Podcast, Racing, Training

Training for sprint and Olympic distance triathlons with coach James Teagle | EP#273

 February 15, 2021

By  Mikael Eriksson


Scientific Triathlon coach James Teagle is back on That Triathlon Show. In today's episode, he shares advice on how best to train and prepare for sprint and Olympic distance races for age-group triathletes.

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • Base training for sprint and Olympic distance athletes
  • Specificity: when, why and how should training start to really emulate your goal event
  • The balance between training to the race demands and to your athletic profile
  • Executing the race - tips (pacing, strategy, preparation, and more) for getting the most out of yourself on race day
  • Example key workouts to use in the lead-up to the race
  • Tips for training on a tight time budget

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03:50 -

  • My name is James Teagle and I am British athlete racing primarily draft legal races (sprint and Olympic distance) at the world cup and world series level.
  • As a coach I have coached for Scientific Triathlon for three years now, and before that I coached for my local triathlon club.

    I have a degree from Loughborough University within physiology and sports science.

Similarities between long and short course triathlon

05:35 -

  • The main similarity across all triathlon distances is that they all require a very well developed aerobic capacity, even though it is called a ”sprint”, it is still very much an endurance sport.
  • Efficiency aspects (swim technique, running form etc.) are also massively important in both long and short course triathlons.
  • In sprint and Olympic distance races, the anaerobic threshold is slightly more important (since it is more race specific) compared to the aerobic threshold (”1st threshold”), even though the aerobic threshold is of great importance in short course racing as well.
  • In terms of training, during the base training phase, the training will probably be more similar between an athlete training for long and short course triathlons.

    However, in my opinion, I think that one should also include some aspects of specificity regardless of the time of year.

    I would also argue for that one should study the demands of the race(s) one targets, in terms of course profile, potential wind conditions etc., and train specifically to prepare for these type of scenarios.

Race specific demands for sprint and Olympic distance

21:55 -

  • It’s very different depending on what level the athlete is on, whether the goal is to just finish the race or to fight for podium slots…

    The principle of identifying the demands on race day is still the same though, whether it is to just be able to swim the complete 750m distance in open water or to swim it on ”threshold effort”.
  • In sprint distance triathlon, transitions are also really important and you should regularly train transition specific skills to improve this element.
  • In regards to the swim, if one is aiming for an as fast swim as possible, then it is important to dare to go out really hard (especially if the first turning buoy is rather close) in order to try and take a couple of faster feet.

    After a hard take out, it is important to familiarize with settling in to threshold like effort.
  • In terms of the bike, the more advanced athlete, the closer you’re suppose to race to your threshold.

    If you’re a little bit less advanced, then you must aim for a more ”steady” like effort on the bike leg.

    Also try and learn how to ideally pace the bike i regards to the course and/or wind conditions (you should push harder in uphill and head wind segments).

    I would also like to add here that one should make sure to prepare as diligently as possible, which include training in full race equipment (especially the deep rim race wheels!) a few times before the race.
  • For Olympic distance racing, my advice is pretty much the similar, obviously one should aim for a slightly lower power output, probably around 90 % of FTP (for more advanced athletes perhaps 90-95 % of threshold).
  • My main tips for T2 is to make sure to know exactly where the dismount line, be very familiar with the transition area and have a made up routine for how you’re going to step off the bike, take off your helmet, put your shoes on etc.
  • In terms of the run, I think that brick runs are beneficial mainly for psychological reasons, to familiarize with the feeling of running off the bike.

    In regards to pacing, I would say that for well trained athlete racing sprint distance, one should aim to run at a pace just above threshold, and for Olympic distance run legs pretty straight on threshold.

    For less advanced athletes, the ”tempo zone” is probably a better intensity to strive for and for beginner athletes with the goal of finishing the race, they should start really conservatively and work oneself into the race.

    I use to say to my athletes (independent of level), that they really should dare and open up the run rather conservatively to be able to find the rhythm and avoid ”blowing up”.

    Despite the relatively short duration of the run legs in sprint and Olympic triathlons, running efficiency is really important.

    It definitely helps a lot to run plenty in order to improve running economy, but strength training, conditioning and plyometric work could be very effective as well to improve this aspect.
  • As a general ”race day advice”, I would say that you should be as prepared and have an as diligent plan for the race including race morning as well as possible.

Training intensity distribution

01:07:10 -

  • For the intermediate age group athlete, the intensity one is going to race at is probably in between zone 3 and 4, and hence one must spend some time in this zone (especially closer to race day).

    However, even though sprint and Olympic distance are quite intense races, one also needs to incorporate endurance rides, swims and runs.
  • For an athlete training around 8h/week, I would pretty much include some intensity in every session (during the race specific phase), since you would be able to recover from that as the overall training volume is so relatively low.

    In the swim and run, I would put a slight emphasize on speed work while I would favor tempo sessions on the bike.

A key swim, run and bike session for an Olympic distance triathlon

01:16:30 -

  • A great swim session is 20x100 with 10-30s recovery.
  • One of my favorite bike sessions is 1min @ threshold with 20s recovery, straight into 12mins sweet spot/tempo work, which can be repeated 2-3 times.
  • In terms of the run, any session that includes around 20mins of threshold work is a really great set.

Three most important take home messages

01:21:50 -

  • Know what you’re aiming for and what you want to achieve.
  • Look at the specific demands for your A race.
  • Don’t forget that triathlon, independent on distance, is an endurance sport and train for it like it’s an endurance sport!

Rapid fire questions

01:24:15 -

  • What is your favorite book, blog or resource related to endurance sports? People, one can learn plenty from people!
  • What is your favorite piece of gear or equipment? My bike.
  • What is a personal habit that has helped you achieve success? Never giving up, keep on trying and trying until you get what you’re striving for!


Mikael Eriksson

I am a full-time triathlon coach, founder of Scientific Triathlon, and host of the top-rated podcast That Triathlon Show. I am from Finland but live in Lisbon, Portugal.

Please contact me if you have feedback on the podcast or want to make suggestions for improvement or send in a question for a Q&A episode.

If you are a long-time listener and appreciate the value the podcast brings, please consider taking a couple of minutes for leaving a rating and review on iTunes/Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you can think of leaving a rating and review.

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