Event-Based Training Volume

author : Rich Strauss
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Your training schedule should be based completely on the hours you have available to train, not necessarily on the number of hours you "need" to train.

For most athletes, training time during the week is relatively finite, while the weekends are more flexible. Most athletes can fit an hour a day during the week, but things get very hairy at two to three hours.

Because of this simple fact, your training schedule should be based completely on the hours you have available to train, not necessarily on the number of hours you "need" to train. Question: "How many hours a week should I train to finish an Ironman?" Answer: "How many hours do you have available to train?"

I use three tools to manage the training schedules of my athletes:

1. Focus on "Training Events" rather than on "Training Hours"

I hit upon this idea while training for my first Ironman - Florida '00. As I wandered through a fatigue induced haze, I took a hard look at my training. Was I training to execute a 18-20 hour training week or a 10-13 hour training day? I reasoned it made more sense to measure my volume through my ability to accomplish, and recover from, the individual events of an Ironman. I decided that to be successful on race day, I needed to have accomplished the following individual training events at least ONCE before race day: 4km swim, 6 hour bike, 2.5 to 3 hour run and 6+ hour brick. Therefore, rather than focusing on weekly hours, focus on a sensible progression of smaller "events" that lead to the successful completion of these larger EVENTS at least one time before race day. I call these larger training events "Training Milestones," or events that we must accomplish in route to a successful race.

In my experience, these are the Training Milestones you should set as targets for each race distance, swim/bike/run

Sprint:  .5mile/1-1.5hr/30-45 minutes
Oly:      1.5-2k/2-3hr/1-1:15
Half:     2-2.5k/3-4hr/2hr
IM:       4k/5-6hr/2-2.5hr*

*Note: I originally wrote this article in 2001. Since then I have refined my Ironman training ideas, limiting the long run to 2.5hrs and, if possible, targeting multiple 2-2:15 long runs vs that 2.5 hr runs. Why the "extra" time on the bike for Sprints, Olympics, and Halfs? You build your "go-all-day" endurance on the bike. All bike time is good time.

A less experienced triathlete may take six to eight months to work up to these training milestones. His focus should be on just completing these training events once. A more experienced triathlete may be able to complete several of these events before race day, the first within four to eight weeks of starting his training. In this case, he can complete these training events more often and can even include training that develops more advanced athletic abilities.

2. Break the training week into "Work-Week Hours" and "Weekend Hours"

A typical working athlete might have four to ten Work-Week Hours, and three to nine Weekend Hours. Let's take the work-week. You begin with an hour each day. You eventually work this up to two hours per day, which is all your personal schedule will allow.

From this point forward your work-week hours will flex very little. What will change however, is the character of your Thursday bike. For example, in January this might be an easy spin. In February it might be climbing; in March, tempo.

Regardless of the week, month, or training period, if the volume of the ride is two hours, only the character changes.

3. Prioritize your weekly workouts

"A" Priority workouts are your long weekend events. Again, these follow a sensible progression toward the successful accomplishment of your Training Milestones. You should do everything you can to hit these workouts every week. "B" Priority workouts are weekday Break Through (BT) sessions. The character of these sessions reflect the focus of each particular training phase. Do everything you can to hit these workouts. "C" Priority workouts are "other" stuff: base building, recovery or strength workouts. If something needs to slide or be skipped altogether, these go first.

When you apply these tools to your training week, the following occurs:

  1. The majority of your weekly volume changes occur as you flex your Weekend Hours, progressing toward the successful accomplishment of your Training Milestones.
  2. Your Work-Week Hours stabilize at the level dictated by your personal schedule. The character of these hours changes from cycle to cycle and reflects the focus of each particular training phase.
  3. Prioritizing your workouts ensures accomplishment of the most important sessions.
  4. Most importantly, this tool reduces the risk of putting in junk miles caused by feeling compelled to hit the weekly volume numbers in a training plan. Remember, it's just a number on a spreadsheet. Focus on your Training Milestones and priority workouts and let the hours just happen.

In summary:

  1. Throw out (sort of) your weekly hour "goals."
  2. Build your Work-Week Hours to a level that works with your personal schedule, given the requirements of work, family and recovery.
  3. Keep your Work-Week Hours at this level, with the exception of recovery weeks.
  4. Focus on a progression of Weekend Hours that leads you to successful completion of your Training Milestones. The more times you can complete these key events, gravy.
  5. Prioritize your workouts, so that you can make good decisions when Murphy comes knocking.
  6. If your weekly training hours are very limited, start your training plan far enough out from race day so that you can hit your key events more than once.

Rich Strauss is the founder and head coach of Crucible Fitness. He is a Joe Friel Ultrafit Associate, USAT Level I certified, a former Marine officer and the founder of the Pasadena Triathlon Club. Since 2001 Rich has specialized in training, coaching and racing the Ironman distance, having coached over 140 Ironman finishers and delivered pre-race talks to over 400 athletes at IMNA races. For 2005 Rich is expanding his services to include all abilities and race distances. Please visit www.cruciblefitness.com for more details and  a complete list of coaching services.


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date: January 24, 2005

Rich Strauss