Racing season has started! That means most triathletes have started looking at their A races for the season and are beginning to plan how to train for them. Every race course is different, and every race is different, so two athletes of similar conditioning would need to train for two different A races differently. This goes back to the principle of training specificity which states that you need to conduct training in order to best prepare you for competition. For example, an athlete racing IMTX is going to train differently than an athlete training for IM Boulder due to differences in elevation, temperature, and course profile.
Key workouts are a triathlete’s version of training specificity to the extreme. Obviously an athlete is going to do a lot of training for the specific distance that he or she is racing, whether it being bulk mileage for an Ironman finish, or speed work upon speed work for a championship sprint race. But the most specific workouts come in the form of Key Workouts. These are the training days that translate directly into the race day. While general training for the race distance will give most athletes the proper conditioning, completing and focusing on key workouts is what can give an athlete the extra edge on race day.
But how are Key Workouts built into training plans? The first step is always to think about the course and take note of all the things that make the course unique. Is it flat? Will it be windy? Is there a lot of climbing? What will the temperature and humidity be like? What are road surfaces like? How crowded will it be? These are all the key things to think about, because regardless of the race distance, all of these things will have an effect on your body come race day. Once you’ve gathered all the information you can about the race, you can start thinking about what workouts will be. Generally speaking, you want to mimic as many of the race conditions in these Key Workouts as you can so that on race day, your body has no surprises. If the race is going to be hot, either train in the heat, or train indoors with lots of clothing. If the course will be on rough roads, do Key Workouts on rough roads. If the course is pancake flat, do key workouts on flat roads. You get the idea.
Once you have the idea of what you need to do, its time to finally work Key Workouts into training plans, or really work the rest of your workouts around the key ones. Key Workouts are the most important part of your training, so they need to be the priority each week. When writing a block of training, I always like to write the workouts that absolutely need to get done before writing everything else. This way, you can ensure that you are well enough recovered to put in the work when it matters. The other thing I like to do is conduct these workouts as they are done in the race, meaning key swim followed by key bike followed by key run. For example, if you have the most time for doing these workouts on the weekends, a block of workouts could look something like a hard swim and light spin on Friday, hard ride with a brick run on Saturday, and hard run on Sunday. These don’e have to be consecutive days and can be spread out through the week. As your training progresses, these workouts can get longer or higher intensity depending on the type of racing you’re doing and can follow the same type of progression as the rest of your training.
So to recap, Key Workouts are the workouts that are tailored specifically to the race you are preparing for. They should mimic as many of the race conditions as possible in order to maximize your preparation. Most importantly, these workouts are the priority and should be more important than the other workouts in the week, so don’t plan on doing these on days that you may be more likely to skip out. Hopefully with this knowledge, you can go into your next big race feeling completely prepared!