Sprint Distance - Intermediate Level 12-week, 1-Race Triathlon Training Plan
While most of the multisport awe and allure in North America is being directed towards the prolonged suffering of Ironman distance races, there is a simple elegance in triathlon that is being overlooked by the veteran masses on the continent—being fast.
This training plan is written to prepare you to become fast for one 'A' race in 12 weeks. While there is no international standard, the distances of sprint races are approximately 750meters swimming, 20k cycling and a 5k run. The plans I’ve written here are sufficient to prepare you even up to Olympic distance so don’t worry if your goal races are a bit longer than the distances I wrote above. If you are racing long and have more hours per week available, take a look at the Intermediate Olympic training plan, also on this site.
While the average of 7-8 training hours per week of this plan approaches those of the first timer’s half Ironman plan, keep in mind that there is a dramatic difference in training time for just finishing a race distance and being fast/competitive at that distance.
While this article lists specific daily workouts, I realize that every athlete has specific strengths, weaknesses, available hours, and other restrictions. Hopefully, you can adjust this plan to fit you well enough. If not, you might want to find a local coach to fit a plan to match your specifics.
The Big Picture
1. This preparation plan covers 12 weeks. It probably won’t fit your race calendar exactly, but it’s long enough that you should be able to adjust.
2. The concept of periodization is employed to first develop general endurance and “neuro speed” and then to progress into race-specific abilities. Most periods are 4 weeks long—3 weeks of increased training, then 1 week of recovery.
3. The plans includes 4-9 hours each week of training. Physical training comes from mostly short sessions but 5-6 days per week with 1-2 workouts per day. There are no secrets in these workouts, just consistent work and a few changeups to keep the training fresh and interesting.
4. No gym strength sessions are planned. I’ve reduced the hours per week for this plan to get the most out of the program. If you have extra hours to devote, then feel free to add strength training.
5. The Complete Athlete. Your race finish times depend on much more than just training. For each training period, I’ve included some initiatives in areas in addition to just the workouts:
Training: the workouts
Physical Health: nutrition, weight, body composition, fatigue, soreness, injuries
Mental Health: confidence, motivation, stress
Efficiency: flexibility, equipment setup, proper form
Race Prep: course knowledge, race day strategy, fueling, equipment
Since there’s no such thing as an optimal plan which fits everyone’s level of fitness and background, I’m going to have to make a few assumptions to create a plan that’s not too generalized. As you look through the workouts each week, make any adjustments in length or intensity to fit your needs. Here’s what I’ve based this plan on:
1. Some endurance experience. You may have just performed your first sprint distance last season or you may be taking a break from long distance racing but either way, you have some basic fitness in all 3 disciplines. The program is 12 weeks and picks up at an advanced base level. If you need to add more base weeks to the beginning, feel free. Also during the plan, reduce the length, intensity or both of individual workouts to fit your particular fitness level.
2. Maximized Potential. These plans are developed around racing fast. Racing fast takes more than just following a workout. Proper nutrition, rest, and focus on efficiency are some of the other factors involved in your final race time. You must be willing to improve these areas to complement your training hours.
The Period Overview
The chart below shows each period and concepts for each.
The 'Complete Athlete' Preparation
Racing: No racing planned for this period. Take some time though to think about any specific race goals you might have such as finish an A race in a certain time. Make changes to the training program to align yourself with these goals.
Training: This period picks up for most people in late winter/early spring and assumes you haven’t been on the couch since New Year’s. The workouts are predominantly endurance oriented but also include some taxing tempo sessions (below lactate threshold) and long hours.
Physical Health: Going fast means good fitness to weight ratio. This training plan will get you through the fitness part but you should plan your food intake with the same precision as your workouts. 99% of us (including myself) need to improve in this area.
Mental Health: Look back at your past races. Where can you improve in: race confidence? race arousal? daily training motivation? Incorporate this into your weekly planning.
Efficiency: Base periods have speed development for bike and run involving accelerations. This is practice for going fast with good form without being too taxing. Take full advantage of these accelerations to work towards being efficient in motion.
Training: We’ll do some hard above lactate threshold sessions for swimming and running as we get closer to race day. Most bike critical sessions will still be below threshold sessions but we’ll increase the length of the repeats.
On your shorter runs, try running without socks and see if your feet are still happy. Shoe stitching and individual foot structures will determine if you can go sockless. Don’t try this for the first time on race day…
Physical Health: Watch for overuse injuries. You’ve come a long way in terms of new stressors in the past weeks. Stretch properly and often and take time off if necessary. Running offroad is great for saving your legs any time of year and even better during the higher intensity sessions of the Build period.
Mental Health: If you’ve been racing in the past ‘just to finish’ or ‘going long,’ begin to think of yourself as a speed demon. Watch Olympic triathlon or 10k videos. Watch people suffering to go fast. Going short and fast takes a completely different mindset of just finishing a short or long race. Begin to have the mindset that you can not only finish but attack and push yourself to a point of being beyond uncomfortable. Carry this mindset to your higher intensity workouts and of course to race day.
Efficiency: Make sure that you don’t lose form when increasing the intensity of your swim sessions. If you feel yourself getting sloppy just to make a repeat time or an RPE level, back off or call it a day.
Racing Prep: Swim - if your swim is strong, get to the front where you’ll have clean water and not waste energy swatting other people. If weather permits, wear your swim gear the whole race without changing. Lots of time saved at this distance since comfort isn’t as much of an issue as long distance events.
Bike - use fueling lessons from your B and C races to make a plan now. You don’t need to pack a lunch for this distance but make sure you won’t run out of gas at the start of the run either.
Run - push, push, push. Nothing complicated here. Remember that good form you worked on with the accelerations during the Base periods.
Training: We’re going to drastically reduce the volume, but keep the same number of sessions and intensity. The goal is to be well-rested and ‘springy’ on race day.
Physical Health: Go easy on the calories these last weeks since you’ll be working out considerably less. .
Otherwise, do nothing to jeopardize getting injured—no new workout types, no massage if you haven’t done it previously, etc.
Mental Health: Confidence! You didn’t train all these weeks just to be a wallflower competitor come race day. It is a race and you should feel competitive and ready to push yourself—otherwise you could have just covered the distance in a training day.
Efficiency: Your sessions in these last 2 weeks should be especially focused on efficient movement.
|RPE||Description||Bike HR||Run HR|
|0||Complete Rest||Resting HR=||Resting HR=|
| || |
strong walk, very slow run, easy conversation pace
| || |
easy run, begin to sweat, but can hold conversation throughout
| || |
still easy, sweating a bit more
| || |
|5|| || || |
|6|| || || |
breathing very labored, but can still maintain pace for some minutes without slowing.
| || |
|8|| || || |
|9||Cannot hold effort for more than a minute or two|| || |
|10||Extremely Strong |
| || |
|*|| ||Max. Bike HR=||Max. Run HR=|