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January 11, 2011 | Triathlon Training Blog

Getting Ready for Your First Tri Race? USAT Level III Coach Justin Trolle Talks About Base Training

Justin Trolle has been coaching youth elite ITU distance triathletes to the highest level for the past 18 years. Now the owner of Colorado-based Vanguard Triathlon has expanded his coaching services from the elite short-distance athletes to include longer-distance amateurs looking to gain a competitive edge.

I recently had the pleasure of talking to Trolle about his overall training philosophy and input on how to safely progress from “hibernation” to a structured training plan, especially for those kicking off their tri season with the first big race for the year: The Rohto Ironman 70.3 in Oceanside on April 2.

With the Rohto Ironman 70.3 race in Oceanside being a mere 12 weeks away, many triathletes have already started their base period training. What is your general philosophy on getting back into training after enjoying some down time during the Holidays?

The length of base training and how an athlete trains will depend on the individual athlete. Most athletes probably took off 1 week or 2 weeks after their last race to refresh and that’s a good idea. You want to spend some time doing unstructured training and enjoy eating fatty foods and Holiday treats.

If your next race is Oceanside, you need at least 12-16 weeks to build up your fitness.

That translates into getting back to training in early January. Athletes with a long history in the sport and good fitness will be able to return to scheduled training and fitness quickly. I typically start by building up my athletes for 2-3 weeks after their break with all aerobic workouts.

Athletes should feel comfortable during these sessions and do no high intensity. After that block, I will introduce 2-4 weeks of a little speed work (depending on the athlete).

That means aerobic sessions with some built-in high-intensity where the athletes will train above VT1 (the first ventilatory threshold where breathing becomes difficult), but remain below the second metabolic marker called VT2, or the point where speech is not possible, just single words.

The focus, however, remains on building a base with lots of low-intensity workouts to teach the body to burn fats. The more an athlete trains above VT2, the more of a negative effect it’ll have on his base. We want to get some speed, but without compromising volume and base conditioning.

When you coach clients online who aren’t located near you, how do you track their fitness?

All of my athletes upload information from their Garmin or Powermeter onto Trainingpeaks. This allows me to measure an athlete’s fatigue level after every training block.

I have done a lot of work last year on fatigue rates and how it affects the body. For example, if an athlete has a high fatigue level and drops off in the last 20 minutes of a training session, I need to improve that fatigue rate, so that the athlete can keep up the intensity.

We don’t win races, because we speed up -- we lose them because we slow down. If you try to develop speed, you need to try to develop that early in the workout while the athlete is fresh.

I typically balance aerobic and anaerobic workouts in my training program. I introduce some high-intensity early on, because that will condition the athlete to do rides, runs and swims at a quicker pace. That way his or her ability to handle intensity will be much improved.

This really becomes important when I train clients who are training for 70.3 or 140.6 distance races and have limited time to train. I typically look at the recovery rates every Monday and Friday and then adjust the plan accordingly for the following week.

How important is technology to monitor an athlete’s fitness progression?

I think in this modern age, technology is critical.

A lot of talented athletes may get 5-10 percent more out of their training program by providing their coach with data derived from a Garmin, Powermeter or Computrainer as long as the coach knows what they are doing.

I think a lot of coaches avoid technology, not because they don’t think it’s beneficial, but because they don’t understand it and don’t want to deal with it.

What are some of the biggest mistakes age-groupers make during the off-season or winter months?

The biggest mistakes most age-groupers make is to Not take an off-season.

People get so tired, and especially if the last race at the end of the season didn’t go so well, you want to work harder.

The problem with working harder is that their aerobic base gets broken down and they get mentally fatigued. It really is important to take some time off for unstructured training.

I want my athletes when they start training to be really hungry. If you’re not sure that you’re ready to train again, take another week off, train lighter or take another week out of your program and have it be one week shorter. You can derail an entire racing season by starting too early, if you’re not fully rested.

Is it normal to feel tired when you get back to structured training?

When you get back to training, it’s normal to feel tired.

Muscles atrophy during time off and when you start back up again, the body will feel it.

The biggest mistake is to jump back too quickly with too much volume and not giving your body enough time to adapt. You need at least a 3-week conditioning period to train well below your regular training load to allow your body to recover and get ready to train properly.

How does your training program work?

I build long and short-term programs for athletes of all ages, distances and backgrounds.

I build the volume and intensity around their life and adjust it on a weekly basis. I talk to my athletes on a regular basis and use Skype to get the face-to-face time.

Program packages start a $175 per month and go up to $275 per month for packages that include a monthly video analysis. Elite packages, which cost $500 a month, include unlimited access to myself and all that Vanguard Triathlon’s offers.  

How did you get into coaching?

I started coaching about the same time I was racing, which was at age 18.

In 1999, while I was earning a four-year degree in physical education and marketing from the University of Otago in New Zealand, I coached a swimmer and within six months, she went on to become Junior National Champion and then second in the Junior Worlds.

After I graduated in 2005, I earned a $50,000 government scholarship to travel to Europe and the US to learn and exchange ideas with triathlon coaches. I then returned to New Zealand to write a report on best ways to structure triathlon coaching education programs.

I felt that New Zealand had become too small for what I wanted to do, so I moved to the U.S. and became the elite development manager for USA Triathlon.

I also coached a few athletes, including Sarah Groff, Mark Fretta, Greg Billington and Lauren Goldstein-Kral.

When did you start your own coaching business?

In 2009, I started Vanguard Triathlon, because I wanted to have the flexibility to coach athletes at the elite level and not be restricted by administration and the confines of working for a national governing body.

I still provide coaching education programs and elite mentorship programs for Levels I through Level III coaching for USAT.

Next week, check back in to learn about the Pros' secrets for mental preparation and trianing  



By Marion Webb
Marion Webb

Marion Webb is an ACE-certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor. Webb has worked as a longtime award-winning business journalist, covering fitness, small business, health care and biotech issues. A competitive age-group triathlete and two-time ITU Long Distance World Championship qualifier, Webb competes mostly in the Half Ironman (70.3 miles) and (140.6 miles) Ironman distances.

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