Written by Coach Chris White
With the Olympics underway in Tokyo this year, its worth remembering that many of our 70.3, long course or Ironman champions such as Daniela Ryf, Alistair Brownlee, Javier Gomez and Jan Frodeno all focused a large section of their early careers on the Olympic Distance triathlon. Not only that, they were the best in the world at the Olympic distance. Brownlee is a double gold medalist, Frodeno won gold in 2008, Gomez is a 5 time ITU World Champion and Olympic silver medallist and Ryf finished 7th in Beijing. Frodeno and Ryf in particular have subsequently gone on to dominate Iron distance racing for the past 7 years or so. Even if we only look at these 4 athletes, their career trajectory is clear:
Start fast, then go long.
Look across into the world of running and the pattern is no different. The worlds fastest marathon runners Eluid Kipchoge, Kenenisa Bekele, Mo Farah and many more started their lives as shorter distance track runners and many competed at the Olympics at those distances. The paces and perceived effort that they have to train or race at in order to be competitive at the 5,000m or 10,000 are so much harder than what they need to produce at marathon distance. Kipchoge for example needed 2:50 min/km for his famous sub 2 hour marathon, yet he ran 2:36 min/km for his 5,000 Olympic Silver Medal in 2008, a full 11 years earlier. That might not seem like a huge difference, but next time you are out running, try going 14 seconds per km slower and see the effect it has on your breathing, your control and your perceived effort. It’s massive.
These guys have trained for speed, they then add the endurance on top.
For many of us who begin our triathlon journeys as adults, we have neither the trained speed, nor the endurance, so we have to build both. The majority of us start and stick with the endurance side of the equation, going ever longer distances at even slower paces. This is not necessarily a problem, its absolutely achievable to build endurance (and serious endurance!) as an adult. Just look at how the popularity of running ultra marathons has exploded over the last decade. It’s very doable.
Generating genuine speed is another matter. Junior athletes have a far better chance to train speed at an early stage, and have some fun doing it! In order to do that, the emphasis has to be different to our adult age group athletes. Remember, they are still growing, so we need to take a long term approach, be careful of over training and keep their training shorter, varied and fun, with less emphasis on endurance.
We have loved watching the Tokyo Olympics and seeing this generation of short course, super fast triathletes do their thing. We are also genuinely excited about the next generation of athletes who will be knocking at the Olympic door in 2028 and 2032. Who knows, maybe there is a future Olympic medallist in our midst?