Hit Your Stride: Olympic-distance Peaking

Setting Your Pace

How do you know what your Olympic-distance triathlon goal paces ought to be? If you've done more than a couple of Olympic-distance tri's in the past, you should have a very good idea. Compare your current fitness level to your fitness level prior to your most recent Olympic-distance triathlon (assessing your swim, bike and run fitness individually) and predict accordingly. If you're a slightly stronger swimmer now, expect to go slightly faster in the swim. If your run fitness is about equal, expect a similar result. You get the idea.

In addition, time-trial workouts can help you establish appropriate race-pace targets while also providing excellent race-specific training. These workouts count as neuromuscular training workouts in the peak phase. To do a swim time trial, warm up thoroughly and swim 1.5km as fast as you can, recording your time.

To do a bike time trial, warm up thoroughly on the bike and then ride 40km all-out on a course that is similar to that of your peak race. It's best to do your run time trial after a longer bike ride not only because it provides more race-specific training but also because it will give you a more accurate indication of how fast you can expect your run split to be in your peak race, as you will start the run fatigued. Use the average pace from your time trials as your target pace for race-intensity workouts.

Begin doing race-sharpening workouts, such as those described in the table above, four to six weeks before race day. The hardest version of each workout should be performed two weeks before race week. If you want to do a tune-up race, which is really the ideal sharpening workout, three weeks before race day is the best time to do it.

The Final Countdown

The final week to 10 days before your peak Olympic-distance race should be approached as a tapering period. Begin the tapering period with a sharp reduction in training volume and then steadily reduce your workout durations until race day. It's important that you continue to do race-specific workouts during race week.

Research has shown that a taper including a modest amount of higher-intensity training is more effective than one in which all higher-intensity training is eliminated, even with a sharp reduction in training volume.

For example, in an East Carolina University study, runners who reduced their training by 69 percent for one week before a 5K race, but did almost half of their running at 5K race pace or slightly faster, improved their 5K race times by an average of 30 seconds. What accounted for the improvement? A sudden, 6 percent increase in their running economy.

Believe it or not, I even recommend that you do a very short, very high-intensity workout (ideally on the bike) 24 hours before your peak race. This will stimulate a glycogen-sponging effect in your muscles that will result in a significant increase in muscle fuel stores available for your race, as long as you consume large amounts of carbohydrate in all of your remaining meals before the race.

Scientists at the University of Western Australia devised this highly efficient carbo-loading strategy a few years ago. They recognized that a single, short workout performed at extremely high intensity creates a powerful demand for glycogen storage in both the slow-twitch and fast-twitch fibers of the muscles.

They hypothesized that following such a workout with heavy carbohydrate intake could result in a high level of glycogen storage. In an experiment, the researchers asked athletes to perform a short-duration, high-intensity workout consisting of two and a half minutes at 130 percent of VO2 max (about one-mile race pace) followed by a 30-second sprint.

During the next 24 hours, the athletes consumed 12 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of lean muscle mass. This resulted in a 90-percent increase in muscle-glycogen storage. I recommend that you translate this workout format onto the bike, as it will cause less muscle damage and you will be less likely to experience a muscle or tendon strain.

Here's an example of how your final two weeks of training for a peak Olympic-distance triathlon might look if you train according to my recommendations, and supposing you normally train on a schedule of three swims, three rides and three runs per week.

Peak Week




Swim: 2,800 – Main set: 4 x 100 sprint; 4 x 400 threshold
Bike: 40-minute time trial (80-minutes total)


Tempo run: 30 minutes @ threshold pace (50 minutes total)


Swim: 2,400 – Main set: 8 x 200 race start simulation
(100 sprint/100 threshold)
Bike: 1 hour easy with 6 x 20-second jumps


Run: 40 minutes easy then 6 x 20-second strides


Ascending long bike: 2 hours. Increase pace every 20 minutes with last 20 minutes @ race pace


Ascending long run: 80 minutes. Increase pace every 10 minutes with last 10 minutes @ race pace
Swim: 2,200 @ Ironman pace

Race Week




Swim: 1,600 – Main set: 4 x 100 sprint, 2 x 400 Threshold
Bike: 20-minute time trial (40 minutes total)


Tempo run: 15 minute@ threshold pace (35 minutes total)


Swim: 1,200 - Main set: 4 x 200 race start simulation
(100 sprint/100 threshold)
Bike: 40 minutes easy with 6 x 20-second jumps


Run: 15 minutes easy then 6 x 20-second strides


Glycogen-loading bike workout: 10-minute warm-up; 2.5 minutes @ 95% max power; 30 seconds @ max power; 10-minute cool-down



Active Expert Matt Fitzgerald is the author of several books on triathlon and running, including Brain Training for Runners and Runner's World Performance Nutrition for Runners (Rodale, 2005).

Reprinted, courtesy of Triathlete magazine. For more articles and information for Triathlete, please visit www.triathletemag.com.

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