It is all too easy to find training plans on the internet, or see sessions from the Pros. But one size doesn't fit all, and for most triathletes if they try to copy a Pro's plan they are at serious risk of overtraining! We wanted to show how a pro structures their training, but with enough info so that you can use this to plan your own version that really does fit you.
So we asked Neuff Red team member Nikki Bartlett to share all. This is what she said...
Nikki Bartlett: Sharing structure
In my next blog with Neuff Red, I’m delving a little into my training structure, and some of the key concepts that are integral to provide consistency in my programme.
At school I was typically one of those kids that got stuck into all sport, loved them all, but an absolute master of none. Football, hockey and athletics (400/800m) were my main sports. I loved the friendships created and performance was almost secondary.
I went to the University of Birmingham and at the Freshers Fair, I searched for the athletics stand. Randomly I found myself getting stuck into a new sport - rowing. It ticked all the boxes: friendships, training and a big party life. So much so I often went straight from the club to training. Yep, I was that kind of student.
After learning how to row, our team developed quickly and found ourselves medalling at the European University Championships. My first taste of performance sport.
In 2008 I graduated, and started my PGCE. I just knew I wasn’t ready to go into work yet. Then, luck struck and in 2009 I did the Girls For Gold initiative and was fast tracked onto the GB Rowing World Class Start System.
Fast forward multiple years of rub stress fractures, cracks, breaks and I accidentally fell into the sport of Triathlon in 2012 after a friend suggested I come along and did a half IRONMAN with her!
In 2012 I switched sports, worked my way up the AG ranks (couldn’t swim, bought a bike from eBay for £150 and had no long distance running background). In 2016 I turned Pro.
Ironman Training Plan
A BIG topic, one which you could chat hours over, delve deeper into sessions, structure and building blocks. For this article I’m going to delve into an example two weeks of training, and I’m going to choose two weeks from last month, rather than pick out two random weeks.
Training plan context:
I’m planning on a later season, and I’m on week 7/8 back from my off season.
Ironman training plan principles:
Whilst looking into two weeks, I will also clarify what I’m working on, why we have this structure in place. And to outline perhaps the most important bit, that a training programme should be individualised around you; your background, time in the sport, lifestyle commitments, family, friends etc. I’ve slowly built up in the sport now for 8 years, but I also have a teenage history of impact sport in athletics - bounding, hurdle and stair drills, to a few years in Elite sport through rowing - training 25+ hours a week for essentially a 7min race.
What I’m trying to get at here is: never compare to others, you will never know the full picture, where they are at in their progression in the sport, their time available to train, etc. This is merely an insight into my week, how we structure training, and why I’m working on developing certain areas in my training programme. I hope you enjoy reading a bit about what I’m working on to be the best athlete possible.
Week commencing 15th Feb (few example sessions thrown in):
Run: 60min aerobic
Swim: 90mins mix of tech / strength
Bike: 90min: VO2
Swim: 90min: speed/vo2
Run: 75min: LT2 (5x8min with 2min rest, at 3.30k)
Run: Easy trail run: 90min
Bike: Easy: 4hours
Swim: 90mins: CSS (8x300m off 4.30)
Bike PM: 90mins: The Choppers TTT on Zwift (vo2/under-over/non structured but hard)
Swim: 90mins mixed paced (400m swim, 6x100m as 25 drill, 75m distance per stroke, 100m kick, 3 x 800m as 800m every 100m get out, dive in, 800m with every 100m tumble at the T with 8 stroke surge, 800m with rolling CSS/VO2, choice cool down)
Guiding chats: 75-90mins
Run: 75mins: speed into LT1
Bike: 4hours easy
Run: 2hours - run economy 4.35-4.40k
Bike: 2hours easy (chat to friends on zoom)
Week commencing 22nd Feb:
Run: 60 easy
Swim: 90mins tech
Bike: 2hours - LT1 Focus (4x20min at IM pace)
Swim: 90min vo2
Run: 75min: speed into LT1 (swapped run sessions around due to fatigue)
Swim: 90min CSS
Bike: The Choppers: 2hours (48min total, under over type session, 1min on turns)
Swim: 90min mixed pace
Guiding chat: 75min
Bike: 4hours with Goss - she plotted the route and got me back in the % green zone of TP - 4hours 44min
Run: 75min (VO2 focus with 3 sessions to choose from dependent on fatigue of the week and post long ride). Felt good so went for the 7x1k at 3.20per k pace, with first three off 100 seconds, 1 x off 90, 1 x off 80 and 1 x off 70 seconds
Run: 2hour Easy long trail run exploring a new local route, no pace target, just my £9.99 decathlon stopwatch
Ironman Training Plan Aims:
My structure is based on a two week cycle. Week one = higher run volume, lower bike volume, week 2 = lower run volume, higher bike volume. I’m 7 weeks back from my offseason and I also had lab testing recently (sub max) with our Physiologist to determine lactate/metabolic profile, RER, training zones and efficiency in run economy, etc. Once Bex sets my training, I then (around current Gov guidelines) see who’s around to train with.
I’m purely focussing on technique at the moment: pool based, land based with physio using reformer, S&C programme specifically aimed at overall body strength and swim based focus.
At the moment this means 4 x 90min swims, and a further 90min swim will be added once I’m used to the load of using reformer and S&C programme
My key focus at the moment is building IRONMAN efficiency ensuring I work at the right intensity and track HR week to week to understand progression. Fuelling is also structured in these sessions as well.
I’m focusing on my run economy at the moment, focussing on 1 x LT1, 1x LT2 session and then every other week an aerobic long run, but slightly faster pace than an easy run, but keep HR low, but all on flat roads to help work on run economy to transfer to the IRONMAN run.
Tips for Ironman Training:
1. Easy is easy.
Seriously, easy is EASY. This is why most often I just take a stopwatch, or have a watch on but don’t look at it. Really get in tune with your body, what feels easy ON THAT DAY. Some days literally 5.45min/ks feel easy. On another 4.50min/k does. It depends on training load, time of the month, training day, time of day etc. If your easy pace compared to your LT2 pace is like 10-20 seconds then you need to reconsider how you’re doing your easy stuff. I.E. if I’m tired, literally I can be 2min/k difference from my LT2 - aerobic running
2. Importance of your team.
The team around me is invaluable and it is huge; coach Bex, to coaches on pool side, S&C, physiologist, nutritionist, psychologist, sport doctor, training partners, friends, family, sponsors, mechanic, bike fit, massage etc. I think you would have to be slightly naïve and arrogant to think as a coach you know it all. It’s key to use a team, knowledge and expertise to make you understand the concepts to develop yourself into the best athlete possible
3. No magic formula:
It takes time, years, layering training - year upon year; literally layers upon layers, consistently year on year out. Small - big goals, purposeful process goals, to big aims and dreams. Also to take note: it's taken me the best part of 8 years to handle this load, training volume, intensity, on top of past sports, loading young at athletics (core, bounding), being in an elite environment and understanding daily and weekly structure in rowing to take into triathlon.
4. Don’t compare yourself to others
It really is pointless. Social media these days often just show the glory sessions, and times when things are going well. Truth news: it's really not like that at all. Everyone needs their own programme based on their needs. I cannot stress this enough.
5. Find a coach you can develop a relationship with
Someone who can understand your goals, build a team, make sure you always remember why you started the sport; because its FUN! So join a local club or tri-community.
6. Recovery, recovery, recovery!
In my training programme I look for opportunity to structure recovery time as much as possible. As an example on a Thursday, I will swim 7-8.30, run 8.45-10am and then rest HARD until The Choppers at 6pm.
Recovery for me is a big topic, from psychological aspects too. I.E. between sessions I will shower and then often get changed into non sports clothes (probably PJs!), and not get changed into my next session clothes. This is purely to step away from the mentality of always thinking about the next session. Switch off, come away from Triathlon.
So key pre, during and post training. Nutrition timing is key, if I don’t nail this, often sessions will suffer, not just on the day, but days later too.
8. Flexibility in the programme
Listen to your body, life commitments etc. A programme is there as guidance: I switch sessions at times based on fatigue, things which might pop up which means I can’t fully commit to ‘x’ hard sessions etc. Don’t religiously follow a programme, get in tune with life commitments, your body and what you might need on that given day.
About Nikki Bartlett
Nikki is a multiple podium finisher at Ironman, winning both Ironman Lanzarote and 70.3 Dun Laoghaire in 2019 in her 4th year as Pro. She also races as a paratriathlon guide and is hoping to race at the Tokyo Paralympics. She is incredibly enthusiastic about triathlon and life in general and has an enormous amount of time for Age Group triathletes - going above and beyond to offer support and advice.