Marathon and Triathlon Training Time: Averages and Details

By Raymond Britt --  How much  training time/hours per week should you plan too dedicate when you train for a marathon, triathlon or Ironman Triathlon?  The short answer, from the previous article -- Marathon and Triathlon Training Time: Overview -- is: over the course of a year, you can train an average of one hour per day and still race well.  But, of course, there is a little more to the story. Averages are averages, You want to know:  how much time does it really take, week by week, during different stages of the year?

My typical training time is often less than an hour per day January through April, and the same for the late October through December. This is due to two main factors: the lack of impending races, and shorter days.  In the actual season example above, I raced in New Zealand in March, so I added extra hours for long indoor rides.

From May through September, when I’m a competitive racer – and by that I mean running like a Boston Marathon Qualifier and preparing for the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii – I can average more than an hour of training per day.

Nearly all the extra time I find for training is still what I call ‘transparent’. As the sun rises earlier in summer days, so do I, taking each extra minute of daylight and translating that to additional training time. I still am at the breakfast table with the family, am at work on time, and carry on my day as any other non-triathlete would.

Long weekend training efforts follow the same principle: start the long ride at 4:30 am on a summer morning, and I can be home from a 100 mile run before 10am. Plenty of time to get my daughter to soccer, and to even handle snack duty at halftime.

Prove It

Of course, you want some more specifics. Happy to share. Remember, I have tracked every minute of training for years. (Not a bad idea for you, either. It’s simple – just start a spreadsheet, or use the template on my website)

In a typical year, up until the Boston Marathon in mid-April, I will spend more time running, and cross-train biking and swimming. So far this year, my mix has been 62% run, 23% bike, and 15% swim.

I’m averaging just over six hours per week in 2007, with my longest training week, which included a 26.2 mile training marathon, just topping nine hours. Two other weeks had eight weeks of training, and the rest were seven hours or less.

This degree of training has put me in shape to run Boston reasonably well. Then the mix will change and triathlon training will pick up.

Triathlon Training Season: May through September

These are the months where my training hours will increase as I prepare for three main triathlons: Ironman USA Lake Placid in July, Chicago Triathlon in August, and Ironman Wisconsin in September.

My training mix will shift to 60% biking, 25% running and 15% swimming. My average training hours per week will increase to about 10 hours, but about every four weeks will reach 12 or 13 hours.

But let’s break those really long weeks down. They are really more manageable than meets the eye. My typical 13 hour training week -- remember, this is about as intense as it gets -- will look like this:

Sunday: 13 mile training run, 6:00am to 7:30am
Monday: 25 mile ride, 6:00am to 7:15am
Tuesday: 1 mile swim, 6:30am to 7:00am
Wednesday: 40 mile ride (fast), 6 mile run, 4:45 am to 7:30am
Thursday: 9 mile run 6:00am to 7:15am
Friday: off or 1 mile swim, 6:30am to 7:00am
Saturday: 100 mile ride, 4:30am to 9:15am then kids soccer and snack duty

Totals: 12.5 hours, 2 miles swim, 165 miles bike, 28 miles run. All done early, all bringing me to home and work without compromise to my real life for the rest of the day.

If I ever get the itch to train a little longer in a long week, but still want to keep my priorities in order, I’ll swap a mid-week swim for a 40 mile bike ride, or I’ll change the Sunday long-ish run to a 50 mile ride and a 6 mile run, starting at 4:30am.

Remember, the above example is the most I’d train in a given summer week. For every long week like that, there’s a much shorter week to counter balance it in four week training cycle called Periodization. Each week builds upon the previous one, and after the fourth week, repeat. For example: 5, 7, 9, 11 hour training weeks in the four week cycle in summer.

Be smart with your time. Get more out of less. Your body, your boss and your family will thank you.

For more, see How to Train for Triathlon