If you’re considering competing in triathlon, it’s important that you first assess how much time you can dedicate to your training. The amount of time needed varies from week to week and month to month as your training progresses. If training does not fit into your lifestyle and you can’t make room, you are very unlikely to have a successful triathlon. There are two aspects of time commitment to consider: weekly training hours and lead time to the race. These two factors are codependent in that one will affect the other, and vice versa.
What hours can I expect?
Weekly training hours can range from 6 hours up to 20 hours or more, depending upon the distance of the race, the training cycle you are in, and the lead time to the race. The time commitment also depends upon several individual factors, including but not limited to: previous training history, experience/comfort with the three disciplines of triathlon, whether you are returning from an injury (or have a history of injury), and what your goals are for the race (for example, are you training to finish or to win a spot on the podium).
The biggest (and perhaps most obvious) variable of weekly training hours is the distance of your race: sprint, Olympic/international, half Ironman 70.3, or full Ironman 140.6. Training for a sprint triathlon may range from 3-6 hours per week of sport-specific training; a 70.3 may range from 10-15 hours per week, and a full-distance Ironman may range from 13 to 20+ hours. Remember that the variation is due to training cycles (for example, recovery weeks have less time commitment than build weeks to allow the body ample time to recover from the stress on the body built up by training), and those individual factors mentioned above.
How much lead time do I need?
The amount of time needed to train for a race is impacted by the distance being raced, your current level of fitness, and the amount of time weekly that you are able to dedicate to training. For example, an athlete starting from scratch will require more time to get ready for a full Ironman than one who just completed a 70.3 race (allowing for recovery time, too, of course). Similarly, if you have 8-10 hours per week to train for a 70.3, you might need more lead time to ramp up than someone who is training 14-16 hours per week.
In general, athletes just starting out can be ready to compete in a Sprint triathlon in 8-10 weeks, whereas a beginner may need 18-20 weeks to train for a 70.3. The longer the race, the more variable the guidelines become. An athlete with some experience and a good base of fitness might be able to train for a full Ironman in 20-24 weeks, but an athlete who is just starting out (or perhaps starting over after extended time off) may need a full year of training.
As you can see, there are quite a few variables at play when it comes to triathlon training, and there are no absolute answers to a question like this. Many athletes find that consulting with a coach about their specific background and situation can be helpful in figuring out how much and how long they will need to train for a specific race. Please reach out if a coach consult could help you plan your training!
Have a question for a coach? Email [email protected] and we’ll tackle your question in a future issue.
Axes Coach John Rhodes has worked with hundreds of athletes in the U.S. and Canada. His clients have trained at all distances of triathlon, running events, and obstacle course racing from 5K running races to 13-mile Tough Mudder obstacle course challenges to full Ironman. John is a Licensed Registered Nurse and a certified coach with Ironman, USAT Level I, Road Runners Club of America, and USAT Paratriathlon. As an athlete, John is an Ironman finisher and has completed multiple Ironman 70.3 races. He has achieved Ironman All-World Athlete status 4 years in a row. John has also completed multiple marathons and half marathons, is a 5x Tough Mudder (10-12 miles) finisher, a Civilian-Military Combine Finisher, and a GoRuck Tough Finisher.
Read more from Coach John here: https://axescoaching.wixsite.com/john-rhodes
John Rhodes: [email protected]