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6 Key Workouts to Prepare for a Full-Distance Triathlon

BY Lance Watson

Training for a full-distance triathlon is both exciting and daunting. Here are six key swim, bike, and run workouts that will get you prepared.

Last month I wrote about preparing for the first race of the season and some of the goals you should have. One of those goals was developing “racecraft” – the art of being totally ready for the event and everything that may occur. This will include practicing nutrition during key workouts and race course reconnaissance to arriving at the start line with a fully engaged mental attitude. The majority of the article focussed on developing a strategy for choosing and dealing with this initial event.

Another key component when training for a goal race is using event specific workouts to bring your body and mind to a perfect state of readiness for the day. In regards to the body, this is the actual physical preparation that allows you to tackle the terrain and competitors at a level that matches your goals. For the mind, this is referring to replicating the feelings and sensations that go with the elevated level of exertion that one can expect to maintain for the duration of the race. In order to do this, you must previously execute workouts to your satisfaction and to a level that brings you confidence for race day performance.

The final seven weeks before an event are what I call the Competition Phase. During this time, workouts can be broken into two distinct categories. From seven to three weeks out, the focus is on over-distance training on race specific terrain with the inclusion of slightly higher periods of intensity. These are workouts that simulate all or part of a long distance race. From two to one week out is the final taper.

Race Intensity Workouts- Seven to Three Weeks Out


The goal of this workout is to nail the race swim pace/effort. Getting into a rhythm and settling in at a slightly harder effort than race day.

Warm Up: 200 choice, 3 x 300 (100 Free, 100 Drill, 100 Kick); 4 x 50 as 15 fast/35 easy.

Main Set: 5 x 200 with 30” rest at 2-3 seconds faster per 100m than goal Half Ironman pace; 200 easy; 12 x 50 with 20” rest as 25 fast/25 easy.

Cool Down: 2x [100 Kick; 100 non-Free]

Bike/Brick for Half-Distance 3:00 to 3:30 hours

Many athletes often expect to race the bike at an intensity or power greater than what they have been doing in training. Having longer rides broken up by intervals of slightly higher than race pace follows the practice of overload and recovery, resulting in improved bike conditioning in manageable amounts and is a motivating factor to work harder.

Warm Up: 60 minutes gradually building to Ironman pace effort.

Main Set: 2-3 x 20 minutes at 88-95% of lactate threshold (LT) in the aero position as much as possible on goal race terrain. 30′ easy recovery. Finish with 6 x 3’ with 4’ recovery at a low cadence at 90% of threshold on a moderate grade. Ride the last 10′ at 85% of your LT before brick run.

Run off the bike 40-45 minutes Zone 2-3


This is a great workout to execute after a bike. It conditions the run legs to get used to quick turnover. Focussing on technical cues will help set up a successful session.

Warm Up: 20’ easy run or 60 minute easy bike; 6 strides at 70m.

Main Set: Track, treadmill (1% grade) or measured flat surface: 10 x 800m at 10k race pace with 1:30 rest between.

Cool Down: to 90′

Taper Workouts- The Final Two Weeks

In the final two weeks of long distance race preparation, for many athletes following a well-designed schedule, this is the final taper and there is little to do, in terms of physical workouts that will increase your fitness. There is however, the tendency to cram some extra volume. This can often cause you to arrive at race day tried, overtrained and therefore, less than optimal form. The goal of race prep taper workouts is to have them sharpen you for race day, so they should simulate something that will happen during the event. And they should be shorter duration but higher intensity.


This swim set mimics a pre-race warm up and the various scenarios during the swim portion of a triathlon: start speed, settling into rhythm, maintaining focus in the third quarter and bringing the legs into the swim prior to exiting the water.

Main Set: 4x 100 as 50 fast, 50 cruise to simulate race starts,  2 x 200, 400, 2 x 200 as negative split, 4x 100 as 50 cruise, 50 over kick to simulate the final push to swim exit.


Short but intense intervals in the penultimate week keep the cardiovascular system activated without allowing detraining to begin due to lower overall volume. Higher intensity keeps the body and mind sharp.

Warm Up: 20 minutes easy; 4 x 1 minute higher cadence efforts with 1’ recovery between and gradually build from 1-4; 5′ easy.

Main Set: 6 x 2′ at 85-95 rpm, at 92-95 percent LT (2′ recovery at 90rpm).

Cool Down: to 90 minutes


Early in the final week a tempo run reinforces the mental and physical sensations to be experienced on race day without depleting recovery for the event.

Warm Up: 15 minute easy jog; 4 x 30 second pick-ups to 10k pace; 1′ easy.

Main Set: 10 minutes at 15” per mile faster than goal race pace

Cool Down: to 30 – 40 minutes.

Having appropriate race specific workouts for an upcoming event will allow you to prepare your mind and body as best as possible. On race day you can let the day unfold without worrying if there was anything more you could do.

Thanks to LifeSport Senior Coach Dan Smith for his contribution to this article.

Full Distance Triathlon Training Guide Thumbnail

The Ultimate Full-Distance Training Guide

Training Guide

This guide is designed to be used as you train for a full-distance triathlon, with in-depth information on every part of the process. Each chapter is packed with tips, workouts, and insights from triathlon coaches, to give you all the tools you need to succeed.

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About Lance Watson

Lance Watson, LifeSport head coach, has trained many Ironman, Olympic and age-group Champions over the past 30 years. He enjoys coaching athletes of all levels. 

Contact Coach@LifeSportCoaching.com to tackle your first IRONMAN or to perform at a higher level.

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