Don't Let Fear-Based Training Sabotage Your Next Race

If you train with a plan, you'll be more confident about your training and less likely to be motivated by fear.
There are many different philosophies and strategies on how to train athletes for a triathlon. My strategy for assembling a training plan varies, depending on the individual athlete, and I consider the athlete's race goals, current fitness and athletic history to develop a plan.


For self-trained athletes, I believe it's critical to establish your training strategy and map out a training plan so you'll have a clear path to race day. If you don't have a plan, it's easy to succumb to fear-based training.

Fear-based training takes different forms for different athletes. Let's take a look at a few examples of how fear-driven training can get you into trouble.

I've signed up for this event, now I really need to get in shape
Fear-based training puts you into panic mode and has you doubling or tripling, at minimum, the aerobic training volume you've been doing in the past few weeks.

Sometimes signing up for an event is just the kick in the pants you need to get fit again. To get started on your training journey, take a look at your training log to determine how much aerobic training you've been doing in the past four to six weeks.

When you begin designing your training plan, the first week of training shouldn't exceed the highest-volume week of the past four weeks by more than 10 percent.

I want to be sure I can go the distance and I want to see the course
Countless stories are told of athletes who decide to do a race simulation (full-race distance) workout -- the day before the race. Fear convinces them to test their endurance with a dry run to be sure they can go the distance for all three events together. Fear has also convinced them they need to physically experience the entire race course before race day in order to succeed.

This story is most common for sprint- and Olympic-distance triathlons. If you complete the course the day before the actual race, there's no way you can be rested enough to perform optimally on race day.

To help you ease your endurance fears, here are few simple guidelines I've found to be helpful for sprint- and Olympic-distance racing:
  • In general, if you can build endurance so you're capable of completing a long bike ride that's between 50 and 80 percent of the time you think the entire race will take, it's enough endurance to get you comfortably through the event. For example, if you think an Olympic-distance triathlon will take you 3:30, your longest bike ride can be between 1:45 and about 2:45. I like the longest bike ride placed between two and four weeks before race the event.
  • For sprint- and Olympic-distance racing, highly experienced or competitive athletes build the longest bike ride in training to 100 percent, or slightly over, the total estimated race time. These athletes will also include intensity within that ride. How much endurance and speed you can tolerate in your training load is related to how long you've been training and racing. Note: You will not find highly competitive athletes doing a complete race simulation on the race course within a week of the event.
  • If you want to experience the course before race day, do some of your training on the course. If training on the race course isn't possible, try to drive most of the course before the race.
I don't want to be slow
"If you want to be fast, you must train fast. There's no sense in trotting along at a slow speed because that only teaches your body to go slow. Every workout needs to be at race pace or faster," your Fear Demon whispers to you.


If your Fear Demon convinces you to train fast all the time, there's a fairly high likelihood that you'll end up injured or your "fast" speed will dwindle to mediocre speed. The best athletes in the world know that getting faster means that some workouts are conducted well below race pace while only portions of other workouts are conducted at race pace or slightly faster.

Make a plan

If you train without a plan, it's easy for fear to creep in and convince you to do things that are counter-productive to your health and fitness goals. Map out a training plan, no matter how rough or simple it is, so you can literally see the path to success.

Plan the progression of your longest workouts, your weekly training volume, the volume of speed training and don't forget to plan rest. There may be times when this plan needs to be modified. Plan modification is normal, don't worry about it.

When the Fear Demon comes whispering in your ear, trying to get you to do something counter-productive to your goals, don't give in.

Gale Bernhardt was the 2003 USA Triathlon Pan American Games and 2004 USA Triathlon Olympic coach for both the men's and women's teams. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow training plans. For more information, click here. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.

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