Training for a triathlon is no simple challenge. Logistically, you have to balance time and equipment needs of three different sports. Physically, each of those disciplines require vastly different skill sets and energy demands. While every training plan can and should look different based on time available, skill level and the distance you are racing, there are some foundational and fundamental types of workouts that all triathletes should embrace.
Triathlon may not be easy, but the rewards are often life-changing and these workouts facilitate that fulfillment.
Not every workout needs to be a brick workout, and the distances don't have to be actual race distances. Once or twice a week is a great target for a beginner.
Brick workouts combine at least two of the disciplines in a single workout. For instance, you may combine a bike/run session or swim/bike session. Brick workouts accomplish many goals for a triathlete. First, they help you prepare mentally for race morning and let you learn how to make through quick transitions. There's something about hopping off the bike and heading for your running shoes that triggers that "race mode" sensation. Don't waste these sessions moving slowly and meandering between the two disciplines. As much as you can, treat these brick workouts like race day practice. Not only are you training your body physically, but you are also going through the real motions of race day.
Brick workouts also give you a realistic feel for how your body will react to the sudden change of sports and different muscle recruitment. Yes, it is an unnatural feeling to go from biking to running within a matter of minutes, so you want to discover how long it takes to find a rhythm and settle into the next discipline.
Finally, brick workouts also allow you to practice your nutrition for race day. What settles well in your stomach? How long does it take to settle into a bike ride when you've just finished a 60-minute swim? How are your energy levels? Use brick workouts to practice how you will feel, react and fuel on race morning.
Race Pace Efforts and Intervals
For longer races, aim for a true big race rehearsal seven to eight weeks out and then again four to five weeks out. Other training sessions throughout your schedule should incorporate shorter intervals that are at or above race pace levels.
If you've set a specific time or pace goal for your race, you no doubt need assurance that you can actually hit those targets. How will you know? Practice! After extended warm ups, practice shorter race pace efforts in your training sessions. Many coaches also schedule "race rehearsal" days where your focus that day is to hit your target pace goals while also practicing your nutrition strategy. Triathletes who don't often train at the actual efforts they want to race at may end up bonking or blowing themselves up early because they haven't gotten a true sense of how that pace or effort will feel and how it will impact their ability to absorb nutrition—all very important as mileage grows.
Race rehearsals and race pace efforts put you in the mindset of the true experience and help you assess the feasibility of your stated time, pace and effort goals.