Getting Razor Sharp: Periodization

Time to sharpen your training to be ready for your next triathlon.

Haven’t been as diligent in your training the last few weeks? Have you been thinking that the season was still far in the future, with plenty of time to prepare? Time’s up.

But don’t worry, what’s past is past. Let’s focus on getting you ready for that summer triathlon. And the good news is that there’s plenty of daylight and great weather ahead to allow great workouts.

First, let’s talk about how you’ll approach your training in the next eight weeks. Next, I’ll describe suggested week-by-week training volumes. Finally, I’ll provide some suggested workouts to slot into your schedule.


I’ve found the best way to ramp training is in four week periods, with each week increasing in time and volume. This concept is called periodization. It allows you to concentrate only on the four-week block, and allows the body to acclimatize to increasing levels of training.

Week 1: the lowest volume week in terms of time and distance. Your workouts can blend distance, intervals, hills and recovery, but you should feel like you could be training more. Don’t worry, you will soon.

Week 2: you’ll add up to two hours to the week one volume. You’ll take your workouts a little longer. That long run may be 30 minutes longer, that long ride might add an hour. Also you want to increase the intensity over the longer workouts.

Week 3: add another hour or two. Start focusing on not just covering more distance in more time, but these workouts should be completed with attention paid to speed. You almost want to be racing several of these workouts. The distances should begin approximating the distance you’ll experience in your triathlon, e.g., 25 mile bike rides if you’re preparing for an Olympic Distance race.

Week 4: your peak week. Add another hour or two, this time combining workouts. Do a 25 mile ride followed by an easy 5k run to practice what you’ll experience in a race. Or swim, then hop on your bike. You’re going long and simulating race conditions.

After week 4, return to week 1, which will serve as a recovery week.

Finding the Time

We all have real lives, families, jobs, and commitments that challenge our training aspirations. It can be hard to find the time to train as much as we want.

The good news is that during summer months, sunrises that approach 5am will allow you to find an early morning hour or two to train without interfering with everything else. I tend to do three or four of these early morning workouts, then one long effort, usually a training ride, on the weekend.

I train for Ironman triathlons, but you can compete in Sprint or Olympic Distance triathlons on as little as half the time. The more time you train, the faster you can be. And the more you can transition the workouts toward speed, the better off you’ll be.


During this part of the training season, start narrowing your training to core routes and distances that can be timed, repeated and compared. You want to see improvement in these routes, so track the results of each workout: time, distance and even heart rate. You want to see more distance in less time, less time for lower heart rate. All are signs you’re improving.

For early mornings, I have two set bike routes – a 25 miler and a 34 miler – and I want to be faster each time I ride them. Sometimes it doesn’t happen, and that’s fine. But the point is, have clearly set bike training routes, and focus on improvement.

Also, pick well-measured run distances that you know well. I have a 10k, 8.5 mile, 13.1 mile loops. Find the three that work for you, and repeat, recognizing your improvement each time.

A favorite two hour early morning summer workout is what I call a ‘speed brick’: I ride 25 miles as fast as I can, really pushing it, then jump off the bike and run 6.2 miles, also gunning it. It’s work, but highly satisfying to finish it all in less than two hours, before the work day is done. These speed bricks have made me a better triathlete, they can do the same for you.

Have Fun

Most important, while you’re out there training, have fun. Enjoy the great weather, enjoy your improving fitness and health, enjoy being more ready than ever for your next race.