Triathlon: Start to Finish - Paul Huddle - ebook

Triathlon: Start to Finish ebook

Paul Huddle



The 24-week training program is laid out in four six-week increments. This represents the day-by-day, week-by-week work to be done in preparing for a successful long-distance triathlon. Okay, you've finished your first short-distance triathlon, maybe even an Olympic distance or half-distance triathlon. Now it's time to up the ante and go further and faster. Paul Huddle and Roch Frey are up to the challenge. Longer workouts, balancing work, family, and training, adding speed work, recovery, and the mental game are all essential when you decide to move up to the long distance. No one has more training or racing experience than Roch and Paul. They will get you to your target race healthy, happy, and ready for more. Guaranteed.

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Paul Huddle / Roch Frey / T.J. Murphy

Triathlon: Start To Finish

24 Weeks To The Long Distance

Meyer & Meyer Sport (UK) Ltd.


AcknowledgementsForewordIntroductionTraining Prerequisites for the Long DistanceChapter 1 Long Distance FundamentalsChapter 2 Testing & Heart RateTarget Heart Rate ZonesTesting for ATHRSetting Up Target Heart RatesChapter 3 Terminology & TechniquesAlternativesTraining TechniquesDrills and WorkoutsSwimmingCyclingRunningQuestions & AnswersChapter 4 Weight TrainingWeights for long distance TrainingPeriodized PhasesChapter 5 Adaptation Phase Weeks 1-6Week #1: BuildWeek #2: BuildWeek #3: RecoveryWeek #4: TestingWeek #5: Build/TestingWeek #6: RecoveryChapter 6 Aerobic Phase Weeks 7-12Week #7: BuildWeek #8: BuildWeek #9: RecoveryWeek #10: BuildWeek #11: BuildWeek #12: RecoveryChapter 7 Long-Distance-Specific Base Weeks 13-18Week #13: BuildWeek #14: BuildWeek #15: RecoveryWeek #16: IM BaseWeek #17: BuildWeek #18: RecoveryChapter 8 Race Phase Weeks 19-24Week #19: RecoveryWeek #20: HardWeek #21: HardWeek #22: TaperWeek #23: BuildWeek #24: Race WeekChapter 9 Workout ChartsAdaptation PhaseAerobic BaseLong-distance-specific BaseRace PhaseChapter 10 Race WeekChapter 11 NutritionChapter 12 ResourcesAbout the AuthorsCredits


The experience and knowledge that we‘ve been able to accumulate and put forward in this book is the result of the contributions of many people. This list includes but is not limited to fellow athletes, coaches, friends, family members, race organizers, athletes we‘ve coached, and the people responsible for having the patience to deal with us in compiling this information. 

We feel fortunate to have been at “the right place at the right time” in terms of the generation of athletes we trained, raced, and lived with over the years. If learning is experiential, these were our fellow students and teachers: Kenny Langone, John Clothier, Jimmy Riccitello, Scott Tinley, Mark Allen, Michellie Jones, Mike Pigg, Ray Browning, Greg Welch, Kenny Souza, Mark Montgomery, and too many others to list here.

Every athlete has had a coach. While our sport was too young to have coaches who were focused on triathlon as a sport in and of itself, we had single sport coaches who helped us form our training philosophy and methods. Those include, but are not limited to:  Mark Yellin, Paul Williams, Dave Murray, Jane Scott, Ron Marcicick, and John Howard. Those who helped confirm triathlon coaching concepts through clinics and their writing include Joe Friel, Gale Bernhardt, Rick Nyles, Dr. Edmund Burke, Dr. John Hogg, Dave Johnson, and Dr. Tim Noakes.

The biggest influences on our lives, and hence, this book have been our families and spouses. Paula Newby-Fraser and Heather Fuhr are not just world champion triathletes but best friends, confidantes and partners in life. 

Finally, writing a book is a process for which we were decidedly unprepared. While we had the material in hand, getting these words on paper in an organized and useful format was the result of a lot of hard work by three people — Bob Babbitt, T.J. Murphy and Beth Hagman. To say that this book would not have been possible without the efforts of these three is not just an understatement but a glaring fact. We are indebted to each of you.


I first worked with Paul Huddle and Roch Frey when I was editor of Triathlete Magazine. They proposed taking on a monthly question-and-answer column, and we leaped at the idea.

The two coaches were working with some of the best pros in the sport and they’d long been high-caliber triathletes themselves. In addition to the pros they coached, they’d worked with legions of age-groupers from the virgin beginner to blazing hotshot. In other words, they knew our readership’s wants and needs, obstacles and frustrations.

It didn’t take long for “Dear Coach” to become one of the most popular pages in the magazine.

My personal feeling as to why is revealed in the story of the photos they sent to go along with their first columns: an envelope containing color snapshots of themselves posing with surfboards. In the often stiff and unrelenting territory of endurance training editorial, Roch Frey and Paul Huddle, in both prose and portrait, had an original and entertaining voice.

Infusing a sense of humor into their coaching is more than a teaching aid. Their athletes, particularly the ones training for long-distance events, become all the more grounded. The pressure and fear and uncertainty of preparing for such a complex and demanding feat is taxing in itself, and Huddle and Frey’s guidance is accompanied by a relief valve.

The result? Triathletes not only blow the roof off their fitness level, but find time to smile while doing it. The humorous slant (to which Huddle credits intensive study of Fast Times at Ridgemont High) keeps athletes relaxed and free from being completely overwrought.

Another feature they bring to their coaching is a balanced mix of hard science and not-so-scientific secrets plucked from the boundaries pushed by the elite. As the highly-regarded sports scientist Dr. Randy Eichner of the University of Oklahoma has said, world class athletes work and gain information from a frontier not immediately accessible to the number-crunching techniques of scientific method.

Huddle and Frey honor both realms. They study the science of sport like mad, comparing findings with their many levels of triathlon field work. When Heather Fuhr, Paula Newby-Fraser and Peter Reid discover something with potential, it is digested by the coaches and relayed to those further back in the pack. Beneficiaries include triathletes making their first run at the long distance as well as the more seasoned age-grouper trying to strip another hour off their PR.

No one has all the answers, but Huddle and Frey have a lot of them. In following the program included in this book, you can confidently focus your energy on training instead of leaking it away on worrying if what you’re doing is “right.”

This equation doesn’t accurately translate into “fun,” however — as the great American distance running coach, Joe Vigil, warns: “Satisfaction,” says Vigil, “is what you get out of working hard toward a hard goal.”

Follow the program in this book with vigilance and passion, and satisfaction will be yours to claim.

T. J. Murphy


Put the book down. Put the book down and slowly back away from your first step into what could end up being a lifelong love (addiction) with (to) long-distance triathlon (the hard stuff). Maybe you started with a single sport (beer) like swimming, cycling, or running. Bored with the monotony of one discipline, you sampled and fell in love with the sport of triathlon (pot). Now, you’ve either seen it on TV and thought, “Wow, I’d love to do that!” or you’re simply tired of being asked, “Oh, you do triathlon? Have you done that race in Hawaii?” and now want to take the next logical step up to the long distance (the hard stuff). We understand. We understand and we want to help you achieve your goal in the best way possible while limiting your risk of losing your job, friends, and family along the way.

All joking aside, training for and executing a long-distance triathlon is, for most people, the endurance sport challenge of a lifetime. The very notion of swimming 2.4 miles in open water, ­cycling 112 miles, and running a full 26.2-mile marathon in less than 17 hours, while exposed to whatever conditions Mother Nature has in store, is intimidating — to say the least. What would possess any sane person to take on such a challenge in an age of comfort and convenience?

The answers are as varied as the participants, but all seem to have a common thread that is joined at the root by our most primal modes of self-propelled human transportation through varied earthly environments (swimming, cycling, and running) and some seemingly genetically encoded need to move.

What will this book give you that you couldn’t get in another? We’ve been able to distill a wide variety of information and experience from the sport of triathlon as a whole down to the specifics that pertain to preparing for and completing a long-distance event. That was the goal. While there are necessarily some related topics, all of them are aimed at the long distance. We wanted to create a resource that was specific and simple. Training for an event of this distance with three different disciplines invites complication, but there is also a simplicity that can be found common to all endurance training.

I recall a lengthy conversation on a run with a top professional in which we discussed all of the intricate details of a final build-up in preparation for a long-distance triathlon. By the end of the run, I was chuckling to myself at all of the analysis. He asked what I was laughing at.

I replied, “It’s all pretty simple. Swim a lot, ride a lot and run a lot. Rest a lot. Then race.”

We stand by that statement. Yes, there are a million ways you can combine each discipline and the intensities and duration of workouts but, in its essence, it boils down to specificity of training, which, in the case of a long-distance triathlon, involves a lot of swimming, ­cycling and running followed by recovery and the event.

The early chapters will give you the basics that we feel every long distance athlete needs in order to embark on their journey to the finish line. We will discuss the basic principles underlying our approach to triathlon and long-distance triathlon training. This includes the fundamentals long distance training requires, as well as the essential vocabulary you’ll need before the first workout of the training program itself.

The heart of the book is the actual 24-week training program laid out in Chapters five through eight in six-week increments. This represents the day-by-day, week-by-week work to be done in preparing for a successful long-distance triathlon.

In Chapters nine through 11, we’ll take care of several of the finer points surrounding the long-distance triathlon, including tips and strategies for race week, nutrition, and a few answers to the more common questions inspired by the event.

Without a doubt, there will be plenty more questions about subjects like equipment, day-to-day nutrition, recovery and technique. This book has purposefully focused on the training itself, leaving the broader topics for other works, including books, videotapes, camps and magazines. Check our resource pages in the appendix for a good place to quench all thirsts for long-distance triathlon knowledge.

In purchasing this book, the one question we figured you’ve already answered is, “Should I do a long-distance triathlon?”

With that answer in mind, it’s time to become acquainted with the program, Zen out a bit, and get to work.

Paul Huddle

Training Prerequisites for the Long Distance

To be blunt, you need a foundation coming in. Before you tackle a long-distance triathlon, we suggest a minimum of one year’s experience training for and racing triathlons. Should you decide to forego this qualification, you certainly won’t be the first. However, in terms of safely handling the volume and intensity required, it’s smart to spend at least a year exploring the sport’s more receptive race distances.

On the day that you are to hurl yourself into our 24-week training program, plan so that you’re comfortable with, or have worked up to, a weekly training volume as described here.


At least two swim workouts per week, roughly 60 minutes in length. In both sessions, practice drills and stroke exercises described in the Techniques chapter.


Three bike rides a week — one long ride of about three hours, and two shorter rides of 60 minutes each. As you work to reach this point, use one of the shorter rides to work on your technique. At the start of the long distance training, you need to be bike-fit enough so that cycling along at 90RPM is a no-brainer.


Build up to a long run of 90 minutes, with two additional 45-60 minute runs rounding out the week. At the end of one of the shorter runs, work through the drills and accelerations described in the Techniques chapter.

Special Note on Running: If you’re coming from a pure cycling or swimming background, with little or no time in running shoes, the following special considerations apply:

As you’ve probably heard, there are two types of cyclists: those who have crashed and those who are going to crash. The same applies to running and running injuries. Even though you may have a heart of steel, thanks to thousands of hours in the pool or in the saddle, your body is going to need time to adapt to the jarring nature of running. In other words, be ­patient. Start with where you’re at and add no more than 10 % a week to your existing volume. Slowly work your way to the minimums above.

Chapter 1 Long Distance Fundamentals

A good starting point on the path to a long-distance triathlon competition is to become acquainted (or reacquainted) with the core principles of the sport. In the early years of the Ironman® World Championship in Hawaii, no one really had any idea how to train for the thing. While only a privileged and talented few will ever be able to claim a measure of mastery over the event, following these principles will allow you to bypass some common mistakes. It will also introduce you to methods we know will help you get the best out of yourself.

Be honest about what you’re getting yourself into and make your world right for it.

Long distance training requires a lot of time, energy and commitment. Before you toss a check into the mailbox (or hand it over to the appropriate officials after qualifying for Hawaii), make sure all hell isn’t going to break loose. Try to choose a race date that doesn’t come on the tail end of your job’s busiest time of year. Talk to your loved ones and rally for their understanding and support.

Use a heart rate monitor to properly gauge your training intensity.

The heart rate monitor takes a lot of the guesswork out of training. It tells you exactly at what intensity and in what system you’re training. However, don’t dismiss cognitive intuition when using the heart rate monitor, and always listen to what your body tells you. There may be times when you’re fatigued from a previous day’s hard session and are unable to crank your heart rate up high enough. Rather than pushing too hard, listen to your body and decrease the intensity or length of the workout.

Treat triathlon as a sport in itself — not a collection of three single sports.

This mantra of triathlon training especially applies to the athlete embarking on the road to a long-distance triathlon. Since many triathletes come from single-sport backgrounds, they try to apply the same training principles from their primary discipline to the other two. If you tried to train each discipline like a single sport athlete for each of the 2.4-mile swim/112-mile bike/26.2-mile run requirements of the long distance, you’d take on a schedule that would nosedive into over-training, injury, illness, joblessness and divorce.

In our program, we’ll be doing only one high-intensity or key workout in each discipline each week. The core of the program incorporates five “key” workouts each week: one harder (higher intensity) swim, bike and run workout and one longer ride and run. Everything else should be added and adjusted to your strengths and weaknesses, goals and time restraints.

When it’s convenient, don’t hesitate to do back-to-back workouts.

Too many triathletes try to avoid riding after swimming or running after riding. Since the nature of our sport includes swimming, cycling and running in succession, doing this in training helps you prepare for these transitions – and it saves on showers! If you’re going to run on the same day that you ride, do your run after riding. This tends to be the most difficult of the two transitions. By doing it frequently in training, it will become much easier when you race. The only exception to this is when you are planning to do a hard or long run. These key workouts need to get priority and should be done first.

Never do a long and/or hard bike workout on the same day you do a long and/or hard run.

For example, do not do your long run on the same day as your high intensity or long bike ride. Since both cycling and running are lower body activities, you’ll fatigue these muscles with the first workout and won’t be able to get the most out of the second workout. It is okay to do a long or hard swim workout on the same day as a long or hard ride or run, however. Since the primary muscle groups involved in swimming are upper body activities, you won’t negatively impact your ability to execute a quality ride or run (or vice versa).

Plan recovery into your training schedule.

Once you get rolling in the program, it can become hard to slow down — but all your time and hard work will be of little value without the recovery necessary to absorb it. Juggling work and other commitments with a long distance training program, you may be tempted to cut hours of sleep and other down-time. Don’t do it! Your chances of over-training and the problems associated with it will increase exponentially.

24 weeks of solid preparation come down to this: the start of a long-distance triathlon.

Gains in athletic performance come from consistent training over a long period of time.

Too many athletes train great for one or two months only to get sick or injured and are then forced to take that time off to recover. It’s not how much you did last week that counts, but how consistently you have been training over the past few months. Build toward your long-distance triathlon a small, focused piece at a time, digesting the work you do, and keeping at it day by day. Trying to do too much too soon will only get you in trouble, as will getting into the habit of skipping workouts. Discipline yourself to be steady, consistent and patient.

Develop your technique in all three disciplines.

Drills are a weekly fixture of our long distance training program. At first glance, they might seem like only an enhancement to the primary training and are therefore dispensable.

In truth, development of proper form, body position and refined technique is the smartest way to improve your speed in long distance triathlons. Improved technique equates to greater efficiency in each stroke or stride that you take, meaning more ground covered using less energy.

When you’re talking about 140.6 miles of composite ground, an inch here and a calorie less there adds up to a lot. This strongly applies to swimming, but to cycling and running as well. Improving your form and technique also lessens your susceptibility to injury.

Injuries, unfortunately, do occur.

If you take time off at the first sign of injury, the opportunity for a quick recovery is best. If you’re unsure about a persistent injury or pain, seek out a qualified health professional.

Save racing for race day.

Group training is a great thing. It makes the long, hard workouts easier to show up for and get done. However, don’t fall into the trap of racing against your workout buddies. Each workout should be focused toward gaining a specific training effect. If you start racing in an interval workout or on a long bike ride, you’ve let go of the long term goal in exchange for a quick thrill. Train when training, race when racing.

Remember to enjoy the ride.

It’s an annual epidemic: each year on the day following the Ironman® World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, Kona is awash with athletes despairing over their performance, looking like someone killed their dog. A slow split time, or a lost ten minutes due to a blown tire, or failure to do well enough in their age-group to ascend the award’s podium — in a daylong event, there are many opportunities for things to go wrong.

We must now address a truth. Rare is the triathlete who has a perfect race day. After winning six Hawaii titles and retiring, Mark Allen remarked, “Every year I went to the starting line feeling I had it figured out. Every year I was wrong.”

Allen’s point was that it’s not whether or not you’re going to run into trouble during the race. You will. But, while you can’t control the conditions of a race, nor your luck with equipment and the like, you can control your mindset. Try to keep it all in perspective: it’s a lifestyle as well as a sport.

Chapter 2 Testing & Heart Rate

This is a good place to stop and ask yourself if you even care about specific training intensities. The following, for some athletes, takes the fun and spontaneity out of their sport. Still, once you establish a good connection between sensory input (perceived exertion) during exercise and an accurate, objective measurement (heart rate monitor), you get control of your performance destiny. And we’re assuming that, if you’re reading this, your intent is to improve your performance in endurance sports.

That said, if you just don’t want to bother with the complexities of using a heart rate monitor, it’s okay. Using “Perceived Exertion” alone is not a bad way to do this program. The greatest risk is that you’ll overdo it rather than “underdo” it. Keep this in mind should you choose this path.

The two criteria we‘ll discuss are: Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) and Heart Rate (HR). While the heart rate monitor (HRM) will give you an accurate reading of what your heart is doing (and allow you to correlate HR with a given training level/zone), your perceived exertion allows you to evaluate how difficult a training session is by assigning numbers to your perception of each incremental level of difficulty. Heart rate monitors provide an external, objective measurement which, though an excellent tool, can‘t account for factors like environmental conditions, muscle fatigue, psychological states, etc. RPE enables you to subjectively measure your level of effort and, when combined with an HRM, provides a more complete picture of your level of effort.

Ratings of Perceived Exertion

The scale shown was developed in the early 1970s by a Swedish scientist named Dr. Gunnar Borg (“Did I need to know that?”). He determined that athletes could, through a numbered scale, predict accurately how hard they were exercising based on how they felt and correlate these numbers, quite accurately, to heart rate. Some experienced athletes have sharpened their awareness to the degree that they can identify their lactate threshold exactly — just by how they feel.