Training the landscape

By Matt O’Halloran – Coach at Alaska Tri Aspire (Philippines) www.alaskatriaspire.ph

Triathlon is a sport that requires a wide range of abilities and various training grounds to prepare on to be consistent and successful. Training in a stable, consistent and controlled environment that follows specific distances, tracks time or targets a particular work rate, make it more feasible to monitor and see objective results during key workouts. However, they do not truly challenge a triathlete’s overall ability and versatility when it comes to performing in the great outdoors.


Come race day, the distance always subject to the landscape it covers – there’s a wide range of race courses around the globe, of which the difficulty can greatly be amplified by the geography. Developing a keen sense of adjustability to the present circumstances is critical to consistently get the most out of oneself.


An underlining advantage of training over raw geography, is that it will allow athletes to focus on their movements, all the while helping free up the mind from numbers. Down the road, it will often help the athlete develop better overall abilities, specific skills and mental fortitude that will transfer into competition, complementing the specific training done in a stable and controlled environment.


Below are basic and logical guide lines to help triathletes get the most of training over the given land scape.




  1. Hill training:

Love them or hate them, they will test your strength going up and your skills going down on foot or on wheels. They will often force variation in an athlete’s range of motion, shift their body weight around and modulate the effort. Training on hills is not just to be better at the hills, but also be stronger and more powerful on the flats. Few hills are the same and even fewer are evenly sloped from A to Z, which will always challenge an athlete’s ability to maintain their rhythm, adjust the pressure and crest over the top while maintaining their forward momentum towards the next section.


Going over hills also compels athletes to be more dynamic, engage more muscles and alter their technique – it’s also a clear way to expose weaknesses, going up or down, few can fake efficient or effective form when the road changes slopes, all the while making pacing discrepancies much more apparent. Hills are great to train on in the early season, as they can be considered intervals in dis-guise before being transferring to flatter terrain for more specific workouts leading into competition – unless your training for a hilly race of course!


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  1. The Point-to-point:


Possibly the most fun workouts to do, maybe a bit more production and good option for epic sessions. They give a greater sense of accomplishment and much simpler to tackle mentally, with a clear difference in the start and finish location. These types of sessions also allows athletes to choose from the ‘hard’ direction to build strength or the ‘fast’ direction to develop speed endurance – both giving specific and continuous challenge.


The harder or slow direction can be trained early in the year to build better resistance to fatigue and challenge the mind. While doing the easier or faster direction will train the body and skills to go above race pace for extended durations at high velocity to prepare for the speed of competition.


These sessions may also give a stable, consistent and reliable outdoor environment for timed efforts, repeated over an extended period of time to track progress – given they are done in the same direction of course!



  1. Multi-Loop training:

These help to break up longer efforts as well to develop an intuitive feel for pacing and energy conservation. It will show athletes that a circuit of varying challenges, sums up an average work rate or speed, that is a tally of going above and below, instead of idealistic, consistent and even pacing. Where of course, the more challenging or technical the loop is, the wider the range in efforts and speed is necessary.


Training a particular loop repeatedly in one session can help to develop cornering, decelerating and accelerating abilities, as well to master a feel for ‘fast sections’ and ‘slow sections’. It will also allow the athletes to build confidence through repetition and familiarity, allowing them to anticipate particular sections of the course, by micro improving their energy distribution.


Similar to point-to-point training, you can choose to train on the ‘fast’ direction or the ‘slow’ direction, for a more specific stimulus or simply to mix up the scenery – unless you’re training on a track oval of course!




  1. The out-and-back:
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Often known as a true and fair test of a distance, whatever you go over – you will go over again on the way back. These are great for negative split or progressive efforts, as well to feasibly micro increase weekly or monthly volume early in the season. It will also compel athletes to be conscious of the terrain they cover, sensitive to the wind direction and give a vivid half way split, thus helping to develop a more natural sense of pacing.


On the mental side, these can help athletes build greater concentration and patience, knowing that every moment forward, is another moment back. But more importantly, it’s an almost guaranty that the athlete has to finish what they started, because going back is the only way back to the starting point.






To conclude, the numbers gathered after covering a particular distance in a controlled training environment are precise and reliable, but will always be subject to circumstances once in the great outdoors. The preparation of a successful triathlete is much more than training specific ‘energy systems’ or repeating familiar and systematic workouts in a stable environment.


A holistic approach is often optimal, by developing speed, strength, stamina, skills and spirit. Where the end result, is mixing these key components to complement each other, depending on the athlete’s mentality, pedigree and type of event or format they are targeting.


The ability to give your best over miscellaneous terrain under various circumstances is key to success – where at the end of the day, it’s walking the fine line between training to be a BETTER athlete or training to be a FITTER athlete. In the ideal world, both can be developed simultaneously.

By Matt O’Halloran – Coach at Alaska Tri Aspire (Philippines) www.alaskatriaspire.ph

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