A survey-based research project that looked at annual training patterns and ironman-distance race results showed a few things that triathletes may want to consider when laying out their training plan for the year. The study only sampled a small number of athletes, and training results will vary from athlete to athlete, but it does appear that some elements of training are often similar among successful triathletes.
The study consisted of male, English-speaking non-elite, ironman-distance triathletes. They were surveyed using an on-line questionnaire for descriptive characteristics, race history, and training history. Useable results were then sorted into high, mid, or low success groups based upon the athletes’ race time or race place by age-group. There were 39 acceptable surveys, yielding a sample of athletes with an average age of 35 years old.
The training patterns for a 12-month period, based on training distances or training hours in swimming, bicycling, and running, were generated for each group. Finally, a suggested annual training volume pattern for ironman-distance triathletes was proposed based on the common training volume-pattern elements used by the high success group triathletes sampled in this study (note that the proposed training pattern is based on results from a small sample size and may not be valid for all athletes).
The most significant single factor found in this study was that successful triathletes performed greater total distances of bike training, particularly over the final months leading up to an ironman-distance race, when compared to those athletes that were less successful. This is consistent with findings of other studies. The training patterns of successful ironman-distance athletes suggested by this study are shown below:
Annual training hours pattern, by percent of training each month, for high-success-level triathletes
Annual training distance pattern, by percent of training each month, for high-success-level triathletes
Some (apparently) common traits among successful triathletes (when compared to those less successful athletes) in this study included a tendency towards lower weight (but not height), greater swim, bike, and run training distance totals, more finishes at shorter distance races. You can see more on this study online at http://trisurvey.net.