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Improve My Training: Stacking Triathlons and the Marathon

We evaluate a triathlete's training log and provide two tips to boost his running performance in the four Ironman competitions he has on his schedule.

We’re offering Outside+ members and PodiumRunner subscribers the chance for a personal coaching consultation. Submit two weeks of your training and answer a few questions about your running history and goals, and we’ll publish selected logs along with suggestions from an expert coach for improving your training. To be eligible to submit your training, sign up for Outside+ or Podium Runner. If you’re already a member and would like your training evaluated by an expert running coach you can submit your training here.

Runner Profile

Name: Quang Nguyen

Age: 47

Goal: CIM in December after multiple triathlons in late summer and fall 

Sample Two Week Training

Monday 5/17 Running – 3 miles easy @ 10 min/mile (pace)
Tuesday 5/18 Swimming – 4500 yards in the morning
Cycling – 6x 3 minutes @330W with 2 min recovery plus warmup and cool down
Brick run – 4 miles @ 7:30 pace
Wednesday 5/19 Running – 10 miles @ 7:50 pace average
Thursday 5/20 Cycling – 1-hour steady effort @ 200w
Running – 8 miles @ 8:00 pace
Friday 5/21 Swimming – 4000 yards
Saturday 5/22 Cycling – 50 miles 
Brick run – 4 miles @ 6:45 pace
Sunday 5/23 Running – 7 miles wu @ 8:00 pace, then 6x 1 mile faster each mile descending from 7 min pace to 6 min pace
Monday 5/24 Running – 3 miles easy @ 10:00 pace
Tuesday 5/25 Running – 3 miles easy @ 10:00 pace in the morning
Cycling – 6 x 3 minutes @ 330w with 2 min recovery plus warmup and cool down in the afternoon
Wednesday 5/26 Running – 3 miles easy @ 10:00 pace in the morning
Running – 11 miles @ 7:35 pace in the afternoon
Thursday 5/27 Running – 3 miles easy @ 10:00 pace in the morning
Cycling – One hour threshold 
Friday 5/28 Running – 3 miles easy 10:00 pace in the morning
Tapering for a virtual 70.3 IM the next day
Saturday 5/29 Swimming – 1500 yards in ows @ race effort
Cycling – 56 miles @race effort
Running – 13.1 miles @ 7:05 pace (marathon race effort)

Quang is a 47-year-old triathlete, and a very successful one at that. He has running PR’s of 1:24:55 for the half marathon and a 3:07 marathon, all set in 2017. Like so many triathletes, Quang would like to improve his run times while maintaining the other disciplines. The challenge he faces is his jam-packed racing schedule: Ironman Oregon 70.3 on 7/25, Ironman Santa Cruz 70.3 on 9/12, Ironman Championship Kona on 10/9, Ironman Arizona on 11/20, and CIM on 12/5.

In the last month, he been swimming twice a week — once on Tuesday, once on Friday. Each session he swims about 5000 yards. As far as cycling workouts, he does 2x 1-hour indoor sessions — one interval and one sweet-spot session. The third cycling session is typically a longer ride outdoors. Quang is interested in how he can get faster at running for CIM in December while still maintaining his cycling and swimming for his upcoming triathlons. 

Photo: courtesy Quang Nguyen

Training Evaluation

Let’s start off with two things Quang is doing well.

Praise # 1 – Cross Training

It’s no surprise that as a triathlete, Quang has an excellent balance of cross training. Cross training is a fantastic way to get really fit without all the pounding and stress that comes with running. As Rick Prince points out in his article “6 Ways Cycling Will Help You Become a Better Runner,” cycling can mimic running movement without the stress and help you become a better runner by enhancing both your aerobic and anaerobic engines while strengthening your calves, shins, and core. 

Personally, I’ve recently picked up cycling and have noticed a huge improvement in my running — mostly in my power output — which has led to better running efficiency and top end speed. If you want to start adding cycling to your training, I suggest scheduling it the day following your weekly speed session or long run. If running is your priority, I would avoid cycling the day before any quality session, as it can leave your legs heavy and flat. 

Praise #2 – Running Easy: Really, Really Easy 

A lot of runners have the mindset that at some pace, much slower than their normal runs, the miles are worthless. These slower paced runs are often referred to as “junk miles” and questions arise about whether they are even beneficial. It’s clear Quang doesn’t follow this “junk miles” philosophy, as evidenced by the 10-minuted paced runs he does with his wife. 

Instead, I like to use the term “recovery miles.” While these ultra-slow miles may not produce the same stimulus as those closer to your lactate threshold, they aren’t useless. Running super slow can still, and sometime better, facilitate recovery from the harder days by reducing DOMS and repairing micro-tears in the muscles from your hard days by getting fresh, oxidated blood to working muscles. 

Two tips to improve Quang’s training

Tip #1 – Add Some Fast Speed

The one thing I see completely absent from Quang’s training is anything faster than his 10k pace. This may be intentional because of his virtual 70.3 Ironman at the end of the two weeks, but still, the large majority of his quality running work is around marathon pace or slower. Every runner should hit every pace from mile race pace to dead-slow dragging pace every so often.

Quang would greatly benefit from adding two things: 4 to 6 strides at 800-meter to mile race pace once or twice a week after his run, and traditional interval-style speed sessions two to three times a month. These could be something simple like 8 to 12 x 400 at 3k pace with 2-minute recovery or 8 to 12 x 800 meters @ 8k pace w/ 60 sec recovery.

Tip #2 – Less Racing, More Training and Recovery

You can do it all, but you can’t do it all at your best. This is something I see all the time with runners. Runners sign up for a ton of races, leaving very little time for a proper training and adequate recovery in between. I get it; races are a ton of fun, the vibe and race day energy is motivating and thrilling. But in order to do your best, proper scheduling is paramount. Otherwise, you’re in a perpetual state of fatigue.

Looking at Quang’s racing schedule, the two months before CIM include a full ironman distance triathlon 8 weeks out, followed by another full ironman 2 weeks out. This is too demanding of race schedule to maintain and expect to be fresh on CIM race day. It also eliminates the ability to do high-quality marathon training during a crucial window- the 8 weeks prior to CIM.

My suggestion is one of two things if Quang wants to prioritize CIM. First, I’d drop Ironman Arizona. It’s just too close to CIM and he’ll already be recovering from Kona. If dropping Arizona isn’t an option, I’d significantly cut back on cycling and swimming training once recovered from Kona. Make adding in two quality marathon type workouts per week a priority, like the late-phase workouts in the article on eight key marathon workouts.

I want to thank Quang for submitting his training for Podium Runner’s training evaluation. I wish him the best of luck in all his triathlons and at CIM.

If you’re an Outside+ member or PodiumRunner subscriber and would like your training evaluated by expert running coach Cory Smith you can submit your training here.

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About the Coach

Cory Smith is the founder of Run Your Personal Best, an online running coaching business that has helped hundreds of runners achieve personal bests in distances ranging from 800 meters to 100 miles. He holds a USA Track & Field Level 1 and 2 Endurance Certification and was the former Head Cross Country/Track Coach at Penn State Brandywine. Over his running career Cory has held three Maryland state records, was a two-time National Championship qualifier while at Villanova University, and holds personal bests of 4:03 in the mile and an 8:05 3k.