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I've decided to run an Olympic Triathlon:

  • Swim: 1.5 km (0.93  mi)
  • Cycle: 40 km (24.8  mi)
  • Run: 10 km (6.2  mi)

and need to assess where I'm at in order to build a workout schedule on my own.

How do I perform an assessment workout to see where I'm at in my swimming, running and biking? I'm not exactly sure what I should assess, and how.

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do you have experience at any distance in triathlon? –  Ryan Miller Aug 6 '12 at 18:50
    
@RyanMiller based on our chat, he only has some experience with cross country running. He can ride a bike, but not well and is probably a poor swimmer –  Ivo Flipse Aug 6 '12 at 18:52
    
@RyanMiller I'm definitely not the best of swimmers. I know how to swim, but not effectively. I know how to bike, but I don't know how to race. –  KronoS Aug 6 '12 at 18:59
    
@KronoS and are you looking to compete/race hard or simply finish, have fun and learn? –  Ryan Miller Aug 6 '12 at 19:08
    
@RyanMiller looking to complete for the moment. Goal is to complete by end of 2013. Eventually I may get into competing but for now it's purely a motive to get back into shape, and accomplish something. –  KronoS Aug 6 '12 at 19:09
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2 Answers 2

The answer is going to be pretty much the same for all three sports, in that you need to do a fitness/threshold test, and then use that to compute training paces.

For swimming, I recommend the 3x300. Warm up completely, then you swim 3 different 300 meter swims, with :30 seconds rest in between. You want to try to keep them as close in time as possible, while still pushing it hard. Something like 3:30, 5:00 and 6:45 would not be a good test. Once you have your times, then determine your average pace/100m and use that to base training cycles. There is a series of books called Swim Training in a Binder that have workouts, and they outline a fit test in the beginning section. There is also one that is triathlete specific.

For cycling and running, you'll need a HR monitor of some sort. Do at least 15 mins of warmup, then it's basically a 30 minute time trial. At 10 minutes into the test, hit your HR lap button, so that you get your average heart rate over the last 20 minutes. Do a good cooldown after the test. As I don't personally like HR based training, I also try to gauge my perceived exertion (RPE), and use that for later training. There are, however, many people that like HR based zone training and many plans are based off of this as well.

Since you are fairly new, and planning a triathlon workout regimen can get a bit involved, I would recommend a book that has a plan, or a site such as Beginner Triathlete that has a lot of premade plans, some free and some paid, and an EXCELLENT support and discussion community, centered around beginners.

Now, as a part time coach, I know that for a lot of beginners, the big hurdle is swimming. If you aren't a former swimmer or at all uncomfortable in the water, I highly recommend getting as much pool time as you can, and get in some open waters swims (OWS). OWS is a very different animal, and even experienced pool swimmers can freak out the first time or two. Also, if you plan on using a wetsuit, get some practice time in OW in the wetsuit. It's also a different beast. Don't OWS alone, however. Go with a group or a friend or two.

I would also recommend signing up for a sprint or two before you do the Olympic distance. You get used to the environment, transitions, what it actually feels like going from the swim to the bike to the run, and you get an idea of where fitness/training is lacking.

Edits for clarity: You will periodically want to redo all the fitness tests, since the numbers will change as you get fitter. Also, do not attempt to all the fitness tests on the same day, or even back to back. You might be able to get away with a swim test on one day and a second test the next day as there is no impact with swimming, but I would space them with at least an off day between so that you get the best results.

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@Kronos John's clearly more experienced at this than I am, my approach would probably be too soft (I try to avoid getting injured) whereas John's approach probably gives you a better sense of where you're at physically –  Ivo Flipse Aug 6 '12 at 18:50
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JohnP's answer is just about spot on. If there was an "industry standard" for baselining on the bike or run, it would be what JohnP describes. In my experience, the "industry standard" for a swim baseline is a1000 yd/m time trial swim and divided by 100 to get a feel for pace, but I'm guessing 1K straight will be challenge for you at this point, so definitely JohnPs suggestion will work. –  Ryan Miller Aug 6 '12 at 19:07
    
+1 for the OWS comments as well as "industry standard" baselining approach –  Ryan Miller Aug 6 '12 at 19:07
    
@RyanMiller - You are correct, the 1k straight swim is a very viable testing option. As a personal preference I like the 3x300 for the simple fact that many non swimmers have trouble pacing a 1k in an effective fashion, I feel like they get a better feel from the 3x300. But, that is certainly a personal preference, I would not invalidate the 1k test at all. –  JohnP Aug 7 '12 at 16:41
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Given you're not trained in any of these parts and they are mostly endurance sports, I would first assess your endurance.

Do each type of sport for 30 minutes and measure your distance. Don't do all three on one day, if you're untrained. Instead, take them a day apart or more if you feel sore. If you have access to a heart rate monitor, try keeping a steady heart rate. If not watch your breathing rhythm and try to keep it at such a level that you're still able to keep up a conversation (yes, that can be slow). We don't want you to strain yourself, we just want to see what you're capable off.

To measure your distance:

Using an app like RunKeeper is great, because it helps you track your progress and works for different types of workouts.

To assess the result, we can break down the Olympic record, which is 1:48. Here they spend about 20 minutes swimming, 60 minutes cycling and 30 minutes running. This comes down to:

  • 4.5 km/hr pace with swimming or reversed ~13 min/km
  • 40 km/hr cycling (using a much better bike than you probably own)
  • 20 km/hr running

Most people have a part they're good at and one they're weak at. If you want to improve your end result, improving your worst part is probably a good idea.

So how does this relate to you? Well cutting all speeds into half gives you a nice ballpark figure to aim at for starters.

  • Your cycling performance will depend highly on the quality of your bike and the number of hills you encounter. Cycling on a flat surface with a race bike will give a better time than using a mountain bike in the hillside.
  • Given your history with cross country running, this part should be the easiest. At your age, it shouldn't take more than a couple of months or a C25K program to get you running at 10+ km/hr.
  • Lastly swimming will probably be the worst if your untrained and unskilled. Untrained means swimming for 1 km will be exhausting, because of exhaustion you'll breath more, which will hurt your technique, which will exhaust you even more. So we probably don't have expect a great time here. No worries, your program will have to help you improve this and with regular training, this should improve rapidly.
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