Staying Fit: Triple task |

Staying Fit: Triple task

Training for triathlons

Dave Shively

Last year, Nicole Lindstrom was the top local female finisher at the Steamboat Springs Triathlon. But it didn’t earn her top honors. Now entering her sixth year of competitive triathlon racing, the 34-year-old environmental geoscience consultant is determined to get faster and stronger to best her second-place finish by riding her fitness peak through this summer’s Aug. 26 race. She also hopes to obtain her USA Triathlon Level I coaching certification. She’s certainly qualified to offer the following advice about training – specifically for triathlete veterans and wannabes.

You may not spend the 20-plus hours a week Lindstrom did last year to prepare for a full Ironman-distance triathlon (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26-mile run), but Lindstrom believes it’s feasible for fledgling triathletes to develop a smart plan now and still compete in a shorter-distance tri such as Steamboat’s.

Lindstrom encourages a training approach based less on mileage-based results and more on improving one’s heart rate. Never increase a workout volume by more than 10 percent a week, she says.

1. Swimming

Here’s the triathlete’s spin on an age-old adage: Don’t eat for 20 minutes after your swim.

“It’s not as difficult as a transition physiologically, the only issue is internally going from horizontal to vertical.”

Recommended Stories For You

Although the fastest, most efficient swimming race stroke is freestyle, Lindstrom likes to mix up her strokes to cross-train and to isolate separate parts of the stroke such as the kick or the pull.

“You can go nice and easy for a couple thousand yards for a base, then start working on hard interval speed and endurance work.”

A week of swim training might start Monday with 4,000 straight yards to replicate a race, the same distance broken up into sets on Tuesday, interval strokes on Wednesday, and short, intense distances to gain speed at the end of the week.

2. Biking

Who doesn’t know how to ride a bike? In triathlon racing, it’s not the difficulties of road cycling that get newcomers as much as the harsh upright transition from pedal to bipedal.

“You’re hunched over in this repetitive motion, then suddenly upright asking your body to perform at the same level – it needs to be a learned response, and the best way to learn it is to do it repeatedly, and to get used to it, by competing in a race.”

Because running puts so much recovery stress on the body, Lindstrom suggests beginners should only do a bike-to-run “brick” workout once or twice a month. To “get your legs,” a good introductory brick would consist of an intense bike ride followed by a short run, or vice-versa.

3. Running

Runners should apply Lindstrom’s heart rate-based philosophy to build their aerobic base. If you run for an hour a few times during the week and double the length on weekends, the goal should be to maintain a steady heart rate.

“If you hold the same heart rate but go the same distance, you’ll become faster at the same level of effort while your body burns fuel more efficiently,” she says.

Once the base is there and race day is approaching, building speed and quickness through interval workouts can be easily regulated on fixed distances of a track.

“I don’t like to run on treadmills, so I’ll do sets of 400s or 800s on the track at a certain pace – I’ll take, say, my best 5K time ever and break (that distance) down to a single lap time, and try to hold that pace for each lap.”

From there, Lindstrom improves the fast-twitch muscle response in her legs with a few Fartlek conditioning techniques, which favor intense speed work during continuous aerobic sessions. Don’t let the fancy Swedish moniker fool you – a Fartlek can be as simple as picking an object mid-jog to break into a sprint toward, and then returning to the jog after reaching the object.

4. Eating

The best part. Triathletes need to load up on complex carbs (in the right ratio with protein, of course; 4:1 is a good ratio to start with), because the liver stores glycogen, “your premium race fuel.” Because Lindstrom says the liver has only about 90 minutes of glycogen-burning bliss before you start to consume lean muscle mass, you need to replenish with simple carbs and sugars such as candy bars, energy gel or drinks, which hit the bloodstream right away. Consume such foods every 20-30 minutes during your workout. Prior to a race, you want more complex carbs, such as oatmeal, that burn slowly while your body breaks them down over time. After training or a race, there’s a 60- to 120-minute window where replacing what your body metabolizes is key, based off calories burned per hour. A larger man will burn about 350 calories an hour while a smaller woman would burn closer to 150 or 200 calories an hour. A good bet is whole foods like fruits and vegetables, lean sources of animal protein (chicken or fish) and meals that fit the 60-20-20 calorie breakdown of carbs-protein-fat.

For more local triathlon training resources, visit the Steamboat Springs Triathlon Club’s Web site at For information on the Steamboat Springs Triathlon, visit