It is easy to look at the sport of triathlon and think of it as three separate sports combined into one event. But if you define “triathlon” as a single sport of its own, than I believe that one’s relative success in the sport is significantly correlated to the ability to balance the three disciplines, both in training and racing.
And when I say ‘balance’, I do not necessarily mean giving equal weight (or shall we say, training stress) to each sport, but rather giving special attention to areas of needed improvement while keeping consistently moving with all three disciplines. This is difficult to figure out, which is why it is an area in which a knowledgable coach comes in quite handy.
Following are some challenges and considerations that I have found to be unique to triathlon vs. other endurance sports:
Recovery on a daily basis is exceptionally crucial because you can do multiple tough training days in a row in triathlon, so long as they are different disciplines. For example, it is very common in triathlon training to have a hard bike workout followed by a hard run workout the next day, whereas a runner would not do a track workout the day after a hard tempo run (because the training stress would be too high if JUST running). This can be a mentally challenging component as well.
To elaborate further on an aforementioned point: no matter your strengths, you must consistently train in all three areas. But (to quote coach Dr. Phil Skiba) you also have to “train your weaknesses and race your strengths.” While the latter part of that statement applies to choosing a course that suits you, the first part relates to the fact the there is only so much training stress the body can handle, thus it should be used up in a higher proportion where most needed.
I feel confident asserting this point because of personal experience. I consistently ran better with overall faster race results relative to the competition than in previous years, not because I ran harder or more in training, but because I swam and biked at a higher level in training. Thus, these two areas in which I have less experience took less out of me in the races. Again, here is where a knowledgable coach comes in very handy!
Learning how to balance the the disciplines within a race is just as important. Nowhere is this more evident than the transition from biking to running in a race. We would all like to believe that our highest watts and fastest possible speed the bike should be executed on race day, but as many of us have learned, this is not the case.
Look back and I bet your best overall race result was not on the day you went balls to the wall on the bike. If it was, then I say you can do better! Quite simply: bike hard … but not so hard you cook your legs for the run. Finding that sweet spot is a task in itself.
And finally, to steal one of my colleague’s standard quotes: as always – just my humble opinion (which I have loads of) – take what you like and leave the rest.