Over on Slowtwitch.com Helle Frederiksen and I did an "Ask Us Anything" following Helle's win at the Challenge Bahrain race. The following are excerpts from my responses to training related questions, both specific to Helle and general as the thread evolved:
On bike training for non drafting:
Our approach to the bike could be described generally as 'the right load at the right time'.
Most often we do two specific power based sessions on the bike during the build up to events. We use different types of sessions including strong finish rides, race specific power sessions, and sessions with targets over race pace.
On run training specific to Helle:
Helle usually runs between 4-6hrs per week.
Most runs are easy, with two main sessions per week, which will be faster than race pace for the main sets of these sessions. Include strides regularly, for neuromuscular coordination
Resistance training 2x per week, no plyometrics.
On Swim training:
Helle's swim training is fairly standard - usually scm or scy in the US, 5x per week, 4-5km per session - mix of endurance, strength and pace. What works is how that interfaces with the bike and run training. We have a fairly repeatable pattern we use most of the year and progress the quality as she gets fitter.
On bike intensity, threshold and polarized training:
We use threshold training in the 2 months prior to racing, or within the racing season as maintenance. Higher intensity than threshold is often difficult to achieve when under a high overall work load, whereas threshold, tempo, or steady can be done effectively even when very fatigued. I agree that too much threshold could be 'toxic' but really it's just a work load issue. 'Polarized training' has become a bit of a buzzword - I don't worry too much about the label - of course the majority of the volume high level athletes do is an easy intensities - the rest is 'hard'. Nothing new or novel, and it doesn't need to be more complicated than that.
On main sessions bike and run:
The bread and butter sessions are the build finish, lots in the sport do these: bike 2-3 or 4hrs with the last 30-90 mins building pace or at race pace. Similar with the running: building / progressive runs / negative splits.
I don't worry about how to label these sessions, but any training we do ought to allow recovery and frequency to come back at the next session or next day as planned- that's the consistency principle.
The builds are not necessarily to triathlon race pace, but either simply by effort, or to physiological markers such as 1-2hr power/effort, or 1/2 marathon pace/effort. The beauty of these build/neg split sessions is even doing them by effort works very well, and it's hard to do them 'incorrectly', and the feedback if you do it immediate (unable to maintain the 'building' pace). E.g. next long ride, do the last hour 'hard' and see what you get for output.
On swim training for triathletes:
We use a different model with swimming - especially for those without a swim background - we create many opportunities for quality swimming - every day has steady, strength, building, descending opportunities - very little fluff - long main sets, lots of steady and strength swimming. We use the swim tools to pattern good technical swimming, and repeat to get strong. Many are athletes are on here looking for some easier way with swimming, but there isn't one. More frequency, more volume, less traditional stuff, more repetition. This article captures my approach: http://joelfilliol.blogspot.com/2012/01/most-popular-post-on-this-blog-is-is.html
On planning a season with specific preparation:
With the season as long as it is now, you are never far away from race preparation, so I prefer to think of the building into races simply layer on top of layer of conditioning - the layers then aren't substantially different, with the quality of output increasing over time.
I don't like labels like 'reverse periodisation' - it's not new or novel - planning/periodization for sport always goes general to specific. In long distance racing of course the more specific work is going to come closer to the race, vs the early season when you are not as fit.
Our periodization model could be thought of with a concept of layers - each layer builds on the last, with the quality of what is achieve continuing to progress as conditioning deepens. In this model the type of work evolves but is not massively different from one phase to another.
We use building session in both the early season and specific phases, and of course are simply one type of session among others. The off-season is typically very short, and doesn't include any intensity.
On running frequency:
The idea that running every day is detrimental is BS. The majority of people who have some sort of running history and wanted to achieve this as a goal could run the 100/100 if they manage themselves by running easily enough and varied the duration of the days. Frequency is the most effective tool for improving any discipline for most athletes.
Our tapering approach is fairly standard - some tune ups Tuesday and Wednesday of race week, with the remainder easy, normal frequency and about 50% volume.
Pre and post race are the same for all races - big or small ones. It's predictable and consistent.
On training secrets or lack thereof:
Simple, focused on the fundamentals - the 'trick' if anything is knowing when / why / how to deviate from the 'formula', which could be for a variety of reasons, fatigue, illness, travel, recovery, etc.
We don't use recovery markers like HRV or morning hrt, etc. This quote sums it up:
"What is your ideal monitoring system? Coaches that pay attention" - @PfaffSC
Paying attention to mood, body language, words, tone, and simply watching movement, RPE, vs actual paces/power, vs expected. Reading feedback.
None of the 'modern' tracking has proven useful, reliable, easy to consistently implement, or causes other problems such as creating doubt within the athletes mind, which then tends to become reality.
On pacing in training and racing:
It's best to learn how to pace via RPE - tools can help this, but calibrating the brain is the most effective long term strategy.
Pros are subject to the same problems of making the easy sessions to quick, but generally this self corrects pretty quickly under heavy training loads, which results in the easy sessions getting slower. It's being 'too fresh' that causes problems sometimes - but it's a matter of discipline in any case.
If you can pace and manage yourself tired you can probably do the same fresh. Athletes who have the problems you described have not got the loading right into the race. The problems being too fresh have to do with being able to dig too deep in some sessions, therefore affecting following sessions, and consistency over the week (single workout heros). A general workload fatigue tends to 'protect' the athlete from being able to hurt themselves in this way.
I use data, power, GPS, do race analysis on the files, schedule some sessions with power and pace ranges, review it, and feedback on it. I look at the PMC, but don't use it for planning. We have some athletes more interested than others in reviewing power and pace. With Helle we review files and races together. That said I don't consider myself a 'data guy', more of a 'human guy' because that is what effective coaching is about. The vast majority of the 'problems' I have to solve as a coach are psychology related, not physiology related.
Athlete 'dashboards' include all the power stuff, plus volume ranges in each sport.
On ITU training and over-threshold work:
For any ITU athletes, the basic fundamental conditioning underpins the ability to perform the specific demands of the race. Many prioritise the specific demands over building and maintaining the fundamentals. We need much less race specific work than most athletes think. So the answer is not to reduce the overall volume to perform the intensive work, it's more the opposite - intensive work in the context of 'high' overall volume is what underpins success.
On lab tests:
We don't actually do any lab testing or indeed performance testing of any type with our athletes. No performance tests of any type, no time trials, no lab tests, no field tests. The only performance testing that is relevant is racing performance. I don't worry too much about labelling zones - really they don't change that much over time, and when they do it's obvious from general sessions we are doing. Goals are simply the next step forward from where we are now. Can only move one step at a time.
On 'big bikers' and running potential:
The 'big bikers' are sometimes legitimately stronger than others, sometimes not. Those who believe they are stronger on the bike often ride harder relatively than others, so there is a psychology element in play. What limits big riders at the sharp end is a combination of how they train (putting more emphasis on riding in training, less on running), and physiology / economy (due to heavier weight, body type / shape, and biomechanics), and psychology.