Thursday, December 11, 2014

Sabbatical Project: History of Cycling in Illinois

It is often forgotten that from 1890 until about 1930 bicycling reigned as one of the most popular sports in America, rivaled only by baseball. Bicycle racers were well-paid celebrities and races routinely attracted thousands of spectators. The social elite were members of cycling clubs with private clubhouses.  The bicycle lobby was a powerful political movement that helped to establish the highway system in the US and elected many officials to state and federal offices. Bicycle manufacturing was a booming industry that led directly to the development of the automobile. The bicycle gave women a greater measure of independence and contributed to important advances in women's right. A few great early bicycle racers were African Americans who advanced racial equality through sport.

Illinois was at the center of all of this. Around 1900 Illinois was home to two-thirds of all the bicycle manufacturers in the country. The national racing circuit included stops in Chicago, Peoria and Springfield. The Memorial Day weekend Pullman races in Chicago were reported to have attracted 100,000 spectators (today's Soldier Field only holds 60,000 at capacity). Bicycles and bicycle races were a major attraction at the 1893 Chicago Worlds Fair.

Most of this history is buried and forgotten. No histories of cycling in Illinois exist, despite its national prominence. The recent resurgence of cycling as a form of urban transportation and recreation has driven interest in the history of cycling.  Illinois Wesleyan University has recently approved my sabbatical proposal to write a scholarly history of cycling in Illinois.  I will undertake the initial phase of this work in the summer and fall of 2015.  I hope to have a publishable manuscript completed by summer 2016.  I am super-excited to begin work on this project as it is a great combination of various parts of my academic and professional background.  My undergraduate majors were in history and English and I will be resurrecting those skills and methods for the backbone of this project. My training and experience as a librarian and archivist will be critical for uncovering this lost history in museums, archives, old newspapers, and public domain digitized collections. These skills along with my technical knowledge of bicycles and bicycle racing make me uniquely suited to tackle this project. I also plan to start a separate blog/website to share interesting bits of information as I come across them and generate interest in the eventual book.  In that vein, check out some of the pictures below to see the kinds of things I have already found!

Central IL Brothers Frank and Charles Duryea built what most consider to be the first production automobile in the U.S. The got their start building bicycles before applying that knowledge to automobiles. This Duryea car is on display at the new Peoria Riverfront Museum.

Schwinn was the most successful and longest-lived of all the early Illinois bicycle manufacturers.

The Peoria Bicycle Club pictured here at their club house was some 400 strong around 1900.

Marshall "Major" Taylor was the first African American to win a World Championship against white competitors. Taylor had a very successful racing career that had its early beginnings on tracks in Chicago, Peoria and Springfield.

This photo of an early bicycle race in the Chicago suburbs gives a sense of just how popular the sport was at the time.

Closer to home (for me) is a picture of the Bloomington Bicycle Club in the 1890s with their highwheel "ordinaries".
Shown here is Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison on his bicycle built for ten! Carter was a favorite of the powerful bicycle lobby. Many of his campaign materials contained the slogan: "Not the champion cyclist, but the cyclists champion."

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Season Retrospective and Beach 2 Battleship Race Report

Best race pic of 2014 at the rainy Lakeside Decatur Tri courtesy of David Fathauer.

It's been a good chunk of time since my last post, but I think I've made excellent use of that time. More than ever I buckled down to get in consistent (but still pretty low-volume) training.  Pre-season the most time I can set aside for training tends to stay around 7-10 hours a week.  Over the summer I incorporate more bike commutes (35-40 roundtrip for me) and long rides to get closer to that 15 hours a week mark.  Pretty low volume for a long course professional, but I make the most out of what I've got!

As a quick review, after 20 years of racing I qualified for my pro card last September and immediately jumped into the Beach 2 Battleship IM.  As usual, I set ambitious goals for my first pro season which I wrote about here.  Basically two different goals: win an Ironman and/or go sub 9 hours in an Ironman.  I didn't quite do either, but damned if I didn't get close.  More on that later.

If you follow the sport at all you know that after many years of growth and stability the U.S. professional racing scene was completely upended in 2014.  Rev3 had been a great supporter of U.S. professional racing since their inception.  They allowed pros to race for free, coordinated homestays, had good prize purses and did good race media.  Early in 2014 Rev3 pulled all professional prize purses from their races.  I had planned on doing a number of their events and had to reassess after the announcement.  The bigger kicker came later in the year when WTC (owners of the Ironman brand races) announced that they were pulling pros from close to two-thirds of their U.S. events.  Next year there will be no professionals at races near me like: IM Wisconsin, IM Louisville, Steelhead 70.3 and others.  WTC already charges pros a hefty fee (to fund an anti-doping program).  I ended up doing no WTC events again this year and 2015 may play out the same way.  Challenge Family Races recently bought all of the Rev3 events and many of us are hoping to see a good U.S. pro series reemerge from them.

So how did my rookie pro year play out?  Here's the good, the bad and the ugly:

Tri-Shark Sprint, 4th
Rockford Olympic, 10th
Decatur Lakeside Triathlon, 6th
Milwaukee ITU Super Sprint, nearly last
Challenge New Albany, 25th (4:25)
Great Illini Half, 3rd (4:24)
Border Wars Half, 2nd (4:20)
Beach2Battleship IM, 5th (9:01)

Let's break this down a little.  One of my unwritten benchmarks for my rookie pro year was to simply not be the last professional in any large race.  Making the jump to professional racing is very difficult.  The level of competition is absurdly high.  I targeted mostly regional races with prize money that would attract a decent pro field.  Except for our local Tri-Shark Sprint every race I did this year had prize money and other professionals.  This is something I am proud of.  I could easily cherry-pick races that I could win overall, but I wanted to see how I stacked up. I did manage to meet my benchmark. Every large race that I was in (even the disastrous ITU Super Sprint) I came in ahead of some other pros.  The Great Illini is a small race where I finished in the money, but behind established US Pros Thomas Gerlach and AJ Baucco.  Likewise, at the new Border Wars Half I was second to long-time pro Nick Waninger. In my final race of the year at the B2B Ironman there were at least 10 pros in the field and I managed 5th overall.

Border Wars Podium

I initially had planned on 2 Ironman events this year.  One in August and then B2B in late October.  Going back up to the Michigan Titanium to try for an overall win was one option.  Unfortunately they won't comp entries for professionals.  I knew local pro Jimi Minnema was doing that event, so an overall win there was a long-shot.  I decided to pay the one race WTC fee for IM Louisville.  All summer I had been struggling with low back problems and they kept getting worse before Louisville.  About 1 week out I decided to pull the plug because I wasn't confident that I could finish.  I spent a lot of time getting ART treatments from Dr. Matt Shepard of Shepard Pain and Performance in Bloomington. I had had lots of visits to my go-to massage therapist, Don Thorpe at Aches Away massage.  Along with some stretching and strengthening at home I got the back problem under control, but it will be something I work on all winter to eliminate it as liability next season.

The only really poor race I had was not all that unexpected.  My wife Cara was racing amateur nationals in Milwaukee this past August.  An opportunity came up for me to race other pros and U.S. draft-legal development athletes at a super-sprint event.  When I put my name in it was supposed to be a co-ed super sprint relay. Later this was changed to separate male/female races. The format was 300swim, 4k bike (4 laps) and 1.5k run two times through.  Not a great format for a 35 year old long course athlete, but new races are fun!  Bottom line, I lost my googles diving off the dock and then immediately lost the pack fumbling to get them on. Nearly last out of the water and I only got 2 laps and change of the bike in before my buddy Andrew Starykowicz caught me and lapped me out. And so it goes.  As these things go one of my worst career races was also (I think) the first time I made it into a Triathlete Magazine photo gallery!

Beach2Battleship Race Report

I'm going to attempt a brief report here which is always tricky for a race that lasts all day.  At the end of last season I decided to do Beach2Battleship as my first race as a pro.  I didn't do much specific Ironman training, but still pulled off a 9:22 PR and 4th overall finish.  Report here.  Beach 2 Battleship is one of the dwindling independent iron distance races left out there. Race organization is top-notch.  They do a great job comping entries for pros and setting us up with great local homestays.  The race is also ideal timing for me since it occurs mid-fall which let's me ramp up the training over the summer when my schedule is more flexible.  Since I went 9:22 last year, I knew a sub-9 and/or an overall win were possible.

Taper for the race didn't go well with an oddball calf strain coming after the Border Wars half.  I did almost no running in the 3 weeks leading up to the race so that I wouldn't make things worse.  Wilmington weather at the end of October tends to be ideal for IM racing.  Last year was freakishly cold, but this year lows were in the high 40s and highs in the low 70s.  I think due to the lack of Rev3 pro races the pro field this year was more than twice as large as last year.  There were at least 10 pros that started the race.  B2B is a point to point swim in an inlet off the Atlantic Ocean.  This year we had a much bigger push from the tides resulting in crazy fast swim times.  Short course standout John Kenny swam an insane 33 minutes which is surely the world record.  Yours truly managed 42 minutes when I was probably only in 57-58 minute shape for a regular wetsuit legal swim.  Coming out of the swim I had a problem I never encountered before in 20+ years of racing.  My wetsuit stuck on my ankle and the wetsuit strippers just kept pulling harder. This caused my quad to completely cramp and lock up. I thought my day might be over due to aggressive wetsuit strippers.  I hobbled to my bike, but while the quad was sore I don't think it held me back too much.

The Beach2Battleship bike is a single loop on very nice roads.  Only a few small hills, but lots of false flats.  Went into the wind for much of the first two hours, but had it at my back later on when I was tired.  I knew the bike was where I had a chance to drop a good chunk of time. I was in measurably better shape this year compared to last.  I had bike splits that were much closer to the best splits in almost all of my races this year.  This is full circle for me.  For most of my tri career I was a swimmer/runner.  After a decade of bike-focused training I've finally upped my game.  I rode a lifetime best of 4:44 (23.7mph!) which was within 5 minutes of the best pro bike split.

With the crazy fast swim and PR ride I thought I would have a sub-9 finish locked up.  Last year at B2B I ran 3:18 and didn't feel like that was anywhere near my potential.  I started off at what felt like a conservative pace.  Everything was clicking.  My nutrition had been spot-on.  Plenty of calories on the bike and my stomach felt good enough to take in calories at almost every aid station.  I lost some time in T2 when they couldn't locate my transition bag.  I had traded legal pulls with fellow first-year pro Matt Shanks on the bike, but he got out of T2 ahead of me.  I caught up to him and told him my goal was to run 3:10 which was a reasonable goal given my training and how I felt. Things started to unravel for no good reason- just regular old fatigue.  I thought I was being smart and conservative, but that strategy hinged on either running even splits or negative splitting the second half.  My legs just didn't have it.  Probably just my lower volume training catching up to me since I cruised to a 1:25 half split 3 weeks prior.  Lack of running during taper probably didn't help matters either.  I knew it was going to be down to the wire.  I moved up from 6th to 5th which was on the podium and in the money around mile 22 I think.  I pushed it back into town, but had no turnover. A disappointing 3:29 marathon, but a new lifetime best of 9:01:40.  So close to the 9 hour mark, but a PR is a PR!

To sum up the season I found out that I really do belong in the pro ranks.  I'm somewhere in the bottom third, but at any given large race in the country I can finish ahead of some of the pro field.  The other big development was that I made more gains on the bike. This is hugely important for long course racing since roughly 50% of the day is on the bike.  Not only that, but I can see getting even faster at the long stuff.  In 2015 I plan to be on sabbatical during the summer and fall from my job at Illinois Wesleyan.  I have lots of research and writing to do, but my schedule will still be more flexible and open than any other given year.  My plan is for this to be my last big shot at long course professional racing. Right now I don't plan to try and renew my pro card past the 3 years I am eligible for.  At the same time the kids are getting involved in more and more activities so a step away from long course racing is also in my future.  No idea what my 2015 will look like except that I will probably try to target 2 or 3 Ironman races.  Looking forward to finding out what the new Challenge series will look like for the pros.  In the meantime, I'm taking my regular break from the pool, entering a few cross races and looking forward to spending some more time on the fat bike this winter!

As I wrap up the season, I want to again thank my wife for her support of my racing.  I try to limit time away, but she still ends up with the kids alone for chunks of time on the weekend and during some of my race travel.  My mother Elaine and her husband Al are also tireless supporters and took both kids for a number of weekends that I was traveling to races.  It's really a family affair with my brother's Hub Endurance multisport shop also sponsoring my racing. Quintana Roo set me up with an Illicito frame at the end of last year and it carried me to my fastest-ever time trial and fastest IM bike split. My Zipp disc and 808 continue to be the fastest wheel combo for just about any conditions. When the temps are cold enough I love racing in either my sleeveless or full-sleeve Xterra Vendetta wetsuits.  Awesome buoyancy for my heavy legs!  Thanks for your continued support!

My bike mechanic apprentice!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Hey baby, you wanna see my drag coefficient? (A2 Wind Tunnel Visit)

I learned long ago to embrace my inner tri geek.  The national and international regulations surrounding triathlon are far less restrictive than those imposed by the UCI on professional cycling.  You wanna ride a crazy aggressive forward position or wear obnoxious compression socks?  Triathlon says go for it, UCI says no way. Moreover, at this point in my career really long races are the only thing that I am passably competitive at as a professional.  When you start looking at how tiny savings add up over the course of 112 non-drafting miles then the geekiness starts to look more like a strategic calculation. For example, at my weight and average ironman bike speed every watt saved through drag reduction (or increased through training) yields a bit less than a 1 minute improvement. A wind tunnel visit is certainly the pinnacle of tri geekiness. You bust out all the aero equipment and start to look for these small marginal gains. For the great majority of riders though, those marginal gains can really add up. 

Our joint summer family vacation (where we spend most of a week with my mom, my brother and his family) was near Asheville, North Carolina this summer.  This was about a 10 hour drive from Central Illinois, but it had the fringe benefit of putting me within 2 hours of the A2 Wind Tunnel in Moorseville, North Carolina. Fortunately they had two hours available during the time I would be out there. Generally people know that wind tunnel testing is one objective way to measure the aerodynamic differences between various pieces of equipment and positions.  They also know  it is prohibitively expensive.  Two hours of wind tunnel time will run you around a grand, which just seems absurd to me given that my total investment in my first road bike that I raced for many years was $300.  I checked the family savings account and it still had the same 7 cents that we've been able to put away the last five years!  Essentially all of our family equity is in the form of bikes and wheels, so I was able to liquidate a few things to fund my tunnel visit!  Even with the price tag, I think I can show that this visit was definitely worthwhile.

Outside of the tunnel

There has been a very cool trend among the triathlon community to openly share wind tunnel data.  This always comes with the standard caveat that you go to the tunnel because it is the only way to find out what actually works for you. The helmet that tested the best for me (Giro Selector) did so because of my particular position and back shape. If you already know all about drag coefficients, yaw, and aero watts and just want to see the raw data in an excel spreadsheet, click here. Below, I briefly explain the wind tunnel testing procedures and summarize the tests (runs) that I did during my trip.

The A2 guys had a great sign with the above quote from rocket scientist Werner Von Braun.  This is the real reason to go to the tunnel.  Cut through all the marketing hype and BS and find out what works for you in real time. 

Very easy to see the rotating platform in this pic which allows testing of various yaw angles.

The way wind tunnel testing works is that they mount your bike on pedestal in the tunnel that can rotate in order to test both head-on and cross winds (yaw). The pedestal has a computrainer underneath that records power output.  You start out with the baseline position that you came in with and then make incremental small changes looking for drag reductions. Each "run" in the tunnel lasts a little over a minute during which time the fans come on and you test head-on and then at 10 degrees yaw.  The tunnel has a very cool projector set-up where while you are riding the floor in front of you displays 4 images: best run of the day, current live image for comparison, an overhead live image and a head-on live image.

The testing is very methodical and progressive.  For example they will test bar drop in both directions (higher and lower) until drag stops decreasing and then you are done with that aspect.

For my two hours I wanted to test a few position changes and then a few pieces of equipment.  Thanks to sponsors Zipp and Quintana Roo I did not need to spend any time worrying about wheels or different frames.  My 808/Sub 9 disc combo and Illicito frame are as good as anything on the market!  I got a Guru DFU (Dynamic Fit Unit) fit from one of the best in the Midwest: James Coudright at SBR St. Louis.  That fit resulted in me comfortably riding far more drop than my past conservative positions. I came into the tunnel with what I thought was a pretty clean position aerodynamically and I really didn't expect any major changes.  I did want to find out if I could ride less drop without adding drag, though.

Let's walk through the various runs we did.  To keep things (somewhat!) simple I'll just list two numbers here: average aero watts and average drag coefficient. The average includes both head-on and 10 degree yaw runs.  Aero watts are the amount of power required to overcome aerodynamic drag at a given speed ( a realistic 23 mph on my spreadsheet). Drag coefficient CdA(m2) is the industry standard measurement and is the product of the coefficient of drag and frontal area.

Run #1 Baseline Testing
178 aero watts, .267 CdA

Run # 2 Tie up front brake cable. This cable sticks out somewhat on the Illicito. Tying it up actually showed a small increase in drag, but this wasn't tested at yaw, so not really a comparable number to above.  Looks like QR was right not to sweat it about this cable.
182 aero watts, .274 CdA

Run #3 Helmet position change. I came into the tunnel with the new Louis Garneau P-09 aero helmet. For this run we positioned the helmet tail more towards my back.  First bit of drag reduction seen here.
173.5 aero watts, .260 CdA

Run #4 I was already riding about as much drop as possible on the medium-large Illicito frame.  We tried a quick test of removing my elbow pads which dropped me down 1-2cm more.  This actually increased drag a bit, so we didn't need to try and get any lower.
174.5 aero watts, .262 CdA

Runs #5-#7 All tested pad width (both moving pads in and out from my baseline setup. I already had a pretty narrow set-up and it turned out my baseline was fastest in this instance.

Runs #8-#9 Were done to find out if I could ride less aerobar drop without creating additional drag. While this is actually the case for some people, raising my bars up did create additional drag.  Back to baseline position again.

Runs #10-12 Tested whether or not I would be better off with traditional up-pointed ski bend aero bar extensions as opposed to my current S-bends.  The S-bends look like they put you in a very aero position, but this was not the case for me. I should see a nice little reduction in drag going back to the ski bends.  As a bonus, I think they are a little more comfortable than the s-bends.
171.5 aero watts, .257 CdA.

Run #13 I had my bars tilted up slightly which caused the airfoil shape not to be perfectly level. Leveling the bars out seemed to create a tiny gain, but it would be within the margin of error for testing.

Run #14 Was a test of my P-09 helmet without the visor.  The helmet actually tested better without the visor. I know some others have seen the same result when removing visors from various helmets.  Again visors look very aerodynamic, but they turn your head into even more of a sphere, which is not a good thing.
171 aero watts, .256 CdA

Runs #15-17 tested the following aero helmets: Giro Advantage II, Giro Selector and Kask Bambino. The best of these was clearly the Giro Selector.  If you look at some of the images from the runs with this helmet it sits really nicely on my back. It kind of looks like I might be straining my neck to achieve this position, but I was careful to only test positions that I could hold for 5 hours.
169 aero watts, .254 CdA

Run #18 tested the Torhans Aero 30 bottle vs. the Profile Design Aero HC between the arms bottle that was part of my baseline. There was no real difference between the two which was nice to know.  I will probably use the Torhans for long course since I can start out with more fluid.

Run #19 The last thing that I had time to test was a Pearl Izumi Octane tri suit.  This suit has short sleeves and an aero fabric.  When I initially heard the manufacturer's time savings claims I just assumed they were comparing to a loose fitting bike jersey which I don't race in.  In fact, this suit tests much faster for many (but not all!) people compared to a tight-fitting sleeveless tri suit.  A full half of the wind tunnel savings I found came from this last run with the PI suit. With the tunnel fans running at 30 mph I could feel that this suit was fast.  When you scale it back to a more realistic speed of 23 mph it dropped my aero watts to 161.5 (a 7.5 watt savings) with a CdA of .242 (.012 savings).

Initial baseline: 178 aero watts, .267 CdA
Best position / equipment: 161.5 aero watts and .242 CdA

That's an impressive savings of 16.5 aero watts and a .025 reduction in overall CdA.  It's important to remember these numbers come from a realistic speed of 23 mph.  At that speed a savings of 16.5 watts would yield a time drop of more than 8 minutes!

My Baseline Position

Best position/equipment

Let's put these numbers into context.  First the ironman bike time savings from a good aero wheelset vs. a training wheelset at these same speeds (not 40km/hr which is often used) would be in the range of 6-10 minutes depending on whose numbers you use.  A good race wheelset will cost you at least $1000 and tops out at $3000.  Hey wait, all of a sudden my wind tunnel investment is looking really good for about the same amount of time saved!  Now let's look at how this investment might play out for me.  My two "A" races last year were Rev3 Branson half and Beach to Battleship full.  At the Rev3 Branson race where I qualified for my pro card I was second overall by 12 seconds.  Had I done this wind tunnel visit prior to that race it surely would have yielded a nice overall amateur win on my resume.  At Beach to Battleship I averaged about 22.5 mph and finished 4th overall.  An 8 minute improvement on the bike would have moved me up to 2nd overall along with a $400 increase in prize money.

So bottom line?  Wind tunnel uber-geeky? Yes absolutely. Wind tunnel a good investment?  For me, also yes, absolutely.

A properly geeky, goofy pic.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Biking Faster on a Budget

My local Tri-Shark Triathlon Club hosts a quickly growing spring Multisport Expo. This year we had people vote on a couple potential ideas for an educational seminar to be held during the expo.  Since many new(er) athletes come out for the expo the most popular idea was "Biking Faster on a Budget."  Unfortunately the sport of triathlon has a fairly high monetary cost just to participate in.  The cost of gear for 3 sports plus race entry fees is a big barrier for getting kids (and adults!) into the sport. There are a number of things you can do to reduce the costs associated with cycling while still performing at a high level.  The slides below discuss some of my ideas related to: #1 smart bike training and  #2 smart equipment upgrades.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

2014 Goals and Race Schedule

Getting ready for 2014!

2014 Rookie Pro Season Goals

#1 Win an Ironman race
#1 Go sub-9 hours at an Ironman race

There's no typo there, these goals are equally important to me. Whenever I have discussed goal setting with athletes I always push for having at least two types of goals: a time goal and a performance goal. Having placed 4th with a 9:22 at Beach to Battleship last fall these goals are certainly ambitious, but not unattainable. Last year my overall focus was not long-course racing, this year it will be.  I will have either one or two Iron-distance races on my schedule (see below).  If I go sub-9 at an Ironman and finish 20th I will be perfectly content.  Likewise, if I go to a race with nasty conditions and can pull off an overall win with a mid- to low 9 hour, then I also would be ecstatic. Both of these goals have been on my lifetime bucket list.  The sub-9 goal only became more realistic last fall.  The easy thing to do here to notch a win would be to just cherry-pick one of the really small iron distance races that don't offer any prize money, but that seems rather unsportsmanlike as a professional.  So I am looking at races that offer at least a grand to the winner which will ensure decent competition.  How might I pull this off in 2014?  Read on.

Tentative 2014 Race Schedule

Tri Shark Triathlon
Rockford Tri
Decatur Tri
Challenge New Albany 1/2
WIBA Evotri Training Weekend
Michigan Titanium 1/2 or Full
Border Wars 1/2
Beach to Battleship Full

That's my schedule as it now stands.  The amount of time and effort it took to arrive at this sequence of races is appalling.  First, I needed to compare the list of races I could possibly afford to travel to against our family calendar. Then I needed to make sure that the sequence of races would build me up over the course of the season to peak for my goal races in late summer and fall. I've been a huge supporter of the Rev3 races and all of their midwest venues.  Unfortunately for me they pulled the pro field out of the Dells race and Cedar Point hasn't had a pro field in a few years.  Rev3 Branson was a stellar venue, but it is now gone completely.

I really, really, wanted to race the new Challenge Atlantic City full in midsummer, but had conflicts with that one. As a pro, I have the option of paying $800 for a yearly pass that would allow me to race as many WTC events as I wanted, but a good part of the motivation for going pro was to reduce the financial burden racing puts on our family.  I love the tough competition of WTC events, but it is highly unlikely that I would bring in any prize money doing their events.  This season, I am targeting a number of independent events that are very-well run, have decent prize money and small pro fields. Hitting the WTC circuit may be my 2015 strategy.....

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Everything you need to know to create your own customized annual training plan!

Last week I led a workshop that taught participants how to create their own custom, periodized, annual triathlon training plan (ATP) using the tried and true Sweet method! There are many solid, free, training plans on the web, but they all share a few shortcomings.  #1 Almost all of them assume equal ability in all 3 sports when in reality this is rarely the case.  #2 They don't take into account your personal conflicts (family, job, etc).  #3 They are static. When you understand the underlying structure of an ATP, then you can then easily make adjustments for missed workouts, injuries, missed races, etc.

The steps outlined below are the same ones that I have used to structure my own training and to create custom training plans for other athletes. The whole thing is certainly an over-simplified version of what an experienced, knowledgeable coach would create, but beyond this being the free D.I.Y. method, it can also yield a training plan that makes better use of your time and yields better results than just picking a random plan off the web.

You can create your plan with a blank calendar and pencil and then transfer to something like Google Calendar or Training Peaks or use this Excel Spreadsheet.

If you want these directions in an easier to print format, use this Word document.

1. Always start with clearly defined goals.  These should include:
  • 3-5 year long-term goals
  • Yearly goals (3 or 4 specific goals for this year)
  • Monthly goals (these goals help you to reach yearly goals)
  • Weekly goals (do these later on)
2. Put all known family commitments, work travel, etc. onto your ATP. Decide if these will be no-training times, or maybe just a run focus (because you don’t have your bike or pool access for example).

3. Identify your A/B and some C priority events for the year.
  • “A” races: Generally you should have 2-3 “A” races per season.  If your focus is sprint/Olympic maybe 4. Your season is built around “A” priority races.  You do a full taper for these and take time off afterwards.
  • “B” races: These are stepping stones to your “A” races.  No more than 1-2 per month. You do a short taper (2-4 days) for these races and a short recovery (2-3 days). 
  • “C” races.  These are just part of your weekly training load.  Tuesday night time trials are an example for me.  You do not schedule a taper or extra recovery for “C” races. Do not expect to perform at your best for these events. It is not critical to have all your “C” events planned out for the year.
4.Build in taper and recovery time around your “A” races
  • Taper: 3 weeks IM, 2 weeks 1/2 IM or Oly, 10 days for a sprint. 
  • Recovery: 2 weeks IM, 10 days ½ IM, week for Oly/Sprint
5. Create defined periods for the entire season.  If you train pretty much year round you should have 2 complete training cycles, plus a couple months of off-season training. If you follow the guidelines below a full cycle takes a minimum of 20 weeks and a maximum of 40 weeks. When structuring your training plan start with your “A” races and work backwards. Here are simplified guidelines for traditional endurance periodization:
  • Pre-Season / Off-Season (4-12 weeks long)
  • Either complete rest or significantly lower volume
  • Low intensity-workouts
  • Often includes strength training and cross-training activities
  • No racing
  • Base (8-12 weeks)
  • Build into higher volume during this period
  • Primarily low-intensity workouts
  • OK to have a few “B” or “C” races in this period
  • Build (6-8 weeks)
  • Fairly high volume (can be less than base)
  • This period must include some high intensity / interval-type of workouts 2-4 times per week
  • Some of your “B” and “C” events should be in this period
  • Peak (3-4 weeks)
  • Somewhat less overall volume than Base/Build
  • Workouts during this period must mimic goal race pace/intensity.
  • A “B” or “C” race during the first half of the Peak period  is ok.  Be careful racing any later than that as it could negatively affect your “A” race.
  • Taper/Race (1-3) weeks
  • If you followed the step #4 above this period should already be on your training plan.  Tapering involves first reducing volume then reducing intensity prior to an important race
6. Create discrete training blocks within each period: I recommend 3 weeks focused, hard training then one step-back week at 50% volume.

7. Add-in regular benchmark workouts that will both keep your training zones current and tell you whether or not your training program is working.
  • I recommend benchmarking once every 5-8 weeks (around a month and half)
  • Benchmark workouts can also serve as threshold tests to determine current training zones
  • My basic recommendations are 1000yd all-out swim, 20min bike and run threshold tests.
  • The "Field Testing" section of this presentation has the benchmark protocols.
  • Do these all in the same week, but schedule an easy day between each.
  • If you are not seeing benchmark progress during your build/peak phases then you need to make changes to your overall training program structure.

8. Add-in some blocks of complete rest / no training.
  • These rest blocks should be 5-10 days in length.
  • Aim for one roughly every 3 months. 
  • Good times for rest blocks are right after an “A” or “B” event, during family vacations or work travel, or instead of one of the step-back weeks discussed above.
9. Add-in some sport-specific blocks to address weaknesses.  These should be a minimum of 1 week long and can be as long as 2-3 months if done in the pre-season period.

PRESTO!  That’s it!  You now have a custom, periodized annual training plan.  Now you just need to know how to structure a week and add in specific, period-appropriate workouts.  You can use this basic template for planning your weekly workouts in a given period.
Designing a period-appropriate week
  • Begin by reviewing total available time for that week.
  • Next look at what training period the week falls in. For example, the majority of workouts in the base period should be longer and low-intensity.  During your peak period, workouts will mimic race intensity (and sometimes duration).
  • One day of complete rest is a usually a good rule of thumb to follow.
  • Weekends are key for most triathletes. This is usually the best time to get a long ride in.
  • Long runs are also essential, but I recommend doing them every other week.  I also recommend mid-week long runs. Even for IM most long runs should stay at, or under, 2 hours.
  • Doubles (two workouts a day) are great if you can fit them in.
  • Try to space out key workouts. If you have 3 key workouts for the week every other day is a great pattern (part of the reason why I recommend a mid-week long run) 
  • Be sure to clearly identify those key workouts.  There should be 2-4 per week.  During the base period these should be your long workouts.  During build/peak they may be your shorter interval days.

Resources for filling in the specific workouts:

Websites Workouts for all disciplines   Swim workouts by ability

Swim Workouts for Triathletes by Gale Bernhardt and Eric Hansen
Workouts in a binder for swimmers, triathletes and coaches by Gale Bernhardt and Eric Hansen
One-Hour Workouts: 50 Swim, Bike, and Run Workouts for Busy Athletes by Amy White and Scott Molina
Run Workouts for Runners and Triathletes by Bobby McGee
For Swimmers 365 Main Sets by Andrew Starykowicz
Time Crunched Cyclist by Chris Carmichael