How to Prepare for Your First 70.3 Triathlon


, by Emma-Kate Lidbury

Photography by: shot4shot

You can’t fake it ‘til you make it with a 70.3. Here’s all you need to know to reach the start line feeling fit and fast.

A 70.3 distance triathlon is so-called because that’s the total number of miles you cover across the race: 1.2 miles of swimming, 56 miles of cycling, and 13.1 miles of running. Half the distance of a full Ironman, it is considered a middle-distance triathlon and is popular because it presents a physical and mental challenge yet the training can still be balanced and managed alongside work, family, and social commitments (with some careful planning). 

For the average age-group triathlete, it takes about six hours, which is a significant amount of time to be on the race course (the official cut-off time is eight hours). It’s far enough—and hard enough—that you’ll want to be adequately prepared for your first one (if you want to enjoy it all, anyway). In this article, we’ll guide you through the must-have info on training and key workouts, fueling, essential gear, plus mental preparation.

RELATED: How to Get Started in Triathlon

Training for a 70.3

If planned well, you can prepare for and finish a 70.3 on about 10 hours of training a week. Ideally, you’d have 20 weeks to prepare, which should consist of an eight-week base-training phase, a six-week build phase, a six-week race-specific block, followed by a 10 to 14-day taper. 

Photography by: Thanhliemnguyen

While base training, your training volume will be higher and the intensity low. In the build phase, you’ll start to work in some intensity while the volume stays higher. In the race-specific phase, the volume drops slightly while intensity increases and more brick workouts are undertaken (running off the bike or biking straight after swimming). During the taper, you’ll keep some intensity (in order to stay sharp and not get sluggish) but the volume drops significantly as you freshen up and prepare to race. 

RELATED: Triathlon Distances: From Sprint to Ironman and More

Throughout all of this time, you’ll want to plan on hitting three sessions per week across the three disciplines. As a general rule, in the base-building phase you’ll want to be logging between eight to 10 hours of training a week. This nudges up to 10-12 hours a week in the build and race-specific blocks. Of course, consistency is key, and you’re far better off consistently banking 10 hours of training a week versus hitting 15 hours one week and then struggling to log five hours the next. If there is one unequivocal, unglamorous secret to endurance training and racing it is the simple rule of consistency: Keep showing up, keep doing the work, routine is your friend. 

If there is one unequivocal, unglamorous secret to endurance training and racing it is the simple rule of consistency: Keep showing up, keep doing the work, routine is your friend.

That said, rest and recovery are important and your body won’t make the necessary adaptations it needs to get fitter and faster without adequate rest and sleep. Ensure every fourth week of training is a 'deload' week, where intensity drops, overall volume is about 20-30% lower than usual, and you prioritize sleep and rest. By the end of that week, you should be raring to go and excited to jump back into your training program.

In the race-specific block, it’s important to start doing brick workouts, which can be swim-to-bike workouts and/or bike-to-run sessions. Getting your body used to the change in sports (and muscles used) is really important if you want to feel well-prepared on race day. If your pool allows it, set up your bike trainer on the pool deck before a swim session. Do a race-intensity swim set and then transition straight to the bike, riding easy for five to 10 minutes before doing a race-pace workout (see below for sample workouts). 

RELATED: The Real Reason You’re Not Getting Faster at Swimming

Running off the bike is important too, and don’t be fooled into thinking you need to run long off the bike for it to bring benefits. Even a 10-minute easy run off a key bike session can work wonders. You’ll soon get accustomed to that lovely jelly-legged feeling that comes from running off the bike. It gets easier, we promise!

Photography by: Adam Hodges

Key 70.3 Workouts

Here are some sample workouts that would work well in the 70.3 race-specific phase:

5 mins. easy swimming
4 x 50 as 25 fast/25 easy, 25 easy/25 fast, 50 fast, 50 easy
Main set:
3 x 100 just above 70.3 race pace on 15 seconds rest
50 easy
300 @ 70.3 race pace
50 easy
Repeat for 2-4 rounds as fitness/time allows
200 easy pull
30 mins. easy riding with a few openers
Main set:
4 x 4 mins. at 70.3 race-pace effort on 4 mins. recovery
3 x 20 mins. - building each 20-minute interval from below race pace in the first 10 minutes to race pace for the final 10 minutes. Recover for 10 mins. between each interval.
15-30 mins. easy riding
* Optional run off the bike:
Run easy for 15-20 minutes
30-40 mins. easy running
Main set:
4 x 10 mins. at 70.3 race-pace effort with 2-3 mins. easy between each
10 mins. easy
Photography by: imagestockdesign

How to fuel for a 70.3 

Although training is one (very important) part of the equation when preparing for a 70.3, without adequate (and well-practiced) fueling you literally won’t have the right gas in the tank to reach the finish line. Fueling is incredibly individualized, so it’s important to learn what works for you—and those lessons come from training. While it can be helpful to learn what other athletes do, remember that we are all different and your 70.3 race-day fueling plan could look entirely different to your training partner’s. 

RELATED: A Brief History of the Women's Ironman World Championship

As a golden rule with all training, make sure your sessions are adequately fueled and refueled. For race day itself, you’ll want to have breakfast two to three hours prior to your race start (although some people can eat closer to their start time, pre-race nerves can make that tricky and you want to allow plenty of digestion time). Plan on consuming an energy gel or half an energy bar 30 minutes prior to your swim start, just to help keep the engine topped up, and sip on electrolytes pre-race.

Fueling should begin once you’re on the bike and feeling settled and in a good riding rhythm, ideally within 15 minutes or so of leaving T1. View the bike as your best fueling opportunity, as by the time you reach the run course it’ll be infinitely harder to consume calories—and as fatigue sets in your body will find it harder to get fuel in.

Practice your race-day fueling in your key workouts so that you can make adjustments where needed, and so that you can line up on race day feeling confident in your fueling strategy.

Again, this needs to be tested in your training, but many athletes are able to consume more calories in the first half of the bike, and these can be energy bars or semi-solids such as energy chews. In the latter half of the bike, you want to be mindful of the upcoming run so it’s advisable to switch to energy chews, gels, or carb/sports drinks. 

It’s a good idea to have a set schedule for both eating and drinking, ideally every 15-20 minutes on the bike, as it’s very easy to forget and fall behind then wonder why you’re not feeling too great on the run course.

RELATED: How to Fuel for an Ironman Triathlon

On the run, fueling can be tricky. Not only are you more fatigued, but it’s harder to eat while running—and the likelihood of GI (gastrointestinal) distress is far higher than it is on the bike. Test different gels and chews in training, especially while running at race pace, but you’ll likely want to stick exclusively to gels, drinks, or chews. Also be mindful of hydrating and consuming adequate electrolytes. Everyone is different when it comes to sweat and sodium loss, so it can be well worth having a sweat test done if you want to know whether you’re a heavy sweater or not. For example, I used to aim to consume about 500-600mg of sodium per hour, but a sweat test showed I’m a low-sodium sweater who loses ~300mg of sodium per hour, so I’ve since dropped the amount of electrolytes I take.

Photography by: Adam Hodges

Find out which products your race-day aid stations will be offering and get used to those in training if you can. This will make race-day fueling much easier. Most bike and run aid stations at 70.3 races will have water, electrolytes, Coke, energy gels and bars, plus some “real” food such as bananas and/or pretzels. The harder and faster you’re racing, the harder it becomes to take on real food and you’ll want to stick to purely carbs.

RELATED: You’re Not Really Training in Zone 2 (You Just Think You Are)

We cannot emphasize this enough: Practice your race-day fueling in your key workouts so that you can make adjustments where needed, and so that you can line up on race day feeling confident in your fueling strategy. Trust us, it can make or break your race. 

The Gear You’ll Need for a 70.3

The essential items you’ll need for a 70.3 race include a wetsuit, goggles, swim cap, tri suit, bike, bike helmet, run shoes, race belt, body lube, and a water bottle. Beyond that, there are, of course, many upgrades you can make (hello and welcome to triathlon, the most gear-heavy sport around!), but if you’re wanting to keep it simple and keep costs down then consider that list the “must-haves.” 

If you like buying 'kit' then triathlon is the sport for you! Photography by: BahbahAconk

As you progress in the sport, you’ll likely want to invest in a triathlon bike, race wheels, an aero helmet, racing flats, and plenty more besides, but for your first race it’s a good idea to keep it simple. Check out the gear section in this article, How to Get Started in Triathlon, for a full breakdown of the gear you need and the gear you don’t.

RELATED: How To Build a Champion’s Mindset With Katie Zaferes

Mental Preparation for a 70.3

It’s incredibly easy to focus exclusively on your physical training and entirely neglect what happens between your ears, which is arguably just as important as what happens physiologically. 

Try to build mental training into your everyday training, whether that’s focusing on self-talk during workouts or taking some time prior to tough workouts to visualize how you’ll get through them. Try to make practices like these regular, daily occurrences so that come race day mental preparation feels natural and commonplace. 

Completing a 70.3 race is no easy feat and you should feel proud of the physical, mental, and emotional work it takes to make it to the start and finish lines.

Prior to your race, make time to regularly visualize your race from start to finish, picturing how it’ll feel to be out there swimming, cycling, and running. Visualize how you might cope with problems arising, such as a flat tire or cramp. This can help ease pre-race nerves considerably. If you find it helpful, prepare mantras that might help you through tougher times, using them in training during key workouts so that you can tap into them on race day.  

Last, but not least, do your best to stay present on race day and focus on what you need in the moment. Completing a 70.3 race is no easy feat and you should feel proud of the physical, mental, and emotional work it takes to make it to the start and finish lines.