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How Much Training Will You Need?

By Steve Jonas | June 10, 2013, 12 a.m. (ET)

Is multisport racing for everyone? Are the real triathletes only those who go fast and train for at least 15 hours per week?  Well, some of the participants in our sport seem to think so. One once defined a "triathloid," as "a bozo who prefers to survive, rather than train for, triathlons." For this "expert," training began at 6 hours per week, going up to 22-25, for an Olympic-distance triathlon. The "Olympic," so named because it covers the distances  of the triathlon variant run in the Olympics, is comprised of a 1.5 kilometer (almost 1 mile) swim, a 40k (almost 25 mile) bike, and a 10k (6.2 mile) run.

Another "expert" told us that you would need to swim a minimum of 3-4 hours per week and bike every day while learning how to exceed 40 mph on the bike downhills. Yet another presented a training program for the "Beginning Triathlete" which requires a minimum of 11-12 hours per week (for an unspecified number of weeks). That's the range, for 13 weeks, which I recommend doing for an ultra-distance race (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, then running a marathon). With even a bit less training than that, when I was (much) younger (I’m now 76, and still racing) I started five ultra-distance races, finished three of them, and simply ran out of time on the marathon in the other two.

If you have read this far, you might be saying to yourself: "Why is this guy going on about this stuff?" Because I think that "good" in triathlon and duathlon doesn't necessarily mean "fast." Because I am very concerned about elitism in our wonderful sport.  Because I am very concerned about the witting or unwitting intimidation of potential participants in multisport racing.  Because I think and feel, both as a professional in preventive medicine and a tri-du-athlete now in my 31st season of multisport racing, that we have a great, healthy, fun sport. And it should be made available to everybody. Telling people that they have to train a minimum of 12 hours per week just to do an Olympic-distance triathlon closes entry to the sport down. It doesn't open it up.

The average recreational runner in this country does 12-15 miles per week, taking two-three hours. The average, middle-of-the-pack 10k racer probably does 20-25 miles per week, although no one knows for sure. That's three to four hours per week. Well folks, experience has told us over and over again that that's all you need to do a sprint or a standard-distance duathlon. For the Olympic-distance triathlon, add another 1-2 hours per week. Having been a 15-20 mile per week runner for two years, in 1983 I did my first triathlon, at the age of 46. It was the Mighty Hamptons Triathlon at Sag Harbor, NY.  My training program for that race was the prototype for what became the program that I first published in my 1986 book, Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals: five hours per week for 13 weeks, building on a base that averaged three hours of aerobic exercise per week for a minimum of three months. I have used it ever since and so have numerous readers of my book (which by 2013, still in print in its 2nd edition, has sold over 46,000 copies). Unless you are unusually naturally fast, you aren't going to win. But with the right approach to the sport you can have a heck of a good time, for a very long time, even without having winning times in the races. You can find out the specifics of my several training programs in any of my books listed below. 

This series of thoughts and recommendations for beginner and recreational triathletes and duathletes by Dr. Steve Jonas is drawn from his book, 101 Ideas and Insights for Triathletes and Duathletes (Monterey, CA: Healthy Learning/Coaches Choice, 2011), text used with permission. The book can be purchased at:” Steve’s most recent multisport book is Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals®: Getting Started and Staying with It (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press/FalconGuides, 2012), available at Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals.” His original book, Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals®, 2nd. Ed, can be found at Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.