Triathlon Definitions & Terminology



Depending on the length of your event it might not be possible to bring enough food or water with you on the bike and the run. That is where aid stations come into play. Most events will have areas marked off and staffed with volunteers who will offer up water and products from whatever nutrition company sponsors that race (keep in mind these folks are giving up their free time to help you, so be nice to them!). You should avoid trying anything new on race day, so unless you are familiar with the products being offered and have used them before, try to stick with just the water. Sometimes that isn’t an option and you need an energy drink or a bar; just be aware that your stomach may not be happy with this new product and there may be unpleasant consequences.



Triathlons with an open water swim are usually set up as an “out and back” course with the turnaround point marked by a large buoy. Keep in mind that every single person in the water is aiming for this same spot, so things can get a little crowded in the water, especially the closer you get to the buoy. While this is your target to swim for, using it for sighting can lead to some problems (check out Swim Tips for more on that) so be prepared to adjust accordingly.



Since triathlon consists of three different events crammed into a single race, you need to get your body used to going from one discipline to another. A “double day” means you have two disciplines on tap for a single day. For this plan, most of your double days are bike-run days. That is because they use the same muscle groups (your legs) so it is the one most athletes have the hardest time with. That doesn’t mean you won’t have days going from the pool to the bike. Come race day, you will need to climb onto your bike soaking wet, so it’s important for you to experience that at least once before race day. In this training scenario, it’s ideal that you go directly from one discipline to the other. The great thing about doing sessions on the trainer is that most trainers are easily portable. That means you can set your bike up at the pool or next to a running track so you can hit both workouts back to back. Obviously, this isn’t practical for every session, but it is vital that you do it at least once before race day!



Drafting, sometimes referred to as “slipstreaming” is the phenomenon of two or more moving objects aligned so that the overall energy requirement for the trailing objects is reduced. In cycling, what this means is that if you are riding behind someone in their “draft” you have to do less work to go the same speed as them; upwards of 30% less work in some cases! In most triathlons, drafting is grounds for disqualification on the bike leg (unless you are specifically doing a draft-legal triathlon). That means on race day you need to be aware of the drafting rules for your specific race. Generally, the requirement is to leave 7m (about three bike lengths) of room between you and the rider in front of you, in addition to 1m on either side. Almost all penalties and disqualifications in a triathlon are due to drafting, so pay attention to those around you on the bike! Good rules of thumb to follow are that unless you are passing someone, stay to the right, and when overtaking someone move to the left side of the road (after checking for other riders or vehicles) before closing the final four bike lengths. 



Goggles are another vital accessory to make the most of your swim leg. Being able to see in the pool is helpful for keeping a straight line during training, but during race day they are needed for proper sighting. Since your head will only be out of the water for a split second you don’t want to deal with water getting in your eyes while trying to focus on the horizon. It might also be a good idea to get two pairs; a clear set and a tinted set. On race day the sun will likely be up and without tinted goggles, you might struggle to see where you are going.




Paddles are a simple training accessory you may want to use in the pool. They are small (usually plastic) paddles that fit over your hands. This greatly increases the surface area of your hand, which means you can “pull” more water with each stroke. When used in training they help you learn the correct hand and arm angle in order to pull the maximum amount of water. Since you can pull more water, you get a greater feeling for the change in resistance that your hand feels depending on the angle you are moving your hand through the water. Remember the idea is to keep your hand perpendicular to the direction you are going at all times during the stroke, which is much easier said than done! Swimming with paddles can also be considered strength work because they increase the work demand on the upper body. Due to the increased resistance, however, there may be additional strain on the shoulders, and any faulty stroke mechanics you have will be amplified. Beginning swimmers should focus on improving their technique before training with paddles in order to prevent injury. Experienced swimmers should introduce paddles into their routine slowly; starting with 10% or less of the total workout distance for the first four weeks. If there is no shoulder pain and you’ve adapted well,  distance can be increased by 5% per month, but not to exceed 25%.


A pull buoy is another training accessory for the pool that helps to build upper body strength. The pull buoy is a small float that is placed between the legs during certain efforts and is commonly paired with paddles. This takes your legs out of the equation during swimming. (At least it should, though some Sufferlandrians will still naturally kick a little, and if you are someone who does this consider adding a band around your ankles to keep your legs still.) This is why using a pull buoy is referred to as “pulling,” because you are forced to use only your arms to pull yourself through the water. Using a pull buoy will help keep your hips high in the water while not kicking. When you do kickless swimming drills without a pull buoy, your legs will sink slightly, which forces your upper body to be angled slightly up out of the water. As we have said before, technique in swimming is massively important, so correct body positioning is vital and this is the advantage of adding a pull buoy to efforts in your training.



RPE is used to structure your workout based on your perceived work rate and (dis) comfort. A scale from 1 to 10 is used, with 1 being an easy effort you could maintain all day, and 10 being a maximal effort like a sprint.



We want your hard work (AKA Suffering) to result in the optimal fitness outcome. That’s why we have structured this training plan around the concept of maximizing your return on suffering. Sometimes that means crushing all 15* intervals in Revolver. Sometimes that means backing off completely and kicking your feet up. Rest assured everything is designed with your return on suffering in mind.



Running lactate threshold heart rate doesn’t quite follow the same principle as your functional threshold power (FTP). Running RLTHR is NOT your 1-hour max heart while running, but the average heart rate you would have while holding a steady training effort for an hour. Knowing this value will allow you to set up your training zones in terms of heart rate rather than pace. The nice thing about RLTHR is that once you start training a little it will not change by more than a few beats per minute from year-to-year. While your threshold pace might decrease by 8 seconds per kilometer, your RLTHR will not change much; if anything it will go down slightly. The nice thing about this is that once you have your heart rate zones set, you will be able to follow them for a few years without needing to make any serious changes. We should point out that for most athletes their RLTHR while running is anywhere from 5-15 BPM higher than their cycling LTHR. That means to maximize your return on suffering you will likely need to have different zones for each discipline.




In cycling, training zones are based on Four-Dimensional Power and lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR). In running, we will base your training zones off of your running threshold pace (RTP) and your running threshold heart rate (RLTHR). This is roughly the pace you could hold for a 10K of continuous running. We will estimate this measure in the first week of the plan through an all-out run test. Please note, for setting up training zones we like to think of the time it would take you to run 1 kilometer at this speed, so RTP is measured in seconds/kilometer. The thing to remember when basing efforts off of RTP is that a higher percentage of pace, such as 120% is a slower speed and easier pace than 100% of RTP and 90% of RTP is a faster speed and harder pace than RTP. So a tempo run would be completed at 110-120% of RTP, while a tempo effort on the bike would be completed at 75-90% of FTP.



Since you have to overcome so much drag while swimming, making your head as smooth as possible actually makes you a bit faster. Since not everyone wants to shave their head to achieve this you can get the same result with a swim cap. While you don’t need to have one for training, you will want one if you have long hair to keep it out of your face. In addition, you will be required to wear one on race day for safety reasons. Since you don’t want to try something new on race day, training with one occasionally is a good idea if you don’t wear one all the time.



In cycling, we base your training zones off of your Four-Dimensional Power profile. In order to set up your swimming zones, we will need to find your swimming threshold pace (STP). Your STP is based on the pace you could hold for 1000 meters without any breaks. When setting up your zones we will look at STP in terms of 100m splits at this pace, so it is measured as seconds/100m. In order to estimate your STP, we will have you do an all-out 500m swim test at the beginning of your plan.

Please note, when setting zones to a specific pace, a higher percentage of pace, such as 120% of STP is a slower pace than 100% of STP, and 90% of STP is a faster pace than 100% of STP. If you have not spent much time in the pool before, then your STP might change drastically in the first few weeks simply from improved swimming technique. If you notice your RPE drops significantly for STP then you will either want to test again or decrease your STP by a few seconds. Since swimming is so dependent on technique you will spend much of your time in the pool doing drills focused on improving your efficiency.



Transition areas are where you will go from one discipline to another on race day, and where you will stash all your gear (bike, helmet, running shoes, etc). Despite the fact that you pick up your bike in T1 and drop it off in T2, you are NOT allowed to ride your bike while in either transition area. This means walking or running your bike out of T1 before getting on and getting off your bike before entering T2. There will be “mount” and “dismount” lines marked with officials watching for compliance, so make it a point to note these two markers when walking through the transition areas prior to the event. An often overlooked aspect of training for a triathlon is practicing your transitions. It’s not worth training hard for 10 weeks to take 2 minutes off your bike leg if you spend 3 extra minutes in T1 because you haven’t practiced the transition from swimming to biking. That is why you will have time every week allocated to practice both the swim-bike transition (T1) and the bike-run transition (T2). Additionally, some events are point to point, which will require extra pre-race planning because T1 and T2 will be in different locations.  



Many triathlons held in open water allow wetsuits (and some even require them). Not only will it help keep you warm in colder water, but it will make you more buoyant, which makes you faster in the water. Wetsuits can be an expensive purchase so you may want to consider renting one from a local shop to train in prior to purchasing or racing in one. This will allow you some time in it to adapt to the change in body position as well as force you to practice putting it on and taking it off without damaging the suit. There are products you can apply to your skin before putting the wetsuit on which will make both entry and removal easier. Pam cooking spray works just as well as triathlon specific products like Body Glide, Tri-Slide, etc. if you’re budget conscious! In addition, renting different wetsuit brands and models prior to purchase may help you find the one you are most comfortable in, since there can be variation between suits.


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