Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Outlaw Triathlon - Part 1: The Training

This is one of a three part set of posts about my first iron distance triathlon: Outlaw Triathlon 2017. This post covers my pre-race training. You can also read my review of the event and the analysis of my race performance.

It had always been on my long-term goal list to complete an iron distance triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run). So, when some members of my club (Team Kennet) suggested taking on the Outlaw Triathlon I had a good think and decided to give it a go.

My main worry was the volume of training required to be competitive at an event of this duration. However, over previous years, my typical training load has been somewhere between eight and twelve hours a week, which seemed fairly compatible with many ironman training plans. The big difference was just the addition of the weekly long ride, which I was successfully able to negotiate with my family.

I started training in October 2016 for the race at the end of July 2017. Initial training was just base fitness work, strength and conditioning, yoga and general preparation for the winter's cross-country running season.

For the main training block I selected the Don Fink 30-Week Competitive Training Plan. I liked the fact that this plan is fairly run heavy, which fits in well with my season's other running events such as half marathons and athletics track season. Also, three other members of my club, who were also doing the Outlaw, decided to follow the same plan as well so this synchronised well in terms of being able to do some of our long rides together.


The training plan called for three swim sessions per week. I was already doing two sessions most weeks: one club session and one on my own. I was therefore able to add an extra session, usually in a lunch break, with more open water focus closer to the event.

Working with my club coach I was able to make some big strides in my swimming, going from pacing around 2:10/100 over 1,500 meters down to being able to sustain 1:58/100 over the 3.8k swim distance. Lots of changes working first on getting my legs higher in the water; then on building a better supporting platform with my arms while breathing; finally working on a stronger catch and pull-through with a lower but more effective stroke rate.

A couple of 4k+ open water lake swims in the month before the race gave me the confidence that I could comfortably achieve the race distance.

I broadly followed the swim sessions from the training plan, except on club nights when I did my coach's planned session. The main adaptation was that I had to cut a fair few of the Don Fink sessions to make them shorter as my swim speed wasn't sufficient to fit in the entire set within the allotted swimming time.


I've been gradually improving my bike over the last couple of years, but mainly focussed on olympic triathlon distance. Prior to starting the training plan I'd only ever done one ride over 100 miles in length!

Lots of turbo trainer sessions on Zwift took place over the winter to get the base bike fitness locked in. Then starting in March I started moving outside. A very warm May and June made some of the rides quite tough, but I could feel my cycling improving each week and my average speed getting better on each ride.

The Don Fink plan typically has 4 rides each week: a session with some speed/intervals work, a shorter brick ride, a long ride (starting at 2 hours and building up to 6) followed by a run, and an easy spin at high cadence. I typically did the easy spin on the turbo and the others all outside.

For my longer rides, most were undertaken along the A4 between Thatcham (where I live) and Bath. This is a relatively flat route with similar (but fractionally hillier) terrain to the Outlaw bike course, so most of my long training was very race specific.

About half the long rides were done with my club mates (with plenty of drafting going on), great for building up the distance without maxing out the effort. I also took care to make sure that I did three of the very long rides solo: firstly to make sure I could sustain the required effort on my own; and secondly, to do the mental preparation of six hours of focused riding with no banter!

Over time my bike speed gradually improved, starting out about 27kph average on the first long ride and settling at just over 29kph by the later rides. I was therefore hopeful that on slightly flatter Outlaw route that I might be able to maintain an average speed above 30kph.


Running has always been my primary (and strongest) event. Having completed a sub-3-hour marathon in 2016 I was very confident for a good run time. The Don Fink plan has quite a good run focus, but I did do a few variations to ensure that my running was compatible with racing a half marathon, a 10k and athletics track season during the training period.

Typically my run training consisted of two track sessions per week: one very hard intervals with longer rest periods and the other slightly less hard but with shorter recovery. Also included was a long run, starting at about 18km and building to 32km in the peak phase. Other runs were just brick sessions, mostly done easy and Parkrun with the kids as a recovery run. Typically doing five runs per week.

One specific thing that I did was to make sure that the brick run after my long rides was always done at target marathon race pace to that I got used to running at that speed straight off the bike.


Overall, the training was just about spot on. The Don Fink plan worked great and I found myself in peak condition at race time. The big four peak weeks in the plan were super tiring, but that was always to be expected. I think the plan had the perfect mix of swim, bike and run balance for my needs. I also managed to fit in a one-hour yoga session each week, which really helped with maintaining flexibility.

During the training period I was also able to complete a 1:23:11 half marathon and a sub-40 10k plus also my first middle distance triathlon as well.

Probably the only change I would make would be to try to be much more focused on getting a strength and conditioning session in each week. I started out well, but during the second half of the plan this was always the session that got dropped each week due to time constraints or tiredness.

The other thing that I would strongly recommend is undertaking training for an event such as this with friends and club mates. Going out for a group long ride made them so much more bearable. Having a social media message group also allowed us to provide support to each other and keep a bit of banter going when the going got tough. I think the whole process would have been far tougher mentally if I'd tried to do it solo. Thanks Sean, Chris, Bart, Dean and Cameron!

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