In this guest post, professional triathlete Jesse Thomas shares his training and lessons learned in the weeks leading up to the Half Ironman World Championships.
On Aug 3rd, I finished my 6th triathlon (4 Halfs, 2 Olympic) in 8 weeks. I don’t normally act like an idiot and race that often. And I certainly wouldn’t recommend racing that much, or being an idiot. But between two foot surgeries, a couple of shoulder separations, and a bone head missed turn in a race, I was forced to do a late season scramble for points to qualify for the 70.3 (Half Ironman) World Championships.
It’s pretty easy to see where I made a wrong turn.
And technically, the scramble worked — by which I mean I qualified for Worlds. But when I flew home that night on Aug 3rd, I was ridiculously tired and had my fair share of nagging injuries. The scramble had clearly taken it’s toll. I had just five weeks at home to rest, recover, and prepare myself for the biggest race of my life. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure I could do it.
Below is the full detailed training log of what I did during that final block, along with some summaries and takeaways.
Week By Week Summary:
Week 1 — Easy/recovery build to solid stuff.
Aug 4-10: 19.5 hrs, 20k swim, 207mi ride, 30mi run (on 6 days).
I start with Monday completely off and the next three days have some moderate volume, but intensity is VERY low. Then on Friday, BAM! I have one of my biggest & best days of the block — a solid climbing interval session on the road bike followed by a big hilly interval run. Saturday & Sunday are mostly endurance, with an interval lake swim (5th of the week) to finish it off.
Week 2 — Biggest overall workload, run focus.
Aug 11-17: 25 hrs, 24k swim, 260mi ride, 38mi run
Feeling re-energized, I’m back at it hard. I have my biggest volume week — combined with the last 3 days of the prior week is 36 hours in 10 days! The focus was running, including a 19 mile double-run day and a 2×20 tempo. Swim and bike sessions also had lots of volume, but only a couple of swims had intensity.
Week 3 — Key sessions across all three disciplines.
Aug 18-24: 17hrs, 26k swim, 154mi ride, 25mi run
The workload this week shifted from running to swimming as (maybe not surprisingly) my hamstring flared up from the runs on the previous week. I had three key swim sessions (12×200 in the lake and 11×200 & 2x20x50 in the pool), and my largest swim volume. There was some balance — with a key run session, and my first time back on the TT bike (6×10 min).
Week 4 (Aug 25-31) — Two weeks away, backing off.
16hrs, 19k swim, 170mi bike, 15mi run
I’m now less than two weeks from race day, so the hay is in the barn! This week starts with 3 super easy recovery days. Then even my key sessions are reduced in length of intensity. The point of anything this week is to stay sharp and neurologically familiar with race pace, but not to build fitness.
Week 5 (Sep 1-7) — Travel & Race Week
14hrs, 15k swim, 150mi bike, 28mi run (on 6 days, including race day)
I took Monday off as it was a full travel day from Bend. Tuesday was an easy acclimation day. Then did my final “work” on Wednesday and Thursday with one interval session each of swim, bike, and run across those two days. Friday is almost nothing and Saturday is a short dose of each discipline with a few light builds. Sunday….RACE!
Summary Stats (Nerd Alert!):
5 Week Totals:
92 hours of training (14-25 hrs/week)
- Swim: 25 hrs, 104k yards, 4-6 session a week
- Bike: 45 hrs, 950 mi, 4-6 sessions a week
- Run: 14 hrs, 136 mi, 2-4 session a week
Days off (no exercise) — Two. My only travel days — the day after I flew back from NY, and the day I fly to World’s, both cross country flights.
- Swim — Across Elk Lake doing a 12×200 meter-ish intervals. It was a beautiful day, I felt good, and I got to swim across a lake, booyah!
- Bike — 2x(12, 10, 8, 6, 4) on my road bike (Tarmac) up in the mountains. Felt awesome, great power output, beautiful scenery. Same deal, can’t beat it.
- Run — 4x hilly 8min at race pace. It was raining, I was tired from a run and swim that morning, but I kept on it, and and had the best run workout of my season, though it may have cost me with a sore hamstring for a few days after….
Least Favorite Workouts:
- Swim — 11×200 in the pool. I was solo. I was tired. It was hard. The pool is never my favorite place and this workout was tough mentally & physically.
- Bike — Long, easy, and honestly kind of boring. I really shouldn’t complain, it was beautiful scenery, but when you’re supposed to ride 4 hours REALLY easy by yourself in the middle of a big training block, it gets boring.
- Run — I need to eat more (long run). I was SUPER beat, and remember feeling like I was going to fall over. Considering I’m the CEO, it’s unacceptable that I didn’t have a Picky Bar with me.
A Few Takeaways:
Adaptation — I never had more than 5 days planned in advance, and when I had to adapt (hamstring, fatigue), I changed workouts or skipped them all together. Yes, I wanted to be as fit as possible, but like I’ve said before, you can’t race fast if you can’t race.
Lots of open water swims — Open water racing is such a different animal (sighting, swimming in packs, wetsuits, etc) than pool swimming, so these sessions are key to be at your best. I did 15 open water (lake & even river) swims in 5 weeks.
Using the road bike — I race on a triathlon bike (Specialized Shiv), but I rode every non-interval day (and even a few interval days) on my road bike. This was partly due to a sciatic issue that developed from so much racing in the aero position, but I like to switch up my riding position regularly during the year to augment my pedal stroke and work some different muscles.
Hard days are HARD and Easy days are EASY — the biggest takeaway from this block of training. During the “pointy end” of the season, extra volume & mid aerobic work is secondary to race simulation training. I oscillated between very hard sessions and very easy sessions. The key was to limit my time in the middle, making sure I had great workouts, and that I was properly recovering from them.
Easy days are easy…and fun
I finished 12th at World Championships, and was the 2nd American. If I’m totally honest, I had hopes and dreams of a top 5…but it was my best Worlds result ever, and I raced well and gave it all I had on the day. I had a solid swim, and came out with the second pack. I matched my Half Ironman power PR and rode 3 minutes faster than I did when I won on this course in June. My half marathon run wasn’t what I hoped it would be. I’ve run as fast as 1:10 (1:11-1:12 consistently), but only managed a 1:15 on the day. I’m sure it was partly due to fatigue from a hard ride, but I also think between early season foot injuries, lots of racing, and that hamstring soreness in my final prep, I just wasn’t physically ready to replicate the run splits I’ve had in the past.
Overall, it was maybe the most solid block of training I’ve ever done across all three disciplines. I adapted and did the best I could with the hand I was dealt, so I’m happy with the result!
Let me know what you guys think and how it does or doesn’t relate to your own training. I hope that it answers some of the questions I get about my training, and that you guys can use some of the takeaways and examples in your own training as well. I’ll do my best to answer any questions you throw at me via the comments below.