Podcast, Training

Quality over quantity for age-group triathletes with Mike Ricci | EP#98

 February 1, 2018

By  Mikael Eriksson

Quality over quantity for age-group triathletes with Mike Ricci | EP#98

Mike Ricci is one of the most successful coaches out there when it comes to age-group triathletes, and has been awarded USAT Coach of the Year. We discuss his thoughts and principles on effective triathlon training for age-groupers.

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  • Let's discuss this episode and the topic in general. Post any comments or questions in the comments at the bottom of the shownotes. Join the discussion here!

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • Quality over quantity in triathlon training.
  • Balancing training with a career and family.
  • Why taking weeks off in the off-season traditional base building may be counterproductive for age-group triathletes.
  • Beginner triathletes - what to focus on in training, and how to reduce feeling overwhelmed. 
  • Tips for moving up to your first 70.3 or Ironman.
  • "Levelling up" and becoming competitive in your age-group.

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About Mike Ricci

1:00 - 

  • Head coach of D3 Multisport in Boulder, Colorado.
  • Has been named USA Triathlon Coach of the Year.
  • Mike coached University of Colorado to 4 straight collegiate national championships.
  • He has coached many Ironman winners at the age group level, as well as many Kona qualifiers.
  • He has also coached many age group ITU champions.

Quality over quantity for age-group triathletes

4:10 -

  • It's always about working the training schedule around the person's life.
    • You need to make the most of their time, particularly with age groupers who have busy lives outside triathlon. 
  • Age groupers time availability tends to vary, I've coached people who have 16 hours a week for training and complete Ironman races in 9 hours, but also people people competing at Ironman who train 10 hours a week and finish in 10.5 hours. There's a big range.
    • Most people fit in the 12-15 hours a week range.
  • If triathletes can maintain 10 hours a week during the off-season (Dec-April/May), it should make the jump to 12-14 hours a week easier.
  • It also depends on the athlete's goals in terms of racing, and their abilities at training as well.
  • It's very different for age groupers compared to professionals as they don't have the same amount of time to recover as they generally have to go to work between training sessions.
  • Shorter racing usually means you can train at a lower volume. To be competitive at Sprint or Olympic you can get away with training 8-10 hours a week, or even 1 hour per day consistently, with heavier weeks at times.
    • The quality of training will be a lot higher, and you'll see a bigger training effect on a week to week basis.
    • On a Saturday when a half Ironman athlete rides for 4 hours, a Sprint or Olympic athlete may ride for 1.5 hours and do a 20 minute run off the bike instead.
  • The people who can create the time around work and be more flexible with training may succeed more in racing.
    • Sometimes you need to make sacrifices for this to happen.
  • Endurance sports can be beneficial at reducing sick days from work, as long as you're getting enough rest. You're probably more productive at work and more efficient.
  • Example: You have an athlete on a periodised programme, three weeks up and one week down. They're doing some base training this time of year (Dec-Feb) before starting intervals in March. If they ended their season in November with an Olympic or Half Ironman and have good fitness, I would actually recommend not going back to running and cycling just easy base miles after that season ended.
    • If you have a lot of hours, that's the way to do it, but if you only have 10-11 hours a week you're better of working on technique and speed in between working on endurance.
    • On the bike: Get on your trainer and do some VO2max work - even if it's only 6-8 minutes of this, it'll have a big impact in raising your threshold.
    • On the run: Get on the treadmill and run 8x1 min fast - at 5K pace.
    • Keep touching those speeds so you never lose contact with them - neuromuscularly your body will remember what it's like to run fast.
  • When you get closer to the season you add in harder work, e.g. 400m/800m repeats on the track.
  • In a traditional running programme you would do speed work 2-3 times a week.
    •  E.g. Off-season run sessions:
      • 6 x 30 seconds after a long run
      • 5 x 40 seconds in the middle of an hour long run.
      • Treadmill run, 8x 60-90 seconds @ 5K pace on short rest.
  • In the off-season on the bike you can be more intensive because it's easier to recover.
    • E.g. Monday VO2 session: 6x30 or 10x30 seconds on/off (30 seconds VO2, 10 seconds recovery.
    • E.g. Wednesday threshold session: 4x3 minutes at FTP.
    • E.g. End of the week long ride: 90 minute ride with tempo intervals (10/12/15 minutes at zone 3).
      • Throughout the week you have touched all the energy systems.
  • As you get closer to races your training becomes more tailored to your races. If you're doing a hilly Ironman you'll have more tempo or more strength.
  • The bike and run are 80-90% of the race so those are the things you focus on.
  • Once you have speedwork built it only takes 4-6 weeks to get anybody endurance because they've already been training for a while.
    • You would do 2-3 hour rides but where previously you were riding at 16-17mph, now you're riding them at 20mph because your fitness has improved.
  • Working on FTP and VO2 makes everything easier because you're more efficient and faster.
  • Real world example: A client comes to me and they run a 30 minute 5k, a 1 hour 10K and a 2 hour half marathon. I ask them to go run 6x30 seconds twice a week and continue with the long run. Suddenly their long run is 20s/mile faster, and their easier runs are 20s/mile faster, and they go from a 30 minute 5k to a 27 minute 5k.
    • Although it doesn't feel like you're doing much different, the neuromuscular patterns are changing because your body gets used to the faster pace from the speed work sessions.
  • People always worry about the last 5% of something, but it's really the first 95% we need to focus on.

Changes in training closer to race season

17:58 - 

  • I think it's important to ride 4 times a week, run 4 times a week (if not more) if you want to make progress.
  • Closer to race season you take out that first hard ride, and the threshold workout increases (from 12-20 to 20-50 minutes) to prepare you for an Olympic distance race.
  • In the week you can do an Olympic race simulation:
    • E.g. 2x20 minutes at Olympic distance effort (pace, heart rate, RPE, watts), then run off the bike 3-4 miles at Olympic distance pace.
    • If you can do that loaded with fatigue, after a taper you should be able to do the whole race at that effort, or pretty close.
  • You'll see big gains if you drop one harder session, increase the threshold session and add another session at the weekend if you are recovered enough.
  • The sessions in between must be made easier to help recovery, particularly using swim and bike sessions for this.
    • E.g. run so slow it's embarrassing, or get in the pool and just float up and down a few times working on technique.
    • If you have recovery boots use these too.
    • These types of sessions can be beneficial even in the off-season to promote recovery: they keep the blood flowing, help damaged tissue repair and prepare you for the next hard session.
  • Staying on top of sleep and nutrition will also improve recovery.

Block Training

20:44 - 

  • Triathletes often don't focus on their weaker sport unless they get injured.
  • We shouldn't want an injury for this to happen! Take your weakest sport and spend 8 weeks focusing on it - train in that sport 5-6 days a week. For example, swimming:
    • 2 normal big workouts (3K-4K).
    • Remaining 3 sessions can be 1.5-2K: 1 recovery session, 1 speed session (25m repeats), 1 session 50m repeats.
    • Continue to run and bike 2-3 times a week.
      • Bike: 1 day VO2, 1 day tempo.
      • Run: 1 day 30 sec pick-ups, 1 day long run with tempo at the end.
    • Do a 1000m time trial at the start and end of the 8 weeks, typically you'll swim much faster.
  • After the first 8 weeks are over you go onto your next weakest sport. For example, cycling:
    • 5-6 sessions a week: 1 x VO2, 1 x threshold, 1 x tempo, 2 sessions just riding and getting the miles in.
    • FTP usually goes up after the 8 weeks and you should be feeling better.
  • If you have time, you would then move onto the final sport. In all it is 6 months of training.
  • Your fitness increases in all three sports across the 6 months so athletes shouldn't worry about losing fitness in any individual discipline.

Training for beginner triathletes

25:20 - 

  • Be consistent with your training if you want to improve. If you're starting from no training, 3 workouts a week in each sport is fantastic.
    • If you can fit in strength and mobility workouts on top that's great too, but focus on just getting out there and swimming, cycling and running.
  • Have a schedule you know you can complete each week. You want a schedule that is easy to complete so you won't get demoralised. Set yourself up to win.
  • Example plan for a beginner who has never swam, cycled or ran:
    • Swim sessions first week: 200m, then 300m, then 500m.
    • Bike sessions first week: 20 minutes, then 30 minutes, then 40 minutes.
    • Run sessions in the first week: run 5-10 minutes each day to start.
  • As they're getting along these sessions might increase to:
    • Swim: 3-5 x 800m swims per week.
    • Bike: 3 x 45 minute rides each week.
    • Run: 3 x 30 minute runs each week.
  • Group training can be really beneficial, but also overwhelming at the start.
  • Endurance comes quickly - as humans we adapt pretty quickly. 

Changes in training when moving to long course racing

28:21 - 

  • In terms of running, at Olympic distance your long run will be 80-90 minutes, but at Half Ironman the run is more likely 2 hours/2 hours 15 which you'll gradually increase to over time.
  • The big difference is the bike - it's still 50% of the race and the distance is more than double. The key is putting the time in on the bike training.
  • If you're good on the VO2 sessions, and you're good on threshold, your long rides are going to be 3-4 hours sometimes to build the endurance base.
  • If you move from half Ironman to full Ironman, the biggest change and focus will still be on the bike.
  • One mistake people make is feeling they need to do a long ride and a long run every single weekend, which isn't necessary.
    • Do a good quality bike ride one weekend, and a shorter run. Next weekend do a good quality run and a shorter bike.
    • Too many miles on the bike can be both mentally and physically draining.

"Levelling up" from back-of-pack to competitive age-grouper 

31:35 - 

  • Most of the time the key thing is consistency of training, as well as goals and objectives.
  • It's important to think of your goals, but also think about the objective - what is it going to take to get you there?
    • Run example:
      • Goal = break 3.5 hours in an Ironman marathon. Objective = Run 30-40 miles per week, running 4-5 days per week.
      • Work out the pace you need to be running at to reach this goal.
    • Bike example:
      •  Goal =  Improve half Ironman bike split from 3hrs to 2.45 hrs. Right now watts/kg is 2.8 but I know it needs to be 3.2-3.3 watts/kg. Objective = ride 4-5 times per week, do some block training, do a good amount of threshold training.
      • To get to the number you have to hit those watts, otherwise it remains a dream.
  • Power has revolutionised the bike - it's easier to check in with your goals because, aerodynamics all being equal, if you can hit the watts/kg, you're going to ride the time.
  • Understanding your training and having specific objectives throughout the week will significantly improve your chances of being successful.
  • "A goal without a plan is nothing but a dream"

Family/life/training balance

35:06 - 

  • Here's the secret: train when your family doesn't know you're training.
    • If they're sleeping at 4am, get up and do the training then. It means when you're home from work it's all family time and you're not rushing to squeeze in a workout.
  • Get it done early and it makes your life so much better. It also means your training is less likely to be disrupted if things come up in the evening after a day at work. 
  • Involve your family in the process!
    • For example, do a point to point ride in the summer and ask your family to join you, or get them involved in the actual training.
  • Kids get more excited watching you race if they've been part of all the hard work - everybody is invested that way.

Rapid fire questions

37:50 - 

  • What is a personal habit that has helped you achieve success?
    • Getting up early and getting the workouts done. Making sure something gets done everyday and not fall into the medium of missing a workout. It's good to feel like I've accomplished something everyday, even if it's just a 30 minute run, it keeps the momentum going. 

Key takeaways

  • You don't need to take a long break after your last race before returning to training.
  • Always stay in touch with intensity and with your speed - not just doing long, slow distance training, particulary if you don't have many hours to spare for training.
  • Mikael's examples for getting back to training:
    • Run: using 4-6 strides (accelerations for 20-30 seconds, up to 95% max) or 8-10 hill sprints (8-12 seconds max power) but remaining relaxed and using a full walking recovery. Fartlek workouts can also work well.
    • Bike: using power sprints (10-20 seconds in a hard gear from a standstill), also some light VO2 max workouts (e.g. 2 sets of 10x30 second repeats followed by 30 seconds easy spin between intervals and 5-10 minutes easy spin between sets).
    • Swim: 10x50m (50's split into 25m sprint, 25m recovery), with relatively long rest between intervals.
  • Related to Malcolm Brown interview (That Triathlon Show, Episode 96) - training above threshold intensity is important to improve speed!

Links, resources & contact

Links and resources mentioned

Connect withMike Ricci

Connect with host Mikael Eriksson


Hi! I'm your host Mikael,

I am a full-time triathlon coach and an ambitious age-group triathlete. My goal is podium at the Finnish national championships within the next few years.

I first started the website Scientific Triathlon in autumn 2015 as a passion project to share my learnings with a larger triathlon audience. Later on, in early 2017 I started the podcast That Triathlon Show. 

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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.

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