Train your strengths

The off season is for focusing on weaknesses, right?

I came into triathlon with a strong running background. Swimming was my biggest weakness. Cycling is similar enough to running where I felt somewhat comfortable with it. To balance the three disciplines, logic would suggest I focus on swimming more so than either of the other two disciplines. I should focus on my run the least.

Think about this another way. Say I train 9 hours per week. Instead of devoting 3 hours to each discipline, maybe I shift one hour from run training to swim training: swim 4 hours, bike 3 hours, and run 2 hours.

The issue here is I’m treating each discipline as equals. They aren’t. In triathlon, an athlete spends the majority of their race cycling. It takes the most time. Swimming is the opposite. It’s the shortest. One big caveat here, though. For swim distance there isn’t much difference between an Olympic and half-Ironman distance race. It’s only a matter of 400 more meters. The bike and run are much different. Both more than double when you jump from Olympic to 70.3. So, if you’re a weaker swimmer, for example, you have a lot more time to make up ground in a 70.3 or full Ironman versus an Olympic distance race.

What’s the take away? The relative importance you place on each discipline in training varies by your race goals.

Anyway, back to the original question of this post. Should I spend a significant amount of time during the off season and the base phase focusing more on weaknesses?

This was my approach the past two years. I knew my swim and bike both needed work. So, I focused on those more so than I did my running, which I felt would always just come together. Both improved since I started, but at what expense? My run has stayed stagnant during the same time. Do I have the potential to run faster? Yes. Could this be a major advantage? Potentially.

Credit: slowtwitch.com
2014 IRONMAN World Championships |  Credit: slowtwitch.com

Let’s look at another example to see how: IRONMAN World Champion Mirinda Carfrae. She’s not a lead-pack swimmer, nor is she an uber biker. But when it comes to the run, she can lay it down with the best of them (men or women). Her run far exceeds most other females in the sport (and a lot of professional men as well).

Now, taking this scenario, one could see the temptation to recommend a larger swim and bike focus. But these aren’t Carfrae’s strengths. She just needs to be within striking distance coming off the bike. In the case of this past World Championship, this is exactly what happened. She was about 14 minutes back and came storming back for the win.

So, why sacrifice a strength for small returns elsewhere? Why not play to your strengths and make sure everything else is just good enough? A world-class triathlete doesn’t have to be a world-class swimmer AND a world-class cyclist AND a world-class runner. Figure out what your strengths are and design your training and racing strategies to support them.

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