
Tri speed development
Dawn Hunter explains how she has helped triathletes develop their speed using interval training.
The aim of many athletes is to increase their speed in their
chosen discipline. Many articles cover the different ways in which this can be
achieved, and this article aims to add another viewpoint to the melting pot. The
information covered here has been applied to the three disciplines of the
triathlon (swimming, cycling and running) with equal success.
However, running is under consideration here as swimming and cycling are more
technique based.
The triathletes with whom this method has worked mostly race
sprint (750m swim, 20k bike, and 5k run) and standard (1500m swim, 40k bike,
and 10k run) distances, so the run distances over which the speed has increased
are 5k and 10k. Whether this method would work for other distances is not
known.
Time
Time is a big factor when training for a triathlon,
particularly when a fulltime job is also involved, which was the case for all
the athletes. This requires that any speed development programme is designed in
such a way as to minimise the number of sessions required and maximise the
benefits from those sessions. In order to fit sessions around other commitments,
it is also important that they are not too long.
Interval work, where the athlete works at a particular
intensity for a particular length of time, is believed to be one of
the best ways to increase speed and the methods used here are interval
sessions. The key factors in any interval work are:
 length of the interval
 length of the recovery
 the number of intervals
 the speed or intensity of the interval
This article will show how these factors were manipulated
over periodised programs in order to improve an athlete's speed, without over
challenging them. Speed development can be worked on throughout all the phases
of a periodised programme. If the phases to be considered are base, preparation
and competition, then the speed development will focus on speed strength in the
base phase, standard speed in the preparation phase, and pure speed in the
competition phase. Again, the variables remain as a number of intervals, length
of the interval, length of recovery, and the speed or intensity of the
interval.
The athletes all had previous 10k times which the speed of
the intervals could be calculated from. However, if there is no 10k time
available, there are various ways to arrive at a point at which interval
calculations can be made.
 Following a warmup, athletes could run a time trial  a
set distance (which could be a full 10k if desired) where the time is taken to
complete the distance. This time can be extrapolated up to a
10k time if necessary using calculators on the internet (for example, try
www.brianmac.co.uk/racecalc.htm).
 Failing either of these and assuming that the athlete's
goal is realistic, then it would be possible to work out target times based on
the 10k time they would like to achieve, i.e. their goal time. However, this
method should be treated with caution. In the event of the athlete's goal not
being SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timeframed), the
intervals calculated would be too difficult, not achievable and lead to a sense
of failure on behalf of both athlete and coach.
Speed strength
When looking at the base phase and the building of speed strength,
the key components will be high repetitions, medium workload and low rest. Over
a 12week programme of speed development for 10k running, this would cover
400m, 800, and 1mile repetitions with one session of a combination of
distances in a pyramid format over the 4week base phase of the 12week
programme. The repetitions would be 12 for 400m, 8 for 800m, and 6 for 1 mile.
The rest interval would be 60 seconds for all distances and the intensity would
be set at 98% of the current race pace for 10k, i.e. 2% faster than race pace.
So, for example, a previous best of 45 minutes for 10k would lead to (rounded
up) intervals of:
 400m 1:46
 800m 3:36
 1 mile 7:03
Standard speed
In the preparation phase the distances would be kept the same, but
the number of repetitions changes to 10 for 400m, 6 for 800, and 4 for one
mile. The intensity is increased to 96% of 10k race pace, i.e. 4% faster than
10k race pace and to reflect this increase in intensity the recovery interval
increases to 3 minutes for all distances.
So, to take the 45minute 10k example again the (rounded up)
intervals would be:
 400m 1:44
 800m 3:28
 1 mile 6:55
Pure speed
The competition phase is where the intensity increases another
notch, the repetitions come down and the recovery increases again. So the
repetitions would be 8 for 400m, 4 for 800 and 3 for one mile with 5 minutes
recovery between each. These intervals are run at 95% of 10k pace, so 5% faster
than race pace.
If the same example is used the (rounded up) intervals become:
 400m 1:43
 800m 3:25
 1 mile 6:50
Pyramid sessions
The last week of any 4week phase is an opportunity to play
around with the distances. The same principles apply in terms of intensity
percentage and length of recovery, but extra distances can be added, for
example, one week the session might be 100, 200, 400, 800, 1200, 800, 400, 200,
100, another week it might be 400, 800, 1200, 1 mile, 1200, 800, 400. This
makes things a bit more interesting for the athlete and is actually a hard
session in its own right, particularly if the descent down the pyramid is done
with a negative split!
Variations
Not everyone has access to a track. It is important to be
able to measure improvement in some way, so some standard route should be found
for this purpose. Otherwise, the calculations remain the same, but the focus is
on running hard for the amount of time set.
So, for pure speed medium intervals, the athlete would run
for 3:25 as fast as they can for that length of time. If the same route is run
as an out and back, they should (barring hills etc.) get back to where they
started at the end of each second repetition.
The pace could also be determined by heart rate, so for
example, the athlete could run at 85% of max heart rate for the required length
of time  many heart rate monitors can be programmed to beep if the heart rate
fluctuates a certain number of beats away from the target.
Heart rate can also be used for the recovery intervals. If
the heart rate is taken immediately following the warmup, this rate can be
used as the point at which the next interval is run. So, for example, if at the
end of the warmup an athlete's heart rate is 120, then after each interval,
when the heart rate has dropped to 120, then the next interval should
start.
Specificity
As the whole basis of the interval, the calculation is based
upon the athlete's actual 10k time, it is specific to them. As their pace
increases, their potential 10k time can be extrapolated from for example a
1mile time trial every 4 weeks and any change in the resulting 10k time can be
reflected in the calculations. This way, the programme progresses as fast as
the athlete does.
Success
It is difficult to quantify the success of this method of speed
development in actual races as it has only been in use for just over 12 months
and for varying periods during that time with different athletes (based upon
specific goals). All the athletes are posting faster run times
than before with improvements of between 3 and 5 minutes on their 10k times in
previous races. However, this needs to be viewed with caution, as the triathlon
run section is often variable in the true distance, is frequently on varied terrain
and it is difficult to compare one triathlon 10k with another. In another 12
months, assuming the same athletes do the same races, it will be easier to see,
but at the moment as some of them are moving from sprint, through to standard
and even on to half ironman and ironman distance it is difficult to truly
quantify. Importantly, the athletes feel they are running well, and they are
pleased with their improvements to date. Obviously, as a coach, I am constantly
on the lookout in case there is something that will benefit my athletes
further.
Article Reference
This article first appeared in:
 HUNTER, D. (2004) Tri speed development. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 17457513/ 16 / October), p. 78
Page Reference
If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:
 HUNTER, D. (2004) Tri speed development [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/articles/scni16a4.htm [Accessed
About the Author
Dawn Hunter, a British triathlon Association Club Coach, has been coaching individual triathletes and a triathlon club for over 3 years. She also competes in triathlons up to half ironman distance.
Related Pages
The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic:

