Training plans: Build race fitness

Introduce specific race-day sessions now to set you up perfectly for the season ahead

(Credit: Jonny Gawler)

As we move from general winter prep into the specific pre-competition phase, it’s time to plan in key sessions. These progressive and race-tailored workouts will help move you towards race-day readiness.


Training with focus and allocating the right number of sessions per week will also set you up to compete faster. For example, extending sessions for mid-/long-course athletes or hitting above race intensity for the short-course competitor. But, before jumping into the triathlon training plans below you need to be aware of the following:

Other sessions in your week must be moderate endurance maintenance, low-intensity skill work or true recovery days off. Not everything needs to be fast and furious. Absorbing the hard work is key to this phase of training.

>>> Read our guide to polarised triathlon training

You need to pay special attention to nutrition before, during and after the key sessions. This is particularly important for mid-/long-course athletes practising fuelling rates, flavour choice and stomach compatibility. Practising these during this progressive phase of the year will significantly increase the performance benefits.

No more than 2-3 sessions per week should be planned. Four hard sessions is pro territory, and for those blessed with plenty of time to recover. Every other training session in your week, every rest day, every bit of ‘body work’ is aimed at making these key sessions possible and helping you progress. Knowing when to rein it in is the trait of a smart athlete.

>>> Read Chrissie Wellington’s advice on the importance of rest days

It’s vital to ensure that you don’t significantly drop base training volume or the Zone 1 work. Elite studies, age-group diaries and research data show that no less than 75% of training time must be maintained in Zone 1, despite moving into pre-season and in-season mode.

This means that many of the weekly sessions are 100% Zone 1 despite the end-of-session perception that you should be doing some speed work or race-pace efforts. Long, hard or multi-discipline sessions may be the focus, but the lion’s share must be <80% of your maximum heart rate, which in perceived exertion terms is ‘easy to moderate’.

Increasing day lengths, rising temperatures and the season looming into view mean this is exactly the right time to add in harder work. Compared to the uphill struggle of October to January, we’re now on a performance elevator: greater returns for the toil invested. So, let’s get planning the race-ready sessions you need to do to achieve peak fitness this season.

Training plans

To build race-day-relevant fitness will take no less than six weeks. But you can do this type of programme several times to build into early, mid and end-of-season events. Be sure to allow enough recovery after racing before starting the next six-week building phase.

It’s hard to build fitness in all three sports, so I suggest just choosing your two weakest disciplines within the specific race-distance programme. The fitness you accrue in those will carry over to your third ‘strong’ sport.

>>> One sport to multisport: an intro

If you’ve struggled to get a decent winter’s base, it may be better to dilute the harder and longer sessions by 25–30% and increase the amount of Z1 you do to at least 85% of the weekly training time.

Similarly, if you’re doing the last event of the year and have already got plenty of competition experience it may be better to dilute the total week’s volume, length of longest session and number of high-intensity days to ensure you’re fresh enough to race that one final ‘big peak’ opportunity of 2015.

Remember to use as many race-day relevant items as possible in your training: terrain, equipment, time of day, clothing. Modify your effort so that you finish your week-six sessions feeling like you could do more (you should feel better than after your sessions from week two and four).

Explainer: In the training plans below, there are numbers attached to race pace (e.g. “#7, 8 race pace”) – these refer to your speed above, at or below race pace. Numbers 1, 2 and 3 are slower than race pace, numbers 4, 5 and 6 are your desired race pace, and numbers 7 and 8 are above race pace.

Explainer: In the plans below, Joe refers to “RI” (e.g. “60 RI”) – these are rest intervals, so 60secs rest interval in the example given.

>>> Build race fitness training plan (sprint)

>>> Build race fitness training plan (Olympic)


>>> Build race fitness training plan (mid/long)

Find more triathlon training plans, for every ability and distance, here