Triathlon Training: 6 tips to ensure you peak properly

Triathletes often struggle to be at their very best on the big day. offers 6 tips to ensure you peak properly when it counts.

| September 13, 2016 | TRAINING

Rio 2016 - Laufen | Alistair Brownlee was completely dialed in for a fantastic performance on race day in Rio ... just as he was four years ealier in London.

Alistair Brownlee was completely dialed in for a fantastic performance on race day in Rio ... just as he was four years ealier in London.

Photo >Frank Wechsel / spomedis

For many of the 55 men and women who raced in the Olympic triathlon in Rio, the race was a culmination of four years of training, all geared towards one big day. Being ready to compete at your best at one specific race can be a challenge, though. Gwen Jorgensen and Alistair Brownlee both were at the top of their games in Rio, but it's not always easy to peak perfectly for the big day. Take the Australian swim team, for example, who rolled into Rio with a number of the world’s best swimmers, only to see a few of them swim much slower than their best times and miss the podium.

So how do you make sure that you’re at your best on race day? Here are a few tips to help you PB when it counts:

1. Get a coach

It’s really difficult to be objective about your race readiness when you’re coaching yourself.

“Self-coached athletes tend to do too much hard work in the last few weeks since they don't trust that what they've done so far is enough,” says Joe Friel, the author of the Triathlete’s Training Bible. “On the other hand, a few rest too much and don't train hard enough because they've heard that rest produces greater fitness. They're not exactly right. Rest actually produces greater "form" (race “restedness”), but causes a loss of fitness.”

Finding someone who has helped athletes compete at their best can be one of the most beneficial parts of hiring a coach. It’s really hard to trust yourself when it comes to gauging your fitness – having someone be able to objectively evaluate where you’re at and set up your workouts accordingly can be invaluable.

2. Don’t train too hard … but not too easy, either

In the 70s and 80s the typical taper consisted of a dramatic reduction in training volume along paired with short, intense workouts. The idea was to dial in your speed heading into your most important race. A study done at McMaster University in Canada during the late 80s changed many people’s perspective on the idea taper. That study found that athletes who did a number of 400 m intervals every day during the week leading into their peak (starting with 6 intervals and working down to 1 or 2 the day before the race) performed better than those who rested the week leading into the event.

A good training program will incorporate a variety of training components every week. So, rather than make a drastic change to what you’ve been doing, you want to make a few minor adjustments to your regular race plan. Decrease the volume of your training by 10 to 20 percent over the final few weeks before your big race. Make sure you don’t have any really long efforts over the last few weeks, either.

3. Feel fast … but not too fast

If you’re gearing up for a sprint- or standard-distance race, speed is important, but you shouldn’t be going at too much faster than your goal race pace. You don’t need to be doing full-out sprints during your race week – race-pace (or slightly faster) efforts are more than adequate. In a full-distance race you’ll hardly be ripping along as fast as you can go – race pace efforts should be the order of the day.

4. Rest

You’ll want to make sure that you’re getting lots of sleep and rest over the last few weeks before your peak race. This is not the time to be heading out for any late-night gatherings with your friends. Make sure you’re taking care of things on the nutrition front, too. Eat well and don’t try to make any dramatic changes to your diet – this is not the time to try and lose a few extra pounds!

5. Keep training

I like to have my athletes complete the same number of workouts over the last two weeks before their big race – but with a decreased volume. We’ve typically been following almost exactly the same weekly schedule for upwards of a year – making dramatic changes to the regular weekly routine often puts athletes out of their comfort zone. They’ll often report troubles sleeping and just not feeling themselves. Hardly the way to head into a big race.

6. Don’t psych yourself out

How many times have you had an amazing race when you least expected it? Knocked it out of the ballpark during a monstrous training block? If you’ve prepared properly, to have a great race doesn’t require that you have the race of your life. You probably just need to have a good day.

A few years ago I had Paula Newby-Fraser, the eight-time Kona champion, talk to my son as he prepared for the national time trial championship. I asked her about visualization.

“Who needs visualization,” she said. “If you’ve done the work, you’re ready and all you have to do is execute.”

Newby-Fraser is right. Half the battle with peaking at the right time is to have confidence in the training you’ve done, then executing a race plan that maximizes all that work.