Beginning tri training, week 6: Balancing your workouts

How's the riding going? Do you fit your bike nicely? Got your pedals and cleats adjusted on your cycling shoes?

We've got articles on this sort of thing on Tech Center, and you should be able to rely on your local bike shop (LBS) for help too.


Over the next few weeks we'll strive to even out your multisport workload, so that we're honoring all three sports. Funny thing, though: That doesn't mean spending an equivalent amount of time in all three sports. I've got a point system which has stood the test of years, and which I'll share with you. It is meant to determine relative equivalence in the three sports in which you are engaged.

I give one point for every 100 meters one swims; one point for every mile ridden on the bike; and one point for every quarter-mile one runs. This is an aerobic point system, and while lifting weights and stretching are important, there's no points for activities like that in my scheme.

A good week for a top age-group athlete might be 15,000 meters in the pool, 175 miles on the bike, and 40 miles running. In my scheme that would mean 150 points swimming, 175 points riding, and 160 points running. That's 485 points, which is a good strong week of something close to relative equivalence. You'll win or place in your age group with such weeks, if done on a regular basis.

This point system of mine always raises a few eyebrows and provokes some questions, which I'll attempt to anticipate.

Do you need to treat these three sports equally in your training? No, you shouldn't. First, there is the issue of competence. You might die trying to swim 15,000 meters in a week, if you're a really crappy swimmer. No sense killing yourself to hit a number.

The reverse is the case, though, when you're reasonably competent in all three sports. You might choose to specifically target your weakness for a period of months. I suspect Shaquille O'Neal spent a greater than representative amount of time working on free throws this season, as this was his Achilles heel. Likewise, you'll sometimes find an athlete spending an awful lot of time in the pool, or on the bike, in an effort to shore up a weakness.

There is a saying: "Train your weakness, race your strength." In other words, by all means use those tools available to you when racing, but try to shore up your weaknesses in training.

There's another saying: "If you keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting what you're getting." If running is your best event, and you keep spending all your training time running, then you'll not get very much better. You've already reached a sort of plateau in your run. Better to train at those things you're worst at.

Finally, there is almost never a case where I'd recommend the same sort of mileage week in and week out to an athlete. Over a monthlong period I might have one week where my cycling mileage is uncharacteristically long and another where I accentuate my running workouts. That sort of "ganging up" of run or bike workouts in order to achieve a critical mass of work is well off in your future. If we gave you a 325-mile bike week now you'd be roadkill in a few days. Some day, though ...

You'll begin to notice, as your workouts increase and you factor in this point system explained above, that it takes an inordinately long period of time to train on the bike in order to achieve cycling fitness equal to that which one can get in the run or swim. That's because cycling is easier than running when apportioned over equivalent time periods.

Running hard for an hour is equal, more or less, to riding hard for two hours. Since one can ride about twice as fast as one can run, when expressed in distance one must ride four times as far as one runs in order to achieve an equivalent workout.

Because of this you've got to plan your rides in advance. Usually, one does one's long ride on a weekend day. It is not uncommon for an athlete training for an Ironman to spend six or eight hours in the saddle once or twice a week. That obviously takes planning.

But we're getting way ahead of ourselves. The kind of training I'm talking about above is months and perhaps years in front of you. We're only in week six of this schedule, and we'll get there one week at a time, not all at once.


Everything above is expressed in miles. At some point we'll start expressing the workouts below in miles as well. As it is now, we're expressing the cycling and running workouts in terms of time. That is because you're building fitness right now, and I don't care how fast you go, I'm just trying to get your body to go through the physiological changes that will allow you to take your training to the next level. So it's still time increments I'm interested in, not distance.

You'll find that as you progress in this sport you're not training for a race. You're training your body to get ready for the next level of training. For example, if you're a top short-course racer and you want to become a top Ironman racer, you'll spend two years training just to be able to do Ironman training. As for now, though, you're training your body to be able to adapt to a schedule that is mileage-based instead of time-based.

  • Swimming: 3 or 4 sessions x 750 - 2500 yards per session
  • Cycling: 1 sessions of 30 - 60 minutes; 1 session of 2 hours
  • Running: 2 or 3 sessions x 25-30 minutes per session; 1 x 45 minutes
  • Ready to catch the swim-bike-run bug? Check out our Give it a Tri section

    Find and register online for your first triathlon!

    Check out the full beginning tri-training guide

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