Why I'm Sticking To Short Distances

Huh. I wrote this last year. And now I am doing a long distance event in July. More news next week. However, I still like the ideas that I put down. Maybe a blueprint for the future is minimalist training for short distances races, plenty of strength training, loads of family outdoor stuff, some golf and a longer event every two or three years.

Note: I don't live in Strasbourg anymore and some of the links below are broken. I'll try and fix them tonight. Enjoy!

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I still enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and camaraderie of an Ironman distance event but with limited free-time, long distance triathlons are no longer a suitable challenge. I’ve therefore decided to set the 1500m / 40km / 10km format as my triathlon race distance ceiling for the next few seasons. The potential benefits from this strategy are below.

Save Time
My racing goal is to be comfortable rather than quick and just enjoy being out there and competing. Getting myself fit enough to complete the course only takes a couple of hours per week. If time allows I can then layer on some extra sessions to go that tiny bit faster. Even though I want to work out everyday, five hour bike rides are definitely not on the menu.

Race Hard
Ironman is about constantly holding back the whole day and the Half Ironman distance is a possibly unhealthy blend of speed and endurance. Olympic Distance racing is about gun to tape speed. I want to be serious about racing hard against guys my age and enjoy picking off some younger athletes.

I want to start the swim fast, hold cruising speed and accelerate towards T1. Have a seamless transition. Ride the first 5km hard. Flatten the pedals and drop any chasers. Stay low and don’t brush off too much speed through the corners. Accelerate again in the last 5km. The run is flat out from T2. No need to pace. It’s about forty minutes. Fast feet. If I need to, sprint the last 200m.

Combine & Invent
When I started training for triathlons in 1988 I wanted to combine the 3 sports in every workout. I’d chain my bike outside the pool to ride after swimming. I’d run after every ride and sometimes before a ride. I’d even put running shoes in my jersey pockets to run during a ride. This was a time when we used to turn up at an abandoned gravel pit, lean our bikes up against a tree and put on an triathlon.

I’ve often got just an hour for my workout. I head to the garage and blast my arms with weights, bodyweight exercises and swim elastics for 10 minutes. Onto the rollers to work on balance and fast pedalling for half an hour. Next, I’m outside on the road for a 10 minute jog. Out and back. Steady yet negatively split. Finally there’s 10 minutes left for some squats. Even in the middle of a Winter in Strasbourg I’m celebrating triathlon.

In the Summer on Sunday mornings I like to spin to my local lake. There’s a secluded beach and it’s early so my bike is safe. I swim for 30 minutes finishing with some sprints. Out of the lake I have a flat 40km route with smooth tarmac and light traffic. I alternate big gear riding with riding at and above race cadence. Arriving home I dump the bike in the garage and squeeze on my trainers and jog for as long as time and energy allow.

Compete Locally
I have lots of Sprint and Olympic Distance events close to home. For the last two years I’ve also raced at the Windsor Triathlon. The race village and swim start close my parents’ house so I don’t even need to load the car or deal with parking. I stick my equipment in a small backpack and ride to the race.

Be Part Of A Team
Some of my best triathlon memories are from Team Time Trial events with Vesoul, Rouen and now Strasbourg. I raced in Colmar 4 or 5 times and even a longdistance TTT in Nancy in 2015. This season I hope to find a team time trial in Bavaria and raise a team from my new club.

Swim Stress-Free
I can’t think of anything worse than lining up for an Ironman next to 2000 other swimmers. I’d be lucky to get clear water in the first kilometre and the first 200 metres might even be scary. Not the best start to a long day. Many short events have less entrants and are organised into wave starts. I can swim the way I want; starting at a reasonable speed before finding a suitable pack to swim with.

Simplify Race Day
Most Olympic Distance Triathlons don’t require you to register on Saturday afternoon and with early starts in the UK my race will be finished by midday on Sunday. As I’m only out on the road for a couple of hours there’s also no complicated kit choice to make. I’ve worn a running vest and cycling shorts since seeing Hamish Carter in the 1993 World Championships in Manchester.

There’s also no need to devise a Nutrition Plan and figure out how to carry all that food and drink. I’ll probably be able to get my bike back not long after finishing and if I’m lucky enough to have a won something the Awards ceremony won’t be on Monday morning.

Easier Spectating
My parents are hardcore triathlon fans and have come to watch me in several Ironman events. However, I’ve never even suggested that Gwen and the kids come and watch an event that long. As well as there often being hours between sightings you are generally not in the best physical shape to entertain the family post-race.

An Olympic Distance Triathlon is short enough to hold the children’s attention and there’s often plenty of athletes to watch even if I’m not visible. With the event taking up less than half the day we can use the novelty of being in a different town to reward the children for their cheering with a trip to an adventure playground, museum, leisure pool or local landmark.

Have More Energy In The Day
Short and hard training sessions that invigorate me rather than exhaust me will leave more energy on training days than if I was following an Ironman programme. I can use this energy for quality time with the family and to focus more at work.

No Aches & Pains
When preparing for an Ironman the pressure of the race day distance has often forced me to push on to finish a session when I didn’t feel 100%. I’m also not convinced that long term, hard endurance training and racing is what our bodies were designed for. Is this first generation of weekend warrior, extreme athletes heading for health problems later in life?

Eat & Drink Better
Working out for less than an hour on most days I can easily keep my carbohydrate intake low. No huge bowls of rice or sugar cravings. No need for gels, bars and sports drinks during training. On race day water works fine.

Look After My Equipment
If I’m completing fewer and shorter sessions I can use the extra time to really keep my bike in stunning working order. Clean, well-oiled and finely adjusted. Make sure the garage is always swept and my home gym stays tidy and welcoming.

Develop Other Fitness Abilities
Minimising my endurance workouts will give me time to work on weight lifting, body weight exercises, speed, agility and mobility. I like to build these skills into my endurance sessions or use free days for stand-alone workouts. I’ve recently attended courses put on by UKSCA and Movnat. Both brilliant.

Spend Less
I can enter an Olympic Distance Triathlon in France for about €25. Over shorter distances equipment is also not so much of a factor in performance. No need for the latest aero helmet, ultra rigid frame or best wheels. Getting into a comfortable yet aerodynamic position and pressing hard on the pedals have always been more important to me than what I spend.

Have Another Hobby
My guitar sits idle and my wheel building kit untouched. After a 45 minute turbo session I can spend 15 minutes learning a new chord. I might run for half an hour, lift a few weights and then stay in the garage to lace a new wheel.

Don’t Worry
With the threat of a painful and disappointing Ironman race day hanging over my head I have often resorted to an extreme inverse taper. Throwing out the schedule that I had previously agreed with my family for extra miles. I’ve panicked and my family has also felt it.

I’ve also adjusted my attitude so that the success of a weekend at an event doesn’t only hinge on the race result. Did I get some fresh air and exercise, take some photos or get some material for a blog post, visit family in the UK, find some new roads or see some friends?

Distances Are Balanced
You’ve got to admit that swimming for an hour or so, riding for five or more and running for three plus hours is a weird combo. What about swimming for about 20 minutes, biking for just over an 60 and running for 40?

Triathlons Were Never Meant To Be Long
The first triathlon probably took place in San Diego. The distances were a 6 mile run, 5 mile bike and 500 yard swim. The goal was fitness, Sunday morning fun and a break from just running. The members of the San Diego Track club never imagined triathlon as a mighty challenge. It was simply an extension of their beach-side lifestyle.

Avoid The Medical Tent
There’s no glory in voluntarily pushing yourself so far that you need medical attention. Ignoring personal warning signs of dehydration and hunger. Not attending to the risks of sunburn, chafing or black toenails. None of these should be an issue with Olympic Distance racing.

I Can Convert My Fitness
When towards the end of the race season my mates are heading off to an Ironman I don’t have to feel left out. I could become their sparring partner; helping out with pacing, strategy and fuelling during long training sessions. I’ll get the fitness boost of some long distance training without the destruction and potential disappointment of race day.

Alternatively, I’ll use the power and speed that I’ve built up during the year as the fitness base to start a short period of Ironman preparation. My mental and physical freshness should allow me to tackle some specific sessions without drastically increasing my weekly training budget.

Why not schedule a two or three day bike tour? I always come back from even the shortest tours with the skin on my butt cheeks toughened up, strong legs, a refreshed head and the confidence to perform on Ironman race day. A day that should be approached as a day-long adventure and comfortable jog.