My favorite workouts in each sport

Yesterday while reviewing my schedule for the week ahead, I realized I’ve been on a run of workouts I really enjoy (or plan to enjoy).  Saturday I’ve got my first trail long-run, and Sunday I’m back in the mountains for my long ride.  If only I could find some good warm tropical waters for the swim piece.

So this got me thinking – what are my favorite workouts within each of the three triathlon disciplines?

Swim Workout of Choice:


Well, let’s get the swim out of the way first.  Since let’s be honest, there are rarely any swim workouts that are my favorites.  At least, indoor swim workouts.  I much prefer outdoor swim workouts – of any sort and really almost any water temperature.  But without question my favorite ones are in warm tropical locations, preferably with clear water (I’ve since found that the two don’t necessarily go hand in hand together).

Often times when I travel for work, I try and stake out a place to swim openwater – even if it isn’t tropical.  I’ve done swims just about anywhere I can find, from the middle of nowhere border between Virginia and North Carolina, to Texas, Chicago, Rhode Island, Florida and more.  Internationally of course it gets more interesting (and sometimes challenging), but the Middle East has surprisingly been home to many of my swims, including Egypt, Dubai, Jordan (in the Dead Sea) and probably a few others I can’t remember.

I find that when travelling the mere act of trying to find and sort out the logistics of an openwater swim is half the fun.  The swim itself just gives me an opportunity to enjoy the location in a way most don’t normally get to.


As for a pool swim that’s my favorite workout?  Well, I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s my pre-race week wetsuit swims.  My coach has us do these the week leading up to a race, to get some time in the suit and remember how it feels again (since openwater swims in the DC area are generally tough).  Usually there’s a warm-up (about 1000 yards), and then some set or number of longer distance sets.  Something like 800y, 1000y or so (typically semi-aligned to the distance of the event).  Quite frankly, these are a blast in a wetsuit in the pool.  Mostly because it’s like stealing candy from a baby – you just scream along at abnormal speeds.

Since me and swimming fast doesn’t happen often – I’ll take it while I can get it…

Bike Workout of Choice:


This selection is easy – anything with hills.  Well, actually, mountains.  I’m really excited that this Sunday I’ve got Skyline Drive back on the workout calendar.  That’s the National Park road that climbs up and on the edge of the Shenandoah’s, which snakes mere yards away from the Appalachian Trail.  The route is 110 miles long, though, this weekend I’ve only got 40 miles or so of it.

The route only has two grades offered: Up, and down.  There are essentially no flats over the entire 110 miles.  Personally, I prefer the climbing.  The descending is fun and short.  But the climbing is nice in that I can just enjoy quietly pedaling for miles on end, up and up.  It’s sorta soothing really, once you find that perfect gear and intensity and just roll up the side of the mountain, on and on.

As for a trainer workout, my coach has one that involves 30×30’s.  These are 30 seconds hard, 30s easy pedal. 


Often times, I’ll do about 20+ minutes worth of these, after a 30ish minute build into it (increasing intensity).  The ‘hard’ power for these remains constant from first till last, such that usually the first few feel easy…but by the 20th or so, it starts to become near impossible.  The exact intensity and quantities of them somewhat varies on the goal of the workout.  For an interesting runners twist, see that article.

Run Workout of Choice:


I’ve got a fairly big mix of running workouts that my coach puts me through, which generally helps to keep the running side fairly mixed up.  However, my favorite workout is the Fartlek.  Fartlek is Swedish for speed-play, which basically means to mix things up and do it free-form.  This is different from a structured interval workout which may have very specific work/rest intervals.  In a fartlek workout you pick random points and/or intensities.

Take the above workout (photo) I did looping around the Orange County airport a week ago today (that’s actually the airport in the background).  It was only a 10K run, but it was a blast.  The first 15 minutes were a warm-up, then I built to a fairly intense pace for 5 minutes.  After that, I had 20 minutes to ‘play’.  I mostly used my tried and true method of counting colored cars to determine lengths of intervals.  In other words, I’d decide that my interval would last until 3 red cars (not purple, not orange, not vans, not trucks or even planes).  At which point once three red cars had passed me in a specific direction, I’d conclude.  Since I was by myself, I couldn’t play the intensity game with The Girl (where she’d choose the intensity and/or duration).  So I just picked random paces, mostly between 5:00/mile and 6:20/mile.  Since none of the durations were longer than 3 minutes (shortest was 30s, many in the 60-90s range), this wasn’t too bad.  You shouldn’t be sprinting for your life, but the pace should be hard.

I love the flexibility to these workouts – and they are one of the few workouts that no matter how long of a travel day, I’m thrilled to go out and do them.  Which is probably exactly why my coach scheduled them as my weekday runs last week.  At 45 minutes (including a cool down), they keep me fresh without pushing me over the edge during busy travel days.

As for a treadmill workout, I actually do a number of them – but I enjoyed the set-pace ones I was doing leading into the Equinox Indoor Triathlon.  These were simply ‘set it for 5:46/mile and hold on for 5K’.  There was something simplistic and pure about this.  Or maybe that’s sadistic and painful.  Either way…

Of course, each workout has a specific purpose behind it – so I can’t just do the same workout every day of the week (otherwise it’s like eating cake every day, which eventually leads to trouble).

So, what are your favorite workouts in each sport?  I’d love to hear all your unique creations – perhaps I’ll find some nuggets in there for a rainy day (like yesterday…).

Thanks for reading!


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  1. Skyline drive is so nice. Blue Ridge parkway is awesome too. So many nice places to ride in that part of the country

  2. Skyline drive is nice, Blue Ridge parkway is too.

  3. Brad williams

    25×800 is by fr my favorite run workout and 30×100 in the pool and then 20/20/20 on the bike at IM/HIM/OLY intensity.

  4. A long run on the Deckers Creek Rail-to-Trail in Morgantown, WV. Depending on the starting point, I typically run the first 25% of the distance down hill, then the next 50% uphill, then finish the last 25% downhill (the trail is on a typical 1-3% grade.) I like to attempt to keep the heart rate from exceeding 75% Max on the uphill portions…not always successful.

  5. Skyline is your favorite ride?! You’re a sick man. I’ve done Skyline from Front Royal to Waynesboro and it was the hardest thing I’ve done. It was definitely the most painful ride and the most memorable ride, but not a favorite.

  6. Since you showed a picture of Hawaii for (one) of your favorite swim spots AND you said you like hills for cycling, I should point out we also have a nice little hill over here. link to cycletothesun.net

    There used to be a road run that does this climb, but we’ve haven’t had the run in a few years due to permitting issues with the park service. It’s known as the only ultra that you can see the finish line from the start line. But riding or running, it’s a gorgeous climb. Mind blowing scenery.

    As an aside, the picture you showed for swimming was down in Waikiki. There are much better swimming spots on the island(s). :)

  7. Well. Alltime favourite running workout would be Mt Victoria in Wellington. Right in the middle of the city, a challenging hilly hour plus of trail running. They filmed some Lord of the Rings (Dark Rider, hiding down the bank) there. CBD running at it’s best.
    Cycling would have to be the Akatarawa loop. A beautiful rural hilly ride. A tough 100-120 k.

  8. I’m planning a speed workout on Friday followed by a 13 – 14 mile long run on Saturday. Possibly a short recovery run on Sunday depending on how my legs are feeling.

  9. I think I’d like climbing a lot better if there were a perfect gear and intensity that lets you just roll up the mountain. Unfortunately my legs are still wimpy enough that, every time I do a moderately decent hill, I run out of gears, my cadence drops to around 50 and I have to heave my way up to the top with my quads burning like mad.

  10. my favorite swimming workout:
    800m warm up
    5*100m start every 1 min 20 sec. (for an advanced swimmer)
    200m recovery
    5*200m start every 3 min (a bit more resting time, so a bit more speed)
    200m recovery
    500m race speed
    250 cool down

    the aim is to build up the speed during the training.