Pros and cons of triathlon group training as opposed to training on your own.
Triathlon group training has it’s good and bad points points, and there are several things to be aware of, especially if you are training for your first Ironman.
GOOD REASONS TO TRAIN WITH A GROUP
For many people triathlon group training opportunities is considered a big part of their social life and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. For many people it is exactly what they hope to achieve by being part of something like triathlon that is completely new to them.
It only stands to reason that the opportunity will be there to meet a whole new circle of friends and the best part is that many of the people you meet on the course of your training and racing will most likely have similar interests and goals as your own.
Training with others can be a great way to ease into the sport and get pointers that can help you along. By the same token you can help others if you are more knowledgeable in a certain aspect of triathlon training.
Every person who is new to the sport has their own set of abilities and also new skills they have yet to learn. Perhaps the biggest benefit of group training is that there is always something about training programs, diet, swimming, biking, running, or racing that new triathletes can learn from one another.
In this day and age it is a reality that for women in particular it is best to bike or run with at least one other for safety’s sake. This is especially true for long training sessions that take you far from home or sessions that take place in the darkness of early morning or in the evening hours.
In most cases it can be much cheaper to train with a group as opposed to being coached on a one-to-one basis.
Of course this makes perfect sense as 20 swimmers sharing the cost of a group swim coach(like a master’s swimming group)is certainly going to cost less that it would if you decide you require personal coaching.
DISADVANTAGES OF GROUP TRAINING
By it’s very nature, triathlon is a solitary event in many ways. These days you could very easily find yourself in an event like Ironman Canada with over 3000 other people.
Although you will be dodging flailing arms and legs as you bang and crash your way through the Ironman swim looking for your own piece of calm water, you are more alone than you will ever be in your life.
All the group training in the world will not prepare you with the demons you will have to battle on your own on Ironman race day.
Regardless of how many people are around you, how your ironman experience turns out will ultimately depend on how you handle the challenges of the day with the physical, emotional, and mental tools and skills you possess.
Spectators, volunteers, and fellow triathletes can be very important to your success, but ultimately it’s up to you to find your own way to the finish line.
There is only so much others can do for you. Besides overcoming some obstacles on your own is what makes reaching the Ironman finish line such an amazing accomplishment.
It’s in your best interest to learn to do some training on your own and not count solely on triathlon group training.
As a matter of fact, I believe that as much training as possible that goes into preparing for an Ironman should be done on your own.
IRONMAN SWIM TRAINING
Most triathlon group training programs for swimming are structured about the same.
Normally swimmers are divided into groups according to level of ability. That usually means that people who are just learning how to swim are stuck in the slow lane.
The idea is that once you improve and get faster, you are moved into a faster lane. What usually happens is that people are not that happy about being relegated to the “beginner” lane and spend all their time trying to swim faster.
This is normally done at the expense of not taking the necessary time to learn proper swim technique.
Every time I tried swimming with a masters group or any swim group for that matter that’s exactly what happened to me.
I never grasped the basic principle of learning a proper swim technique and worried too much about going faster so I wouldn’t always be relegated to the slow lane. Chances are if you are taking up triathlon you have a competitive nature and being dead last all the time might not sit well with you.
Normally by the end of months of triathlon group training in the pool my actual Ironman swim times stayed about the same.
Another problem I noticed is that a coach really can’t train 25 people at a time properly. How can a coach be expected to concentrate on one person’s swim stroke when he only has 60-90 minutes for the entire session?
It’s pretty much an impossibility and chances are you won’t get the individual instruction you need if you are struggling with your swim stroke.
Most likely there will be a bunch of drills on a blackboard for you to do for that session and you will left to do the best you can with a few basic instructions.
Or perhaps the coach will be yelling at you and waving his arms from the side of the pool and you can’t hear a thing and have no idea what he wants you to do.
TRIATHLON BIKE TRAINING
If you are a beginner cyclist and have no real experience on an honest-to-God road bike, then it would actually be a great idea to find experience cyclists to learn from.
For instance you might try joining up with a cycling club for a season. The experience can be invaluable.
They can help you with things like setting your bike up properly, proper technique, cornering and how to handle the hills.
It’s always wise to do those exceptionally long bike rides with someone just so you can support each other in case of mechanical failure etc.
The main downfall of cycling clubs is that they will also do a lot of drafting as they like to bike together as a group. This is not a great thing for you to be learning or to be getting used to as it is not allowed in most triathlons.
Riding in a group and drafting also protects you from the wind and it’s important that you get accustomed to being on the highway on your own, because that’s what it will be like on race-day.
RUNNING AND TRIATHLON GROUP TRAINING
On a personal note I’ve tried about every type of run training there is over my 35+ year career. I’ve run with groups and one other person and by myself.
In the end I most likely did 95% of my run training by myself. I remember in my early days with the Calgary Road Runners that we had a basic rule when running as a group. The rule was that when we ran as a group “we only went as fast as the slowest runner.”
That way nobody was ever left behind and I have to say that running that way was more of a social event for most of us. When it came right down to it, most of us ran on our own when a big Marathon was coming up.
I always find it a bit dismaying when I am out for a run and see people who are running in a group being left far behind to run by themselves. That can be demoralizing for the stragglers who are doing their best.
In situations like that it’s not really a group run so they might just as well run by themselves from the beginning.
You might think that a good alternative to triathlon group training is to run or bike with just one other person.
I tried that as well and it had several downfalls.
First of all when you are training for a big race like the Ironman and have a full week of work, training, and family responsibilities you can’t afford to be waiting around for someone who is running late on a consistent basis.
If you set a time to meet someone for a workout and they are late or don’t bother showing up it can be a very frustrating experience.
It can mess up your training schedule and you have to make sure you set up these training dates with people you can rely on.
Perhaps more importantly, no two people are ever in the exact same space as far as how they feel on any particular day when it comes to a training session.
You may feel like taking it easy and your partner feels great and wants to put the pedal to the metal. Or the other way around.
What normally happens is you end up doing their workout and not yours. Be prepared for this and set ground rules in the very beginning so you know what to expect before you hit the road.
By the same token you can plan a long, slow run with someone well in advance. That way you can both be prepared for that long run day and will be rested up for it and can even plan a rest day for the day after.
Basically when it comes to triathlon group training it’s pretty difficult to get a group of people on the same page at the same time.
USE GROUP AND INDIVIDUAL TRAINING
It is possible to use the best of two worlds.
You can go to bike classes and join a group that way and learn the proper biking techniques.
You can even join a bike club for one season and once you feel more confident then begin doing most of your biking on your own, or perhaps with one other person who is about the same skill level as yourself.
Perhaps join a swim group for one season while you become accustomed to swimming and then strike out on your own. You may even decide to hire a coach for 5 or 6 hours of personal training.
You can pick a day once every week or two where you meet up for a group for a run, but do all the rest of your run training on your own. The group run can be an easier “social” day for you and will give you an opportunity to make some new friends.
Try and find a “run only as fast as the slowest runner” group for social runs or it defeats the purpose if slower people are left to run by themselves.
Ultimately however, your goal should be to become comfortable with being on your own out there because when race day arrives that is pretty much what you can expect.
When the gun sounds for the 2.4 mile swim it won’t matter how much group training you’ve done, you will find yourself in your own little world out on the swim course and it’s everyone for themselves.
On the bike you must keep a static distance of about 3 bike lengths away from other bikers unless you are passing, so again, you must look out for yourself.
In the run you can run or walk with others entered in the race, but you have to make sure you are running your race and not theirs.
Be ready to leave them behind if they are slower than you want to go, or let them pull away if they are running faster than you want to go.
Triathlon group training can be a lot of fun, but be sure to balance it with doing plenty of training on your own so you can become more used to race situations that present themselves in the longer triathlons when you will be fending for yourself.