Maintaining some high-intensity triathlon training is essential when you’re stepping up in distance. Here’s why intensity boosts endurance.
Whether your long-course triathlon goal is a 100km PTO race, 70.3 or Ironman, moving up to longer events can create a ‘train for the distance’ mentality – but maintaining some high-intensity work is essential to avoid adopting a single long and slow speed.
It’s easy to fall into one-pace training, especially when upping the distance for the first time. We look at the distance and then become fixated on building the endurance needed to complete the event.
While that might indeed get you to the finish line, you’re unlikely to see gains in speed through long, steady workouts. If you want to get faster, you’ll need to include intensity.
In fact, building endurance is the easy part of the puzzle – working at submaximal intensities for long miles recruits those slow-twitch muscle fibres that allow you to ride and run for big chunks of time with minimal fatigue. But for your best performance, even endurance-focused rides, runs or swims should be built on a foundation of speed.
This is because training at high intensity – just below, at and above lactate threshold – improves your body’s ability to process lactate. That means your body can cope with you going harder for longer.
This kind of training increases your pure power, which is essential for tackling steep hills or overtaking on the bike. As a consequence, it also increases your maximum sustainable pace.
That’s why athletes who progress through race distances, doing the higher intensity work needed to be successful, are usually better able to carry more of their speed with them when going longer.
How To Train To Clear Lactate For Better Endurance Speed
So, what sort of sessions are we talking about to move the needle of clearing lactate better? As a rough rule of thumb, it’s a focus on repetitions where your RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) builds up to as much as 10 out of 10. To ensure you’re not overdoing it, recoveries should at least match the length of the interval.
In the pool, this could be all-out 100 or 150m efforts, building up to speed through the first length, then maxing out for the rest. Don’t forget to maintain a focus on good swimming technique even when you’re going full gas.
It’s similar on the bike, where at least one session per week should include higher intensity efforts. Having a power meter really helps here, and anything between 86-120% of your FTP will help in creating and clearing lactate.
When running, forget pace or heart rate and stick to RPE. As an example, build for the first 30 seconds, then hit it hard for 90 seconds before a 2min easy recovery. As with all high-intensity work, listen to your body and don’t ignore injury niggles!
So, say goodbye to a one-pace mentality and incorporate some faster efforts into your training. You’ll soon be a more powerful, faster athlete who’s better able to handle demanding courses and recover at endurance intensities.