A Sample Training Plan for Your Best Sprint

September 8, 2016

Over the past few weeks we've been discussing quite a bit of theory and in our last discussion created a profile for a bike ride to show how you can vary the level of effort on a ride to both stress your body to best effect while also making sure you weren't bringing yourself closer to the injury curve (or so "slow" that your session was "ineffectual.")  This week we're going to extend Ratings of Perceived Exertion (RPE) and Heart Rate Monitor (HRM) and even steal in a little Power discussion and create a 6 to 8 week training season to get ready for a Sprint.

First a word about level of conditioning required before you can begin or take on a serious targeted sprint training session of 6 to 8 weeks.  The sprint distance is unique in triathlon in that, yes, you can in fact have several "A" races in which you can perform at peak each season.  But it is important to note that the sprint is not the "5K" of triathlon.  Sprint is an intensive level of effort and in fact as draining in many ways as Olympic.  Depending on what your goals are you can perform at a level which may or may not allow you to tap all your energy reserves and sources.  The typical sprint is 1/4 mile swim, 10 mile bike, and 3 mile run: that is a serious workout engaging every muscle group and given the high HRM/RPE state you'll be in for most of the race, extremely depleting of your immediate energy stores (liver and blood sugars) if in fact you do not pace and train properly.  A well prepared and competitively trained triathlete will complete a sprint in about 60 to 75 minutes.  There's nothing short or easy about a 60 minute aerobic/anaerobic workout.  An athlete enjoying a sprint can go 90 minutes plus in which energy stores can start going to severe depletion.  I recommend athletes interested in beginning to train for a sprint at minimum be able to run a 5K, able to ride in traffic (if you think riding with cars is spooky try racing 10 miles with people with no experience riding in fast and furious bike traffic), and can swim 500 yards in the pool.  And of course please consult your doctor before even considering triathlon.  I'd like to also add that open water swimming experience is a must.  Swimming in a pool is not swimming in open water; treadmill running is not running; and trainer riding is not bike riding: these substitutes may condition you but not prepare you for the gravity of the actual.  Sorry I have to keep saying this but unless you have a friend kick you in the face in your swim lane, put a backpack of bricks on your back while on the treadmill, and try to tip you over at Soul Cycle it ain't what it ain't.

So why a 6 to 8 week training session? No reason really other than unless you plan on doing 10 sprints in your season and live in San Diego you won't have the time and money to do more than a few sprints.  A 6 to 8 week program allows for recovery and for the minimal stages of training: base, build, race, and recovery.  We will be covering training phases deeply over the next few months but let's touch on these briefly:

  • Base Phase - Establishing your aerobic and musculoskeletal base for building a competitive base.  This is both the phase in which you establish the ability to go the distance (however slowly that may be), build the supportive muscle, connective tissue, and bone density required to train safely, begin to learn the nutritive strategies that best work for YOU.  It is also the phase in which you develop your training habits and let go of some pre-conceived notions via experience and/or your coach smacking you with a sock full of horse manure.

  • Build Phase - This is where you begin to develop towards your racing goals increasing distance in some of your training and speed in other parts of your training.  Notice I did not say speed and endurance in the same workouts which thou shalt not do or risk the sock bashing.

  • Race Phase - This is where you begin to push the envelope and work the energy systems and aerobic and anaerobic systems that will get you to your goal time.  This is also the "Red Zone" where injury is probable and you have no time for recovery: fun!  Strategy enters here as your coach begins to make recommendations based on your limiters (where you suck) and strengths (where you don't suck.)

  • Recovery - Exactly what it means and yes you do need a recovery period.  Actually there will be recovery periods throughout your training and not just after the race but more about that in a minute.  For some the recovery phase is that time when they're drinking their free beers after a race and for others it can be a week.

Knowing this do you really need to sit down with a coach to lay out an entire season for yourself - good lord yes.  (Try to remember I'm actually writing to my team and I see your faces when I write.  If this makes its way out into the world outside of Dreamfar Triathlon then it's an even bigger YES.)  And why is that?  Let's lay out an 8 week program and learn and please do remember its a general example:

  1. BASE (Weeks 1 and 2): Ok - you can run 3 miles, you can swim 500 yards, and you can ride in traffic somewhat and except for the last one so can my nine year old.  We need to consolidate the distances and make sure you can ride 10 miles.  So our focus is sustaining the pounding that is the gift of running, strengthen our upper body strength for swimming, and our core for all three sports and because we most likely be wearing wetsuits that hide absolutely nothing.
    - Monday: Strength Training: 4 x 12 pushups, 4 x 25 bicycle crunches, 4 x 8 burpees or 4 x 20 non-weighted squats.
    - Tuesday: Run 3.5 miles at EZ pace HRM 2. Swim: 50 Yds. swim buoy, 50 Yds.free swim and alternate for a total of 500 yards. 
    - Wednesday: Brick - Cycle 6 miles followed by 15 minute run with less than a 10 minute transition.  Cycle at HRM 2 - 3, Run at EZ pace.
    - Thursday: Run 3.5 miles at EZ pace HRM 2. Swim: Timed 500 Yard swim after 50 yard warm-up.  Going for love of effort not best. (Yes, love, learn to go hard.)  Strength Training: 4 x 12 pushups, 4 x 25 bicycle crunches, 4 x 8 burpees or 4 x 20 non-weighted crunches.
    - Friday: Rest
    - Saturday: 500 Yard Swim, 8 Mile Ride @ HRM 2 - 3
    - Sunday: 3 Mile Run

  2. BUILD (Weeks 3 through 6): In the first couple of weeks you established a routine and worked out some kinks in packing your swim bag and making sure your bike tires are at proper pressure.  And you also began establishing a base.  Let's build on that and start going beyond finishing a race.
    - Monday: Strength Training: 4 x 12 pushups, 4 x 25 bicycle crunches, 4 x 8 burpees or 4 x 20 non-weighted squats.
    - Tuesday: Run 3.5 miles at HRM 2 - 3. Swim: 50 Yds. swim buoy, 50 Yds.free swim and alternate for a total of 750 yards. 
    - Wednesday: Brick - Cycle 8 miles followed by 15 minute run with less than a 10 minute transition.  Cycle at HRM 2 - 3, Run at EZ pace.
    - Thursday: Run 3.5 miles at EZ pace HRM 2. Swim: Timed 500 Yard swim after 50 yard warm-up.  Going for love of effort not best. (Yes, love, learn to go hard.) Strength Training: 4 x 12 pushups, 4 x 25 bicycle crunches, 4 x 8 burpees or 4 x 20 non-weighted crunches.
    - Friday: Rest
    - Saturday: 800 Yard Swim, 10 Mile Ride @ HRM 2 - 3
    - Sunday: 4 Mile Run

  3. RACE (Weeks 7 and 8): Finishing the race ain't no thing now and that means much (stuff for another training letter.)  So in these last two weeks we're going to sharpen strategy and accentuate strengths.  As for limiters, well, let's make the assumption they were appropriately identified at the BASE phase by you sitting down with a coach and corrective measures instilled into your training.  Other than that let's leave Limiters to another training letter (it's that important.)  So RACE phase is about sharpening to the point where you want this race and want it now.  Now luckily for you Sprints there is little or no taper cause taper is boring and for the dummies doing longer distances.
    - Monday: No Strength Training - you're done until after the race..
    - Tuesday: Run 3.5 miles at HRM 2 - 3. Swim: 50 Yds. swim buoy, 50 Yds.free swim and alternate for a total of 750 yards. 
    - Wednesday: Brick - Cycle 6 miles followed by 15 minute run with less than a 10 minute transition.  Cycle at HRM 2 - 3, Run at EZ pace.
    - Thursday: Run 3.5 miles at EZ pace HRM 2. Swim: Timed 500 Yard swim after 50 yard warm-up.  Going for love of effort not best. (Yes, love, learn to go hard.) Strength Training: None.
    - Friday: Rest
    - Saturday: 200 Yard Swim, 3 Mile Ride and 1 Mile Run
    - 1st Sunday: Rest, 2nd Sunday: RACE

So in this general example we're establishing a safe base aerobic base and some strength, building on it, establishing a high confidence level, and then sharpening towards a goal time - oh yes!  We did not discuss goal times!  Those get figured into your BUILD and RACE phases.  Working with a coach you can see how time goals are interlaced into your training and with sufficient experience you can create your own training schedules.

Now how do we get two or three "A" races into a season/year.  Well essentially we build in RECOVERY weeks and create a tapestry of repeat training that peaks with a RACE.  There are two ways to do this: 1) have fun with it and go by what the season holds and 2) a planned year in which these phases are built in carefully.  In our next training letter we'll do just that and also go in deeper into why this example is what it is.

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