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Home / Training / 12 weeks till triathlon race-day? Here’s how to prepare

12 weeks till triathlon race-day? Here’s how to prepare

Nick Beer's 12-week preparation plan will have you triathlon fit and raring to go come race-day

Get race-ready in 12 weeks

The three months before your first race are crucial in ensuring you hit peak fitness at the right time, and it’s paramount that you start to make your training specific to your racing goals.

With the goal to improve aerobic capacity over the winter months, the steady aerobic miles and the sessions can be quite general. But now it’s time to use your newly-developed aerobic fitness, focus it into race-specific training and, consequently, achieve a stronger-conditioned body for the races ahead.

Tri-specific training consists of a combination of water and land-based activities. These include open-water swimming (when the weather and water are warmer); open-water swim drills (in a swimming pool); swim-to-bike and bike-to-run brick sessions; and transition practice. Alongside this, it’s important to continue gym sessions focused on maintaining strength and preventing injuries, as well as focussing more attention towards nutrition to hit your target weight.

When including race-specific sessions in the training plan, it’s important that you build-up gradually and not push yourself too much, too early. After the winter months of aerobic training, increasing the intensity too quickly can shock the body and cause unnecessary injuries. By slowly upping the work rate, you enable your body to adapt to the extra training demands and allow enough time for fitness developments to take place.

Consistent practice of race-specific workouts will help to take away any overwhelming feelings and the fear you may have on race day. Experiencing these new physical challenges in training and creating different racing scenarios will undoubtedly have a positive effect on the way you view the race. By preparing meticulously and constantly practising racing skills, your confidence in your own ability will go from strength to strength.

12 weeks to go

You’ve built up your aerobic fitness but now’s the time to gradually introduce tri-specific training variables without putting too much training stress on the body. After a few weeks you should be able to have a strong idea of any weaknesses and an appreciation for the demands of racing will be recognised.


Now’s the time to introduce open-water swim drills in the swimming pool. For example, swimming with your head above water and practising sighting in order to increase upper-body strength and awareness. Also aim to increase the swimming volume and shift to faster-paced efforts in the pool.


Focus on developing strength and endurance. This can be achieved by adding Over Gear (big gear, low RPM) and Under Gear (light gear, high RPM) sessions into the training plan. Also introduce threshold (just below race pace) efforts on the turbo and practise riding hard in your bike position.


Adding a short run off the bike will help get you used to the ‘jelly leg’ sensation, before the brick sessions can progress into focused race-paced reps. It’s important to start off steady and build the duration until you feel comfortable and confident with the change in discipline.


Now that the work rate has stepped up, keeping your body in good condition is imperative in order to remain injury free. A continued focus on core exercises (plank and side plank), upper (press-ups) and lower body (squats and lunges) exercises are essential in maintaining consistent training.


As the training is steadily getting more intense, it’s crucial that the right nutrients are being replaced in the body after the sessions. Adding a protein and carbohydrate recovery shake straight after hard efforts will help accelerate the body’s recovery and repair muscle damage after exercise.

8 weeks to go

Bricks should now be a signature feature of your sessions, but keep an eye on recovery…

Now that the race-specific sessions are starting to become a regular feature of your training plan, it’s time to increase the volume and distance of these workouts. The focus is on improving endurance and getting used to pushing the body under fatigue, while maintaining form and technique.


Your open-water drills are in full swing and now’s the time to incorporate these skills into your swim stroke during high-intensity efforts. Replicating racing situations – such as swimming in a group, swimming on other athletes’ feet, and practising sighting – will help you stay relaxed and calm with other athletes around you on race day.


Accessing the strength improvements from last month’s block, you should now focus these developments into race-paced intervals and time-trial workouts on the road. Simulating race distances at race pace, while practising relaxing at your threshold and maintaining power, is essential in conserving energy for the run.


Brick sessions are now a signature feature in your training plan and now you can progress the volume, pace and distance of the run reps off the bike. Additionally, include longer paced runs of around 10-20mins (or more depending on ability) with the focus on improving endurance and having the confidence to run hard.


Consuming recovery shakes after hard sessions should still be a priority. But now the sessions are getting longer and tougher, the addition of a carbohydrate drink on the bike and during run efforts should be consumed in order to maximise energy and performance levels.

Gym tips

Continue on from last month’s conditioning but with more focus on foam rolling and stretching after sessions. Try to include a regular massage in order to promote recovery, as the muscles may be sore and need all the help they can get in order to repeat the sessions and maintain training consistency.

4 weeks to go

Race day is so close you can smell it. Time then to enter the open water in prep for the tri season…

The days are getting warmer and longer so the opportunity to swim in open water is now a viable option (if the water’s warm enough, of course!). Also this is the time to turn your attention towards speed and short interval sessions alongside transition practice, and creating a variety of racing scenarios to fully prepare you for next month’s racing.


Specific swim sets that focus on sighting and swimming round the buoys in the lake can now begin. Place an emphasis on sprinting in and out of the buoys and taking the best swim line as you sight. Also, practise exiting the lake at speed, getting the wetsuit off as quickly as possible and even jumping on to your bike if there’s space.


It’s time to complement the hard work that’s been put into developing strength on the bike with short, fast sprint efforts (30-60secs) on the turbo with short recoveries. Also apply more attention to cycling skills: cornering, choosing the best line and accelerating out of the bends.


Mixing up the longer-paced efforts with short fast intervals will complement each other perfectly. Using a running track or on grass for reps of 30-60secs with plenty of rest will cement the hard work and bring you into race form.


Continued core exercises and stretching are essential in maintaining a healthy body. Adding running drills and swim/bike/run discipline-specific exercises to your gym programme will also be of benefit to ensure your body is kept well conditioned. These exercises will also go a long way to ensuring your body is able to absorb the high-intensity efforts that have been introduced.


Now the races are getting closer it’s important that you tailor your nutrition to your racing. A week out from the race, increase your carbohydrate intake in order to sufficiently carb load and fuel your body. Also aim to maintain your
protein intake to prevent muscle wastage and preserve strength.

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