Training partners by Luis Vargas

Training partners

If you ever wondered why is it that you can keep up with certain training partners in training but they always finish ahead of you in a race then read on. I will offer a possible explanation.

When I joined the sport I was just like any new athlete to the sport. I became friends with triathletes who apparently had been around the block and knew what to do. I was always asking questions and joined them in their training sessions. I figured if it does not kill me it will make me stronger. This strategy worked for a while. I was determined and I felt like I had talent.

My body was very good at assimilating training and improving, it did over my many years of swimming and of high school running. This strategy worked to get me to the finish line of my first triathlon the Bud Light USTS Houston 1986 but my big improvements came once I moved and luckily I found some great training partners that I was more compatible with. By the way, Dave Scott won my infamous first Olympic distance race. Dave gapped the competition in the 2-mile swim never to be seen again. The swim buoys drifted overnight and no one noticed until after Dave completed the swim in 45 minutes. First time the swim took longer than the run I am sure. This was great for me given my swimming background.

The group of triathletes that I trained with in Houston was a great group of guys and we had fun. Traveled together, our wives became friends and it was like a small community within our community. This is definitely one of the best things about being an age group competitor. The problem as I see it now many years later is that we definitely had a pecking order. We all knew who was the fastest and who was slowest. This hardly ever changed over the years we trained together. Why is that? Shouldn't a triathlete that trains just like the faster competitors become fast too.

The answer to that is that you don't necessarily get fast by training with fast athletes. It depends on the objective of each workout and where you are in your training program. We all as age groupers know about those training sessions with our friends where someone shouts "I am going easy today", it hardly ever happens. Maybe the faster athletes are going relatively easy and taking better advantage of their workout. But the slower inexperienced ones are dying back there and definitely not taking advantage of what was supposed to be an easy day. There lies the answer as to why it is so hard to get as good as them.

We all know by now the importance of different types of training sessions. I am not going to get real technical with percentages of VO2 Max and anaerobic threshold formulas. Training is basically composed of some short easy or medium sessions, some speed sessions and the bread and butter long session, which should be done at an easy aerobic pace.

It would be ideal to train with a group on the speed sessions since this is when one needs to be pushed. Then train alone on the long sessions or with some partners of equal to lesser experience and strength. This will guarantee that the pace will stay easy to moderate and aerobic for everyone. Now, lets look at reality. An average age group triathlete usually schedules the shorter sessions, which include speed during the week. These are done on the lunch hour, before or after work. The time is critical and it limits the possibility of training with your partners. The long sessions are scheduled on weekends since the time is usually not as critical and done in a group setting when all the hot shots are there to train. This is the opposite of what would be helpful for proper training.

Choosing your training partners wisely is very important to have a chance at improving while following common training principles. Don't do your long training ride with the fast experienced athletes. They will be glad you are around for company while they get that aerobic ride in, but you will be sore for a week. You will not get advantage of any aerobic training and that is one hard way to gain any confidence. Call them for your speed sessions instead.

If you have a training partner that is not going to race you on your easy day then consider yourself very lucky. As triathletes most of us are not on the same schedule and someone usually wants to go at a faster pace. We all have different race goals and race at different distances which calls for different training. The group setting works great on high school and college teams as everyone is on a very similar schedule. Everyone is tired from the prior speed session so everyone wants to go easy. This does not work in our new athletic world of age group triathlon.

Take these ideas into consideration the next time you are planning your training sessions. There is no need to drop the tri-club ride and become an un-friendly triathlete. Although come to think of it some of the best age group athletes in my town train on their own. Mix it up a bit and maybe do what Mark Allen told me he did when confronted with pro athletes that just wanted to go hard all day. Let them go. There are no trophies or paychecks handed out at the end of training sessions. Stick to your plan and do what the training program calls for.

Last season I talked to the Boulder Triathlon Club about and our coaching services. Tony DeBoom was there also to talk about his training. One person asked Tony if he trained with his brother Tim at all. He said, "not on my easy days, only on some specific workouts", I think I know why.

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