Build smart triathlon training foundation

Several of us in the Victoria area already have a big race scheduled for 2014.

Ironman Texas, an annual Woodlands race, is approximately six months away.

In the Ironman world, the saying goes, "part of the success of a good training program is getting to the start line healthy."

No one can deny a ton of training goes into preparing for this race, which includes a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run.

Maintaining not only a healthy body but also a healthy mind throughout the months leading up to an event is a delicate balance.

The most important aspects of long-distance training are surprisingly simple; however, it is sometimes difficult to persuade a headstrong athlete of the significance of simple rules to follow.

Building a good foundation of training as a take-off point for the actual focused build up of Ironman training is the first crucial step.

However, foundation needs to focus more on building aerobic capacity than having the training be too structured too early in the game.

The "off-season" is that time before those 16 weeks that take you to race day, when you also need to focus on weaknesses.

This can be accomplished by hitting drills in the water, on the bike or on the run.

It can also be done through building endurance in whichever of the disciplines you may be weakest in, as well as hitting the weights to build strength.

Here are some tips for anyone getting ready to take on some sort of long-distance training, whether it is your first marathon or a long-distance triathlon.

SET A FEW SIMPLE GOALS

Setting goals is a good thing. They need to not be too rigid, or too numbered, but goals help define training and give focus to workouts.

If you set more than three goals, it typically causes confusion and can be overwhelming to the mind. One simple, well-defined goal can be enough to keep you on track and provide direction for training. Make sure the goal is realistic and is visible so that it is a constant reminder each day of what you are working toward.

HAVE A PLAN

I can't emphasize this enough. I'm not telling everyone to run out and hire a coach, but I have seen so many athletes aimlessly train, and the results are typically not good. At the very least, they are not what the athlete had intended.

Goals without plans are wishes. A well-defined plan leads you in the right direction, even if sometimes you have to go off course a bit and get redirected.

As you follow your plan, indicate in a training log or make notes on a calendar of your progress so that you are motivated by your gains and can make changes to your game plan as needed.

You can devise your own plan with resources or look online. There are a number of plans offered online through various websites. These are typically inexpensive and easy to obtain.

The problem with online plans or those out of a book is that they are not customized, with some mileage and intensity increased too quickly for the novice or the older athlete.

Also, there is no feedback on training. Enlisting the help of a coach is a great way to get an individualized training program, along with vital feedback on nutrition, training, injury and other topics. A coach who is experienced has wisdom and can provide insight and foresight into training. You should always gradually increase distance and intensity, and with no plan, athletes can tend to increase too rapidly and risk injury and burnout.

REST WHEN YOU ARE TIRED

It is amazing how many "self-coached" athletes don't realize the importance of rest and recovery days. Sometimes, even coaches prescribe too much, which leads to over-training, injury and burnout.

Rest and recovery days are a vital part of a training plan, to allow muscles to repair, which will lead to improved performance in the end.

MAKE HARD DAYS HARD AND EASY DAYS EASY

When putting together training programs for the athletes I coach, I will not only put in a level of perceived exertion I want them to strive for but also many times put down pacing goals.

Overzealous athletes will tend to go hard whenever they feel good, making their easy days too hard, and because of that, the hard days are too easy.

This is what is referred to as the grey zone and can lead to prolonged fatigue and muscle breakdown, and it becomes a vicious cycle where the plan then can't be followed.

When you regularly include recovery days and easy days into training, then the workouts meant to push your fitness upward do just that.

Laying a good foundation for an upcoming race is crucial.

However, knowing how to prepare properly, with just the right amount of mileage and intensity, is equally important.

Backing off when needed early on is crucial in getting to the start line healthy and using the weeks and months prior to focused training to work on weaknesses is a great idea in preparing for the work load ahead.

Be wary of athletes who bait you with talk of their "mega-training."

Train safely and within your own limits. Smart training is the key to long-term racing success.