Friday, July 18, 2014

Review; The Sufferfest Intermediate 10 week Triathlon Plan

Once again I find myself writing a review of a Training Plan. Not only does this give me the opportunity to reflect on my training but hopefully someone looking for a plan may find this useful.

As a recap I used the Sufferfest Intermediate 10 week Triathlon Plan. Before you start the plan there is a simple questionnaire to go through;

  1. You are aiming at competing in Sprint/Olympic distance events and want to increase your average speeds/pace with lowering your final overall time OR
  2. You want to compete in either Half or Full Ironman-Distance races in the next 12 months and need a solid a base to build a foundation.
  3. You've been training for years, and have a solid fitness base, but it's been awhile since you've made a big jump in performance.
  4. You're used to consistent training: you're comfortable training frequently during the week and getting longer sessions in on the weekends.
  5. You’ve started to drift from your once dedicated and motivated need something that will get the body and mind back into a routine and get back to a focused athlete.
  6. If you want to keep your job and the family happy, you need focused, compact training sessions.

imageI pretty much fitted the bill on all of these with the exception of #2 for which I would actually be racing a Half Ironman at the end of the plan rather than use if for a base. Just to set the stage I was coming off of solid base of cycling having completed the L’etape du California and my Sufferlandrian Knighthood in April and the 6 Hours of Temecula MTB race in June. On the flip side my running had been neglected and my swimming is always the weak leg. Additionally I only got my Tri bike back on the road mid June so my time aero was limited. I had used a Trainer Road build plan (reviewed here) to build up to L’etape and have previously used a Sufferfest Intermediate bike plan last year for the Tour de Big Bear so I was very familiar with the format.

These are the plan highlights;

  • The plan is 10 weeks long. Weekly volume varies in length from 5:15 to 12:05 hours in duration
  • It uses a step up step back methodology; test, build, build, rest, build, build, rest, build, build, build. I had a one week taper for week 11
  • Every week has one rest day, some weeks have two, the rest weeks have three
  • Every week has a minimum of two days with a double, some weeks have three. Every week has a brick; either swim/bike or bike/run
  • Not every ride is trainer based
  • There is a heavy use of the Chrysalis, the Sufferfest Triathlon video, this is best done using a Treadmill but you can use run off the bike on the road which is how I reviewed it here
  • In addition to the Chrysalis Video you will need; Hell Hath no Fury, The Wretched, Blender, Fight Club, ISLAGIATT, Rubber Glove, The Long Scream and Local Hero

So that’s the quantifiable details, here are the qualitative details;

  • The plan is easy to follow, it’s well written and structured. Instructions are clear, my only complaint is that when printed it’s black on gray and a very small font, not great for failing vision!
  • The is room for flexibility. In an ideal world you would follow the prescribed days exactly but as I am not a Pro and have to fit my training into life rather than the other way round, there is room and flexibility to move stuff around
  • There is a lot of structure around warming up/cooling down, this is great in avoiding injury
  • There is speedwork; I like this! Specifically for the bike and swim
  • Effort is based around RPE or HR/PWR zones, choose your poison

I did deviate from the plan some;

  • Long rides at the weekend were often made longer as were the brick runs
  • I ditched the swim drills. I rolled up my swim warm ups into 3 x 100 and 1 x 300 pull. This is by far the longest warm-ups I have ever done. I also skipped the backstroke cool-downs and swam freestyle with a pull buoy instead

Totals excluding Taper week and Race day;


Results, well you can read my race report here, unfortunately the reality of race day does really do any justice to the effectiveness of the plan so I have to look back at my training data to get that information.

On the bike there was some improvement. Switching bikes half way through the plan didn’t help and I was more than a bit nervous getting back on my Tri bike.

imageOn the run; it’s hard to pull “vs” data as the runs were all very different except for the Zone 2 brick efforts. I do have two conclusions on the run training. My run did improve, I was able to settle into a decent pace and could keep it up longer, here is a sample of the runs during the final three weeks, yellow blocks are around 8 minute miles, not fast by any measure but pretty good when you running base was a thin as mine. My one complaint was that the brick runs were too short, at least too short for a HM plan.

image The biggest gains were in the swim. Considering I am essentially self taught beyond some swim lessons when I was 9 years old and with some coaching from Becca and a pal in the UK it’s really been a case of get in and get on with it. So the proof of this improvement was shown in race day where I took 3 minutes off my 2012 time and in the closing weeks of training where I was hitting that early 2:00 pace mark, when you usually swim 2:15 or more this is a huge gain…at least I think so!

imageConclusion; as mentioned this is a easy to follow plan. It takes the thinking out training which I like, I have been around the block enough times to understand the fundamentals, periodization, intervals and so on so it makes sense to me but there are very nicely laid explanations of things for people who have less experience. The workouts are well structured and effective. There is flexibility to fit it in around your everyday life. There is some investment needed in buying any videos that your don’t own already. Priced at $29.95 it is a bargain compared to plans available through Training Peaks or Beginner Triathlete which are double or even more.

Training volume is a personal thing, we are all busy people and some people do well on minimal hours. Personally I like volume, but I caveat that with specificity rather than just mileage for mileage sake. This plan covers some of the specificity with the interval training and drills, after all if you want to race fast train fast. So my only complaint is lodged with hindsight; namely that this plan is a bit light for a Half Ironman. This is underlined by my concern over the shortness of the bricks and the runs specifically, running 30 minutes off of the bike (best case for me is 4-4.5 miles covered) is a long way from the 1:30-2:00 that you will need to cover 13.1 miles on race day. But to a point that was covered in the initial questions, were I to be aiming for another Half Ironman in the fall some serious revisions of the plan would be needed to add the volume I need.

So all that’s left to say is there is clearly a gap in the market…over to you Mr. Grunter von Agony!

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