How Should I Train for My First Olympic-Distance Triathlon?

This training plan combines easier effort swimming and cycling workouts and runs of all intensities.

Tom asks: I’ve been running and racing for several years, and I’m contemplating training for an Olympic-distance triathlon in addition to several running races. How can I work toward a tri without losing running fitness?

As you prepare for your tri, you will not only be able to maintain your running fitness – you may find you enjoy the balance that comes with multisport training. Although you have to weave three different types of exercise into your routine, you can do so with a little creative planning. Here’s a runner’s guide for training for an Olympic tri:

Training Volume

Olympic tris include a 1.5K swim, a 40K bike, and 10K run. Each week, you should spend 20 to 25 per cent of your training time swimming, 40 to 50 per cent cycling, and 20 to 25 per cent running, as this is about the ratio you’ll expect on race day. Since your goals are to simply finish the tri and to race your running races, you can adjust the ratio to include slightly less swimming and cycling and slightly more running. To finish comfortably, you want to build up to about 70 per cent of the race distance for each leg in your training—so 0.96km of swimming, 28.8km of cycling, and 7.2km of running.

Skills Training

It is wise to invest adequate time in learning fundamental cycling and swimming skills. Although this requires patience, it will translate to better performance and a lower risk of injury. A great way to start swimming is to schedule a session or two with a swim instructor and ask them for form drills and workouts that are based on your swim fitness and skill level. Although many runners know how to ride a bike, cycling with a local bike club, store, or tri group can provide training intel for race day. You will maximise your cycling performance by getting your bike fitted and tuned up at a local bike shop and learning how to use the gearing.

Training Intensity

Because this is new for your body, it is important to focus on developing a foundation of fitness by training at an easy-to-moderate effort (Zone 2 to 3 if you use heart rate) for both your swimming and cycling workouts. This will balance the training stress on your body and develop muscle memory and sport-specific fitness. It will also allow you to continue to run hard and long to maintain your running fitness.

Training Plan

Now that you have a big-picture view of the training focus, you can put together a plan with workouts that allow you to train to your weak spots (swimming and cycling) while maintaining your strengths (running).

Allow for at least 12 weeks of training and follow this weekly structure:
Frequency: two swims, two to three bike rides, and three to four runs
Intensity: easy-effort swims; easy- to moderate-effort rides; and easy-, moderate-, and hard-effort runs
Volume: 0.4 to 0.96km swims, 16 to 28km rides, and 5 to 6km runs

Start out at the lower end of the suggested training volume for swimming and cycling and slowly build by no more than 10 per cent weekly. Let your body be your guide.

The following is a sample of the first and second weeks of training. You can continue to rotate between these two weeks, building your swim and bike volume as the season progresses and your body adapts.

Week A (one rest day, two swims, two rides, and four runs)
Monday Rest
Tuesday Combo workout: Ride 30 minutes at easy effort, run 30 minutes at easy effort (As you progress through the training cycle, maintain workout time but build running intensity to moderate gradually.)
Wednesday Run 40 to 60 minutes, tempo or hill workout
Thursday Swim 20 to 30 minutes at easy effort (Progression: Start at 20 minutes, build to 30 minutes.)
Friday Run 45 to 60 minutes at easy effort
Saturday Swim 20 to 30 minutes at easy effort (Progression: Start at 20 minutes, build to 30 minutes.)
Sunday Race simulation: Swim 0.4km, ride 13kms, run 5km (Progression: Build by no more than 10 per cent weekly to 0.96km, 28km, and 10km two weeks before the race.)

Week B (one rest day, two swims, two rides, and three runs)
Monday Rest
Tuesday Two separate workouts: Swim 20 to 30 minutes at easy effort/Run 30 to 45 minutes, interval workout
Wednesday Ride 30 to 60 minutes at easy to moderate effort (Progression: Start at 30 minutes, build to 60 minutes.)
Thursday Run 45 min at easy effort OR tempo or hill workout
Friday Swim 20 to 30 minutes at easy effort (Progression: Start at 20 minutes, build to 30 minutes.)
Saturday Ride 16 to 28km at easy effort (Progression: Start at 16km, build to 28km.)
Sunday Run 10 to 16km at easy effort (Rotate between 10 to 13km runs and 14 to 16km runs.)

Train to Specificity

The combo and race simulation (brick) workouts help prepare you to swim, bike, and run, all in one workout. The long runs will maintain your endurance for your running races. Most new triathletes start swimming inside to develop their skills and progress to outdoor swims before race day – they are vastly different. From there, get to know your bike, learn how to set up for a transition, and you should be ready to race!


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