In 2017 the word “sustainable” was added next to “affordable & accessible” in the California Triathlon mission statement. Our definition of sustainable is approximately 6-8 hours per week of endurance training, which is a convenient volume for sprint and Olympic distance races and a nice base for the occasional 70.3 mile distance. It provides the prolonged benefits of a healthy and active lifestyle without the downside of injury or burnout versus a 140.6 Ironman distance. This isn’t one size fits all advice but it is applicable to an overwhelming percentage of triathletes, especially new triathletes.
LONG COURSE BUCKET LIST
After one or two seasons of training and racing short course, many athletes, including myself, were seduced by the 140.6 Ironman distance bucket list. Articles like Active’s “Be Competitive on Just 10 Hours a Week” offers a low volume path to not only finishing, but being competitive. A few weeks after posting race registration confirmation on their Facebook profiles, 40% of athletes start reaching out to coaches; reality sets in and they want to avoid the dreaded DNS [Did Not Start] or DNF [Did Not Finish].
THE “FURTHER IS BETTER” MYTH
If 140.6 miles is good, than even further is better, right? Do you know Vidmantas Urbonas and Sylvia Andonie? Probably not. They are listed as the current men’s and women’s world record holders for the Double Deca Ironman or 20x Ironman distance, which includes 47 miles of swimming, 2,200 miles of biking and 524 miles of mostly walking. They averaged over 540 hours to complete that distance. It should give everyone solace to know that the human body –or at least a couple human bodies – can do 20x the Ironman distance.
The coaching industry may disagree because their bottom line, but I stopped recommending the 140.6 mile distance. Too many of my teammates put it on their bucket list and then dramatically decreased their participation or quit the sport of triathlon altogether mainly due to burnout or chronic injuries. In 2017, 25-30% of 140.6 Ironman branded registrants in North America either DNS or DNF their race. Ironman has been steadily decreasing the number of 140.6 races and replacing them with 70.3 races that are flatter, faster and more achievable.
Assuming no time or financial constraints, what is the tougher challenge? Completing 140.6 every week for a year or taking 10 minutes off your Olympic PR? It goes back to the decision to go long or go fast. If you have been doing this sport for a while, you realize that marginal improvements are hard fought and finding 5-10 minutes on an Olympic course is daunting. As we get older that becomes even more of a challenge. My final advice is try to maintain and build speed for as long as you can and find an equilibrium in your training life balance that allows you to compete in triathlon for a lifetime.
California Triathlon is a 501(c)(3) charity that provides a premium no-fee membership to over 4,500 athletes worldwide. Our mission is to make the sport of triathlon affordable, accessible & sustainable by providing the resources, coaching and support needed for athletes to accomplish their goals.