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Crash Training in Triathlon

Francois Modave 


So the weather was bad, you had work commitments, family duties, you were sick, or just too lazy (hey, this happens to everyone!). Now, you have a key race coming in 4 weeks and you are wondering: What am I going to do?? What should I work? Shall I focus on my weaknesses, shall I concentrate on swimming to build some fitness? Or should I try big mileage for 3 weeks, recover the last week and see what happens?
I am not pretending to give an answer for everyone here. We all have different backgrounds. An example would be super aussie fish John van Wisse who could simply forget about the swim for 4 weeks and focus on the bike and run, because with 1 swim a week he would probably lead the way in any race in the water after years of swimming 100km or more a week.
To set ideas, let us consider a triathlete who has been racing for a couple of years with no specific background in each leg before these 2 years, and who has not been able to train as he/she wanted, and therefore, does not have what is commonly called "a solid base", who has not done any intensity sessions (whatever intensity means here), and is racing an important race in 4 weeks,
besides, he/she as a maximum of 14h per week to train. This race can be any distance between a sprint to a half Ironman (although some of you may want
to see something about IM crash training with IMUSA coming soon, I have deliberately not considered it as a crash training for an IM may put excessive stress on your body, is very background-related, and all things considered, if you are racing an IM in 4 weeks and are way behind schedule, it would
be wiser to race somewhere else).


I believe that in most cases, your training needs to be specific to your racing. This is even more the case when crash training. Therefore, you will need to work every discipline and not rely on one to build fitness in the others. Although, working one leg improves the others from a cardio-vascular point of view, it does not have any effect from a muscular point of view, hence the importance of being specific. Second, you will need to put the emphasize on race pace. This seems a bit contradictory as traditionally, you are expected to build a base before doing any speed work. But, we only consider a short period of time here, and 4 weeks of intensity on little base is not likely to increase the risk of
injuries as long as it is well organized. But, you should not rely on this approach for every race....


It is pretty simple. To improve your threshold, you need to run at threshold, to improve your vo2max, you need to run at vo2max, etc...Here, you will not have time to work as specifically as this and you will need to focus on the sessions that improve as many parameters as possible. These sessions are the Vo2max sessions that improve, your speed at vo2max, your maximal time you can stay at this speed, your lactate threshold, your economy, and your aerobic capacity.
Of course, you need to assess these speed and you have little time. But there are some field tests that can give a pretty good estimation of these vVo2max (velocity at Vo2max).
-a 200m maximal effort to a 400m in swimming (200m for a novice swimmer, 400m for a very good swimmer, it should be close to 4')
-a 2 to 4km TT in cycling (again depending on cycling ability, test should be about 4')
-a 1200m to 2km TT in running (test should be about 6')
So, the first week of your crash training cycle should be test-oriented. It will still give you a very solid vo2max workout. (see the quest for speed for more details).

Crash Training for Sprint Distance and Olympic Distance  

   week 4-10h30' week 3-11h45' week 2 - 12h15' race week-8h+R
monday swim:20x100m aerobic
ride:1h easy with
4x3' high rpm
swim:12x200 aerobic
ride:1h easy with
3x4' high rpm
swim:6x500m aerobic
ride:1h easy with
3x5' high rpm
swim:2500m with 15x100m@race pace
ride:1h easy
tuesday ride: 1h20' with Vo2max test
run: 30' aerobic
ride:1h30' with 4x1km@vo2 R:500m run 20' off bike first 5' race pace ride:1h30' with 5x1km@vo2 R:500m run 30' off
the bike first 10'
at race pace
brick:1h30'-30' with 4x(5km-1km)
at race pace
wednesday run: 50' aerobic run: 1h aerobic run:1h10' aerobic swim:2500m aerobic
thursday swim:2500m aerobic with vo2max test swim:2500m with
6x50m@vo2 - 300m aerobic
-6x50m @vo2
swim:2500m as previous week with 8x50m  run:50'-1h aerobic
friday run:40' with vo2max test run: 45' with 2x(6x30''@vo2
30'' jog) R:5'
run:45' with 4x1km@vo2 R:3' bike: 1h20' with 3x3km race pace
run 30' off the bike
with 4x1' race pace
saturday brick:1h20-20' with 2x4km race pace and first 5' race pace (run) brick:1h30'-30' with3x5km race pace and first 8' race pace brick: 1h40'-40' with 4x5km and 10' race pace swim:30' open water easy
sunday ride: 2h aerobic
swim:30' open water and 4x1' race pace
ride:2h30 aerobic
swim:40' open
water with 4x2'
race pace
ride:3h aerobic
swim:40' open water with 5x2' race pace

Crash Training for Half Ironman

Here, the "volume" starts a bit higher, as we expect the athlete to go into a crash training cycle for a Half IM to have a slightly deeper fitness  

  week 4-12h  week 3-13h20' week 2-14h10' race week-10h
monday ride: 1h20' with vo2 test
run:20' easy off the bike first 5' rp
ride: 1h30' with 3x1500m vo2
run:30'easy off the
bike first 10' rp
ride:1h40' with 3x2km@vo2
run:40' easy off the bike, first 15' rp
same as OD
tuesday run: 40' with vo2 test run: 45' with 2x8x30'' vo2-30'' jog)R:5' run: 50' with 2x10x30'' vo2-30'' jog R:5' same as OD but at OD pace last 2reps
wednesday swim:2500m with vo2 test swim:as thurs, previous table swim: as thurs, previous table same as OD
thursday ride:1h20' aerobic with 3x2km strength 
run:1h aerobic
ride:1h30' aerobic with 3x3km strength into
run:1h20' aerobic
ride:1h45' aerobic with 3x4km strength into
run:1h30' aerobic
ride:1h30' aerobic
last 15' rp into
run:45' aerobic with 20' race pace
friday swim:2500m with
8x200m aerobic to tempo
swim: 2500m with
2x3x200m descending to tempo
swim:3000m with
20x100m (15 aerobic,5 tempo)
saturday brick:2h-45' with
3x5km and 2km race pace
brick:2h15'-50' with 3x10km and 3km race pace brick:2h30'-1h with 4x10km and 5km race pace brick:1h-30' with 4x1' race pace
sunday ride:2h30' aerobic
swim:30' open water and 4x1'rp
ride:3h aerobic
swim:40' open water and 5x2' rp
ride:3h30' aerobic
swim:40' open water and 4x3'rp


  • for both programs, there is hardly any taper. Indeed, there is not much to taper on.

  • for vo2max sessions, the time of effort is the same as the recovery time

  • do the brick as specific as you can. minimal time in transition.

  • if you race in wetsuit, do the open water swim with a wetsuit as well

  • strength session on the bike: effort climbing on a big gear, seated rpm~60-70

Once this is finished, have some rest, as there is a lot of intensity here on little base, then choose your next race in order to have time to build a base before. Do not rely on this approach for every race as on the long term it would lead to injuries.

Happy Training/Happy Racing!

Francois Modave


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