The Self-Trained Triathlete

Over the past few weeks I’ve been trying to come up with a plan to compete at the Sprint distance Triathlon (750m swim, 20k bike, 5k run) this year and beyond.  My first major observation is that the more I read and study the more I realize how little I know about the scientific principles of training.

This would be an issue for a professional athlete who is getting paid to perform at their peak level.  For the novice, it isn’t necessary to acquire the knowledge necessary to train like an elite athlete.  For me, acquiring more scientific information about how my body works is both fun and rewarding.


Flair – Do you want to just do the bare minimum?

In my case, I have to really understand a subject and master it to stay sufficiently motivated.  I’m the kid wearing 37 pieces of flair!  I don’t want to pay $40 for a workout plan, I want to understand the scientific principles used to formulate that plan so I can create my own and tailor it to my specific goals and situation.

My goal to become a triathlete represents more than just saying I completed a triathlon or two.  My challenge, in all aspects of life, is to always strive to reach my highest potential.  This means utilizing the best science I have access to, having the wisdom to devise a plan unique to my needs, and having the discipline to implement that plan in the real, often imperfect, world in order to achieve a specific goal.

Guiding Principles

While reading about planning to train for triathlon I’ve come up with a few guiding principles which will form the basis for my final plan.  It’s also interesting to think about these principles in other aspects of my life and how they are general enough to use beyond endurance training.  In order of importance, the guiding principles are:

  1. Moderation & Consistency – The human body is amazing at adapting to stresses which are applied consistently through training.  The wise athlete understands their current level of fitness and rarely tests its limits.  Using moderation, the athlete slowly builds fitness to new levels using progressive overloading without risk of overtraining, injury, and illness.  Taking the long view of training is essential.
  2. Build a Strong Foundation – The wise athlete, free from short term pressures, understands that a strong foundation, or base, is a requirement and that it takes time to build.  Building a base requires increasingly higher volumes or workloads at low to moderate intensities.
  3. Eat, Train, Sleep – It’s not just about training.  A successful approach to triathlon, anything really, requires proper nutrition and plenty of rest for recovery.  I know I was guilty of neglecting this principle when I was younger and when talking to others I don’t think they realize the relative importance of these activities.
  4. Periodization – A training program should be divided up into periods which progress from general to specific training needs.  General fitness for a triathlete might incorporate cross training & weight lifting to build aerobic fitness and strength.  As periods progress this gradually leads into addressing more specific training needs in the areas for the swim, bike, and run while only maintaining aerobic fitness and strength.
  5. Intensity – Recently I rediscovered the role of intensity in training.  Intensity is a requirement for attaining peak levels of fitness.  However, I list it last because intensity without a proper base is the surest way to injury, illness, and burnout.  I’m surprised at how much I’ve read over the past few months about intensity without also discussing building a proper base first (ie. P90X style programs).  

I’m still working on creating my annual training plan to accomplish my triathlon goals this year.  However, when sitting down to write that plan I recognized that I did not have a firm enough grasp on these guiding principles to make certain decisions.  I feel a lot more confident creating a plan after writing down and crystallizing my thoughts here.