How to Train for Flat/Hilly 70.3s

I’m currently using the mid-volume half distance training plan. I’m signed up for a half on a very flat bike course (Eagleman). I was just wondering if there are any workouts I should incorporate into my training to help me perform at my best on a flat course? Are there certain workouts that are geared more for flat or hilly races?

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Toward the tail end of my training for a flat 70.3 last season I made a key workout that was 10 min warmup - then 5x20 min at 83% FTP (goal power) on 5 min recovery - finish with 40 min aerobic (70% or so) then spindown 5-10 min, follow with a 15 min run at goal pace. I did that a few times about four to six weeks out. When I could hit all the pacing, I knew I was dialed in. Did it on the road and on the trainer.

Hilly, flat… doesn’t matter much. Pick a target power for your climbs, should be within 10% or so of your goal power overall. You shouldn’t be doing a bunch of VO2 intervals or sustained time at threshold on climbs in a 70.3. Use your gears and keep the power under control so you can run.

You can find good workouts in Tempo and 2-3 hr range to simulate race efforts. Polar Bear is basically a 2 hr 70.3 race sim. If you can get through that on a trainer, you’re good for the race. Spruce Knob +2 and +3, Round Bald +3 and +2, Whiteside -2 is good.

Or check out Half Triathlon build and specialty. 60-90 min Sweet spot work is good. VO2 can be good in a build phase… lots of options.


@kurt.braeckel hit the nail on the head here.
Stealing this comment on training for flat vs hilly Triathlons straight from Chad himself:

Even if a triathlon course is littered with hills, including very steep pitches from time to time, it’s seldom advantageous to employ a “kill the hill” pacing pattern where a rider attacks the climbs and tries to recover on the descents. This type of pacing approach exacts a heavy muscular toll that will likely affect the latter half of the bike leg and the entirety of the half or full marathon that follows. When ridden in this manner, the level of effort variability a rider sees across such a stochastic bike leg will lead to a more rapid depletion of intramuscular glycogen stores (sugar stored in the muscle itself), higher levels of exhaustion in the less aerobic muscle fibers (higher-power muscle tissue), and even decreased neuromuscular efficiency (how well your brain communicates with the working muscles) due to unnecessarily excessive muscle stress.

As a result, you sap your muscles of fuel meaning you have to ingest more in-race sugar which greatly increases the odds of gastric distress and requires higher fluid intake since digestion pulls water to the gut leaving less of it available for cooling via sweating and makes your blood more viscous requiring more heart beats per minute to deliver thicker, slower-moving blood to your working muscles. You also unnecessarily deplete the onboard fuel stores of the muscle fibers that you’ll very probably need during later stages of the bike leg and all throughout the run leg. And those muscle fibers that are still fueled and available will function less efficiently as the late-race fatigue rises and rises. But fret not, because this is all very preventable via a more sensible pacing strategy based on intensity and/or power output. Keying in on one or both of these metrics sees half-distance triathletes hover somewhere near .70-.85 IF while full-distance competitors commonly aim for something in the .65-.80 IF range. Paced very steadily, this will see riders sustaining between 70-85% FTP and 65-80% FTP, respectively. In both cases, it’s in a triathlete’s best interest to limit his or her power variability and keep things as close to this narrow range as possible, even on the hills.

But because it’s so easy to get hung up on the terrain, many triathletes see a hilly course profile and feel underprepared if they haven’t been putting in time on similar grades outdoors. And while this form of outdoor training can indeed be beneficial and highly event-specific, the steady resistance administered by just about any indoor trainer (smart or otherwise) is a very close approximation to the type of unrelenting muscle tension experienced on a climb. So training indoors actually lends itself exceptionally well to both flat and hilly time trials which are basically what a triathlon’s bike leg amounts to.So it all really comes down to pacing and it’s oh so likely that athletes who suffer on the hills - even if it doesn’t hamper their run afterward - are pushing too hard of a pace due to the relatively low speeds on those climbs. It can be very challenging to move slowly during a race, and consequently, far too many riders find themselves goaded into unrealistically powerful climbs as a result of this misinformed perception.

Avoid this by acknowledging that your power output (or intensity factor) is an entirely more useful metric than speed when it comes to measuring the stress placed on your muscles. Regardless of the grade, power can often be held rather steady (assuming you have the proper gearing and employ a reasonably quick cadence) while speed can vary widely. So hilly or not, long efforts on the bike are best treated as steady-state affairs lest the bike leg becomes increasingly miserable and the post-ride run pays an even heftier price. Steady-state proficiency is the aim of both the Half Distance and Full Distance Triathlon specialty plans.


@kurt.braeckel has some great advice :slight_smile: Power is power.

I’ve raced Eagleman two times, it’s a great race!

Make sure that you’re on top of your heat adaptation, it’s almost always a really hot and humid race.

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Unfortunately, I am not as learned a man as Coach @chad in most regards with respect to coaching. While i’m aspiring and studying for my USAC entry level coaching cert, my lessons are from the school of hard triathlon knocks where I’ve gotten it wrong in at least three hilly tris, two of which were key races (Florida 70.3 in 2006 with rollers trying for worlds; age group Nationals) and experienced exactly what Chad talked about: GI distress from overloading sugar intake to compensate; dead legs for nothing on the run; getting to the point where Coke was needed just to be able to walk, let alone run at the end.

Over the years, I’ve started to get it right and my times have come down precipitously on both the bike and run legs thanks to proper pacing. Yeah, I’ve watched a few folks blaze past me up the climbs, but I invariably see them again!


thanks, all. this is really helpful.

I’m signed up for both Eagleman and LP half’s, so I will definitely focus on keeping staying at a consistent power for both races.

Thankyou for the answer to the question which I was going to pose, which was what TrainerRoad sessions would you use to determine that you’re ready for a 70.3 race.

Reading further along in the thread, you appear to be “at the pointy end” of the race, so I’m guessing your bike times are in the 2h20-2h30 range. Most of the sessions you did mention are in the 2h to 2h15mins bracket.

My 70.3 bike times are more in the 2h50 bracket, what sessions would you advocate, if different? Is Pendleton at 3h of Sweetspot Over the Top? Whiteside at 2h45mins?

Secondly, do you do any “Brick” sessions that are shorter rides, followed by longer runs, if so, do you have a session prescription, ie TrainerRoad and run description.

Many thanks for any advice offered…just trying to get through my next 70.3s without the “wheels coming off”.

Have you looked at the TR Half Distance training plans? If you want to know if you’re ready, just do the workout Chad prescribes 2 weeks before the race in the mid volume version: 2 hours on the bike including 1h45’ at race pace, then an hour-long easy run.

I did the mid volume last year - not all of it; skipped some, swapped some - and ended up with a 2:30 bike split (very flat course with few switchbacks, so it wasn’t really the pointy end - 17th percentile) followed by a 1:41 run. I only once rode 90 km in the run up to the race, and apart from another 80 km ride I wouldn’t exceed 75 km. (In miles, that’s 56, 50 and 47 respectively).

Define “ready”!

Assuming you’re an OK swimmer then it doesn’t take that much fitness to get through a 70.3 within the cutoff times. Whether the wheels come off or not is generally execution on the day more than anything else. E.g. not fuelling properly, or having a bad pacing strategy and chasing a time that you don’t have the fitness to achieve. I know people who have had a great day - for them - to break 5h30. And I know people who have “had the wheels come off” going round in 4h45 when they were chasing sub 4h30.

If you follow a TR plan or any other solid 70.3 plan, then you’re going to have the fitness to get round in reasonably good shape. You shouldn’t need to change the plan depending on your expected finish time, What I do think is really key to having a good day though, is doing some training with the intent not so much of fitness but of determining a good race day strategy. I think this is the best use of bricks. And I would actually do the opposite of what you suggest - would do a bike of similar length to the 70.3, in the aero position, and with the nutrition that you plan to use on race day. And then a shortish run off it. 5-10km, which is enough to have a pretty good idea as to what a sustainable run pace off the bike is, but without burying yourself.

You don’t need to fully simulate the length of the event. Particularly as the race approaches. The workout I described in the post you quoted is adequate even for a 2:50 split.

In the last month prior to my races, I’ll do run-focused bricks too, usually 45 min on the bike with 20 min at race effort, followed by an interval structure run at race pace, say 5x10 min on 2:00 walking recovery. These are hard workouts; harder than the bike focused bricks and I would take a recovery day or a swim only with an easy bike the next day at most.

A final suggestion: I like to do aqua-bike races as rehearsals. If you have another 70.3 close by in the weeks approaching your A race, see if they offer an aqua bike. You get the swim, T1, and bike portions. I like to jump off the bike, practice T2 and then do a steady zone 1 or 2 3 mile run. All of that in a race setting is a fantastic rehearsal with far less physiological cost because you don’t run.

Don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you have to prove that you can do the race before the race. Trust your training and recovery and taper!

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Thanks for the response.

Would love to be able to folllow a plan, so that I could put aside any excuses. My work rota does not allow following a plan, as I work away for 50% of the time with a totally different set of time/training constraints. Best I can do is follow a training plans “philosophy”.

I like the advice of
2 hours on the bike including 1h45’ at race pace, then an hour-long easy run.
Did “easy run” equate to the pace that you ultimately ended up with on the HIM?

Thankyou for your response.

My definition of “ready” in this context is probably knowing my bike power and run paces… I have actually done about six 70.3s and prior to that, one full distance.

All but one of the 70.3s I finished in a bit of a mess…muscle cramp / spasms / butchered legs… the one that went well, I did in 4h45 (bike and run were both a little short). The one’s that went badly were between 5h10 and 5h30. No real difference in pacing strategy for any of the races, 135-140 bpm on the bike and then 5min/km run pace.

The fuelling, I used the same plan as for full ironman, ie a gel every 20mins - this plan got me to 30km through the marathon…when I hit the wall…hard.

Work rota prevents following a plan…I can follow a plan’s philosophy.

I suspect that doing insufficient bricks to determine realistic race paces is probably a main contributor as per your suggestion.

Thanks for the response.
I’ll try your prescribed run-focused brick - see how that goes.

No, easy is easy - conversational pace, zone 2, RPE 6/10, whatever you want to call it.

In a race, I try to aim for a time/speed not more than 10% slower than the open half marathon. I’m not sure how I did because the last time I’d finished an open half was in 2017, but I may very well have hit the +10% target. The run split was in the 21th percentile, so not much worse than the bike split. My easy run pace, however, is at least 25% slower than an open half marathon.

Thanks the response. So, how do you know/determine/set your race pace if for the long brick you’ve run under race pace…do you estimate what you think you could do (based upon a % over your open Half Marathon pace) or is there some other workout or critieria you use.

I suspect my issue is not doing enough bricks to work out my actual realistic race-pace and being overly ambitious on the day…any probably not helped by being a big chap who sweats buckets (ending up overheated and dehydrated)…

What are your open 5K, 10k or 1/2 marathon times? You can use those to help target your race pace.

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Thanks for the response.

5k is ca 20mins.
10k is ca. 42mins.
HM is ca. 1h35mins

What % over these times is suggested?

OK, so based on your 5 / 10K times, your VDOT from Jack Daniels puts you at 49, while your HM time puts you at ~48. (I’m about the same, FWIW).

based on that, your HIM target should be 90-95% of your FT, which would translate to:

  • 48: 1:44 - 1:39

  • 49: 1:42 - 1:37

I think if you target a 1:40 run split, that would put you in a reasonable position…so 7:38 min / mile splits.

As noted, we are similar in VDOT scores. At Muncie 70.3, I ran a 1:41 off a 2:19 bike split…I probably started off a bit too fast (7:30’s) and eventually slowed on the return leg to ~8:30’s. Still my best run split in a 70.3, however (I did go 1:39 in Racine one year, but that was off a shortened bike leg and no swim).

Thanks for that.
Out of interest, do you have power on your bike, and if so, what sort of power do you hold for a 2h20 split.

I’m targetting more like a 2h40 split (on flattish courses - because I’m a bigger chap - 185cm, 90kg) - my FTP is currently circa 310W - so 85% is 260W. Does 250-260W at ca 34km/h (2h40 split) seem consistent or does it suggest I have the aerodynamics of the proverbial house-brick? (I use a road bike with clip-ons)

Many thanks for any thoughts.

FWIW, for the Muncie race noted above, I went 2:19 on the bike with a 192w AP / 198w NP (IF = .83) (175cm, 68kg)

I am pretty optimized on my TT bike (see profile pic)… but at those watts, and on a flat course, you should be able to go sub-2:30, at least IMO.