Smarter training

Another season comes to a close.

Triathlon continues to soar in its popularity and there are no shortage of folks who are willing to dispense advice on essential training for triathlon, in particular the Ironman distance.

Frankly, it is painful to observe much of what I see ill-advised folks practicing – Saturday 4hr rides followed by 2hr bricks followed by Sunday long bike or run… in the month of April…in preparation for IM Florida in November…

I received an e-mail earlier in the year from an athlete of mine and which referenced a thread on Slowtwitch (an online triathlon forum where there can be no excess in regards to volume, and where training experts abound) where a regular contributor reported having rode for 28 hours in one week – on his trainer!

Oh my! While I am an ardent advocate of indoor training, I could never embark on such an endeavor for two principal reasons:

  1. I am a results oriented athlete and coach. Much of what I see presented as training methodology is a process for the sake of process. In my experience with varied training, the primary achievement of such a monster week is that you rode 28 hours indoors (imagine the joy) and not that you advanced your fitness as best you might have.
  2. I have never had 28 hours to devote to a single tri-discipline, much less 28 hours that I know to be largely wasted time.


Anyway, fast forward to IM Wisconsin, and as I am reviewing the results, an interesting comparison presents itself:

  • Carmen Monks, age 41, married, two children, Citicorp Private Equity position.
    • Carmen Monks Training
    • Average winter training – 6-7 hours
    • Average summer training – 12 hours
    • Peak training week – 18 hours
  • Slowtwitch Volume Denizen, 28hr indoor bike week, single, age 24, pizza delivery, personable blog reports
    • Slowtwitch Volume Denizen Training, single, pizza delivery job
    • Average Training Week – 31 hours
    • Partial Recovery week – 20 hours
    • Peak Training week – 35 hours
Carmen Monks Slowtwitch Volume Denizen
11th place overall 9th place overall
Swim 1:01:47 56:44
Bike 5:22:16 5:29:16
Run 3:14 3:08
Total 9h48min 9h42mig

Clearly both of these fellows are strong athletes. What should be eye-catching is that if you take away the swim where the Carmen has no background and the younger fellow does, they ran a dead heat, yet Carmen was able to do so with one third of the training hours.

Carmen’s peak training week of 18 hours was two hours less than ST’s partial recovery week.

I am not trying to be critical of the young athlete’s approach to training – his passion for training is clear to see in his earnest training blog – to each their own imo.

However, there are too many coaches and athletes that do not understand that there are more insightful and efficient ways to train. Where most of the people practicing triathlon have career/family/life obligations besides triathlon, it should be of keen interest to see that there are more practical ways to achieve their goals.

I would strongly argue that 30-35hr training weeks are not entirely unnecessary for peak triathlon performance, including the IM distance. Practiced on a regular basis, 20-30hr training will stunt an athlete’s development.

M2 training methodology, practiced by Carmen for 10+ years now, is outlined as follows:

  1. Build base through strength and threshold training. See Rethinking Base Training article..
  2. Larger volume becomes the focus as the race approaches – think race specific training. See the article Training Backwards, the Pyramid Turned Upside Down, written in 1995.
  3. Focus on how much you can do well, and not how much training you can cram in.

So Carmen’s top age-group finish at IMW was an anomaly? So too was his 4th place overall at 2005 IMUSA?


Here’s another “anomaly” example:

Gina Kehr, 4th place overall at Hawaii 2006.

A mother to a 14 month old and a career real estate professional, Gina came off the bike in 10th place, where she then proceeded to run past a who’s who of female professional triathletes:

2005 Kona and 6-time winner, superstar Natascha Badmann,
2004 Olympic Gold medalist Kate Allen of Austria,
2003-4-5-6 IM New Zealand winner Joanna Lawn,
2006 IM Coeur d’Alene winner and 2000 Olympian Joanna Zeiger,
2006 IM Canada winner Belinda Granger,
2005 IM Arizona winner Kate Major,

… and climbed to as high as 2nd place at mile 23 of the marathon before finishing in 4th place. Gina’s split for the mid-day marathon – 3hr12min, and which included walking the last minute with daughter Gabriella.

Winter Training 6 hrs
Summer Training 12hrs
IM Specific (Aug-Sept) 17-18hrs
Peak training 21hrs


If you have countless hours each day to train and simply doing this is what you most enjoy, then training galore is what you should do.

If, on the other hand, you are seeking to maximize improvement, then there are far more thoughtful ways to train and get better results than simply piling on volume.

Additionally, if you have other responsibilities in life besides training and also seek to maximize improvement, then it is essential to consider a smarter approach to the time you spend training lest you squander your hopes.

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