How to overcome plateaus in your race performance

Are you getting frustrated with this season’s race results, despite training hard over winter? Read on…

Triathletes racing

Did you throw yourself into winter training hard, laser-focused on better results in the  triathlon season ahead– but to no obvious avail? This is a common complaint for many triathletes, says Joe Beer… 

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After initially improving a lot, many athletes believe that performance increases will just keep coming thick and fast. But endurance potential is, to a great degree, genetic. So one’s ability is actually found early in training, and often those with a successful childhood in other sports jump into tri at a competitive level.

Once you’ve been competing for a few seasons you should be fairly near your glass ceiling and, as such, you need to be more specific in your training, but also realise that there are several smarter, and effective, training methods that you can use.

Train on heart rate, not speed

You need to keep the majority of your training below 80% of max HR and not overtrain. This ceiling HR can easily be exceeded in winter, when others start to test your fitness and when encountering a lot of hills or bad weather.

I’ve heard all the excuses under the sun for exceeding this, from ‘well it was mostly in zone one’ when 33% was actually in zone two, to ‘I can’t train that slowly, I need to improve!’. However, the better athletes stay in this zone for at least 75-85% of total training time. Do you?

Look at the limiters to improve

Your training speeds are always going to be much slower, for the most part, than your racing. However, are you using the best equipment, warm-ups, course recce info and pacing skills to get that extra out of yourself on race day?

I firmly believe that many athletes train at similar levels, but those that use every (legal) trick in the book can gain extra when race day rolls around. And that includes everything from optimising your position on your bike and your pre-race nutrition to learning how to race smart and get the taper week spot on. The most obvious limiters are technical ability in the swim, power vs aerodynamics on the bike and body mass on the run.

Work on quality, then chill

With the hours of endurance many athletes have under their race belts, they can easily complete the race distance (Ironman aside). So be sure to do your high-intensity training (HIT) to swim quickly and efficiently, bike at high speed/effort and run hard (off-road/uphill) to get that race-day speed. Then relax in base and skill work sessions, being sure you’re ready for the next HIT session in 2–4 days’ time.

Look at holding your best

Although 90% of the field can’t win, and most can’t win their age-group either, that doesn’t stop us from returning to endurance sport to test ourselves. It may be that consistency and being motivated to find small gains in all aspects of performance can see you achieve things for many years to come as others burn out or break down.

(Main image: Jonny Gawler)

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For lots more performance advice head to our Triathlon training section