Successive Olympic gold medals, world and Commonwealth titles – what does it take to be one of the most successful triathletes of all time?
According to Alistair Brownlee himself, a simple approach to training and racing at his Yorkshire base forms the groundwork to his success. There are no shortcuts, tricks or secrets in the sessions below, just honest hard work.
As Alistair has revealed he will most likely make his middle distance debut this year, he plans to make subtle changes to his training: “our day-to-day schedule isn’t far off 70.3 distance training anyway, but I’ll most likely do a few less hard run sessions and more on the TT bike”
All sessions here can be adapted, and there are suggestions from some of the best tri coaches in the business to tailor them to your own needs…
Image: Delly Carr
800m as: 200m freestyle, 200m backstroke, 200m drill, 200m freestyle
6 x 75m hand drills
15 x 100 as: 100m off 1.20, 100m off 1.15, 100m off 1.10. Repeat x 5.
Alistair says: “You want that one off 1.10 to be slightly above race pace. So the time you go off on in the final rep of the mini-set should be equal to your race pace.”
400m easy, choice stroke
220 swim coach John Wood (www.tri-coaching.co.uk) says: Start slow on the warm-up, loosen up into the swim and make sure that you use the 200m drill to switch on your focus. The last 200m can be of really high quality, and maybe a touch higher intensity than the previous 600m. For the 6 x 75m drill, I would prioritise sculling drills to really nail the hold on the water.
For the main set, the first 100 of each mini-set should be an aerobic target, not too hard. The second 100 is more like a CSS (click here for more info on critical swim speed) type effort, with the final 100 swimming fast (but not absolutely flat out). The idea is that you can use the first 100m almost as a recovery, but without letting your heart rate drop too far. It allows you to swim 1000m at or around your 1500m pace, and deal with the fluctuations in effort without burning yourself out too much for your next sessions.
To make this session more relevant to you, you’ll need to slow down the turn around times, using the fastest 100m as your basis for working everything out. For example, if you want to swim 24 mins for 1500, that’s 1.36 per 100m. So for your fastest 100m you should be targeting around 1.34-35. As a result your turn around times for the set would be 1.50, 1.45 and 1.40. If you haven’t yet done a 1500, or are newer to swimming, you could try doing 9 x 100m to start with, just make sure that your speed increases through each mini set.
Bike – standard and sprint distance
Chain gang ride: On summer evenings, Alistair regularly joins up with a group of cyclists and triathletes in Leeds to complete a fast and furious group ride of around 40km in length. Riders will take it in turns to fly off the front, replicating ITU-style racing, with the stronger riders pulling away for the second half of the ride. While most of his longer rides are unstructured, Alistair says this is his go-to bike session that can be completed in under one hour.
Pro triathlete, Yonda Sports founder and qualified coach Mark Buckingham (who regularly joins these rides) says: The ride is roughly 50mins of hard race paced riding, where most riders participate in ‘through and off’ for the first 20 minutes then the strongest riders stay towards the front. The finish is about 3% gradient but 3km long, so by the top only the Brownlees and pro cyclists are still pulling turns and everyone else is hanging on for grim death. The effort itself is very controlled and smooth, which is great for perfecting your pedalling and keeping a group together at high speed without surges. For those without a group that big, we do similar session throughout the winter with just four people, and with a reduced group you just have to pull slightly longer turns on the front.
Bike – middle distance
Alistair says: I’ve been adding in some more solo rides at a consistent power output to prepare for some longer racing. The chain gang rides are still important, but these sessions are more relevant to non-drafting races.”
3 x 30mins at race pace, with 5 mins rest in between each 30min block
220’s bike coach Nik Cook says: For 70.3 racing, you want to be holding an effort that equates to Zone 3 or a tempo effort. Longer 20-30min intervals at this intensity are a staple of middle-distance training. Relative to the length of the efforts rest periods are fairly short and, to be honest, are more there as a bit of a mental break. Finely honed pacing skills are key to longer distance racing and that’s what sessions such as these gives you.
You can’t beat a power meter for these sort of sessions and for pacing generally. If you’re serious about long course racing, it’s a must have. Try to develop a feel for the pressure on your pedals relative to the watts showing, play a game to see how accurate you can be. Don’t ride to instantaneous watts, they jump all over the place. Use either the 3-second or 5-second average setting as your guide. If you’re using heart rate, remember there’s always a lag to any change in effort, so try to ride mid-zone to give yourself a bit of a buffer and avoid sudden spurts.
15-20mins build, 600m of strides
10 x 400m, 1 min rest between each rep. Covering each 400m in 62-65 secs depending on time of year
*Alistair says: ”I never run more than 5km on the track”
10-15mins easy running
Former ITU pro and 220’s run coach Spencer Smith (www.coachings2.com) says: This is a bread and butter session on the track that helps improve leg turnover and increase running speed. It’s a great session for all triathletes, no matter what distance you are targeting or speed you run the reps at, although I recommend a 10 x 400 set at high intensity for 70.3 distance training or shorter. To adapt for iron-distance, try increasing the reps but decrease the intensity, and instead of taking a total rest between reps try a 200m jog recovery.
If you’re new to hard track running, try decreasing the reps to 8 or 6, keeping the reps at or just under your race pace. Instead of starting the next rep on a timed interval, wait until your heart rate has decreased considerably instead.
Head over to the training section for more sessions and advice