allow for high cadences (110 rpm or greater) and therefore high heart rates.
"Descending" refers to the fact that a set of descending intervals begin with a two- to three-minute max effort, and each subsequent interval becomes 10 to 30 seconds shorter. For example, one set of descending intervals may consist of:
- 2:00 max effort, 2:00 recovery spin
- 1:30 max effort, 1:30 recovery spin
- 1:00 max effort, 1:00 recovery spin
- 0:30 max effort, :30 recovery spin
Within a few weeks of beginning this workout, you should be able to complete two to three sets of intervals with five to 10 minutes of recovery after each set.
Over-under intervals are another workout that will train your body to recover from high levels of accumulated lactic acid and increase power just above LT. "Over and under" refers to the zones just above and below your lactate threshold. You'll spend a designated amount of time just below your LT at the steady-state level, and then immediately increase the intensity to the level just above LT for a brief amount of time before returning to the steady-state level.
This pattern of under and over (one under plus one over is considered one interval) is repeated for one to four intervals. Each under portion of the interval should be two to 10 minutes in length, and the over portions should be one to three minutes in duration. One set will consist of one to four intervals, and you should strive to accomplish three to four sets by the time of your goal race.
Recover, Recover, Recover
During this time of slightly less volume and increased intensity, rest between workouts is very important. While you're performing intervals at and above your lactate threshold, it's possible to wear yourself out without proper rest and recovery.
Be sure to allow 24 to 36 hours of recovery between lactate-threshold interval sessions and 24 to 48 hours of recovery between sessions above lactate threshold. This will allow your body to replenish its carbohydrate stores, eliminate lactic acid and other metabolites from the blood and muscles as well as allow your mind to get mentally prepared for another session.