How to go from Olympic-distance to racing sprint-distance triathlons successfully

Looking to go from Olympic distance to sprint distance triathlons, but struggling to find a training plan for experienced triathletes wanting to go down a distance and race them competitively? Dermott Hayes has this advice for those wanting to smash the shorter distance in dominating style

Dermott Hayes explains how to drop a tri distance

Firstly, I’d map out your schedule up to next season; starting in November would give you in the region of 30 weeks until the next tri season kicks off. I’d break this down as 12-week Base/10-week Build/8-week Peak. Make sure you have a solid Base phase working at moderate intensities, with a maximum of 2km swims, 45-50km rides and 8-10km runs. 


I’d also start your plan by doing time trials (TT) in all distances to set a benchmark, the results from these will help you to create sessions using accurate targets or zones of either pace, power or heart rate. Repeat the TTs regularly, possibly every six weeks, and use the new results to create revised targets and training zone parameters.

Lastly, during the Base phase, it’s sensible to work on any weaker disciplines and focus on both technique as well as volume.

To have a successful sprint season it really does come down to your training volume intensity. So you should spend the majority of your time doing more high-intensity efforts than you may have done when training for Olympic or 70.3.

During the Base phase, include one speed session per week in each discipline; during the Build phase make that 1-2 sessions; and in the Peak phase high-intensity efforts will be included in nearly every session to some degree. When executing the very top-end speed efforts within an interval session consider short efforts (30secs-3mins) at approx. 10-25% faster than your TT pace and recovery to be long enough to allow for sustainable quality interval reps. In addition to this, ‘tempo’ sessions should include faster-than-race-pace intervals, but with more moderate-intensity active recovery.

To be competitive you should be targeting 5-6 days per week, of which 1-2 of those could be ‘double days’ of two separate sessions or at least a bike-run brick session. A rough guide to split the week up would be to include 2 x swims, 2-3 x bikes, 3 x runs, and during the Build and Peak phases 1 x brick session. Just be sensible as to how close together you place the high-intensity sessions – try to allow 24-36hr recovery in between.


As for strength training, use the same principles – increase intensity but decrease volume as the plan progresses, and include exercises that will continue to promote lower leg strength, mobility and flexibility. Dermott Hayes