Stepping up from Standard to Middle Distance. How do I change my program?

Stepping up to middle distance triathlon - known as 70.3 or Ironman distance

Don't be intimidated by stepping up

Training for a middle distance triathlon race can seem intimidating. Firstly, there are the names to decipher - titles such as ’70.3’, ‘Half Ironman’, ‘Challenge’, or the name of some god of war are all bandied around. Secondly there are the distances, often referred to as ‘stepping up’ by some wizened old character at your tri club, and finally there are the impressive stories to contend with.

However, it doesn’t need to be so overwhelming. In fact, ‘stepping up’ is very achievable.

One of the attractions of middle distance racing for triathletes is the kudos element, and rightly so. You’re pushing yourself to do something extraordinary and it deserves self-recognition and congratulation. But how do you get there?

The great news is that although it is a challenge, the shift in training from Standard to Middle Distance is relatively simple and can even be a pleasant experience, we promise!


Reduction in training intensity and more to endurance training

The biggest change is the intensity reduction and the shift to endurance. Simply put, you are out there for approximately twice as long, so you need to train accordingly.

However, as mentioned, the intensity is reduced so don’t worry you don’t need to double your training load. The most important feature of the training is endurance. Endurance is relatively easy to achieve; you just need to do it.

So how does this translate to actual sessions?



The swim is largely unchanged from a Standard distance. After all, it is only 400 metres further.

The biggest mistake athletes make is to pay lip service to the swim, as proportionally much less of the race is spent on this discipline. Yes, it is only a little further but it is the breakdown of your core which is key element to remember when attacking the swim. 

When you swim your core is the fixed point which allows you to load stress onto your arms; much like the ground acts for a weight lifter. Cyclists and runners tend to be relatively weak in rotational core strength and are more likely to suffer a core breakdown. 

This has a very negative impact on the bike, but in particular the run, by preventing the transfer of power through the body. So make sure you get those swim sets in!



The bike is a key area to build up your endurance for two reasons.

Firstly, it has much less of an impact on your body so you can increase your volume with less recovery needed compared to the run. Secondly, the stronger you are on the bike the easier the run is.

Long distance racing is all about how fresh you can approach the run. Being a strong cyclist therefore helps massively with this. The good news in the building phase of endurance cycling is that just extending your usual long ride by an hour and enjoying a coffee with friends is totally appropriate training.



Already mentioned earlier, the drop in intensity is feature of a shift in training patterns as you go longer in distance. This is because you will overstress your body if you try to maintain high intensity and increased volume. This is no more relevant than on the run.

Running is the most stressful of the three disciplines to the body and the easiest for a number of reasons to injure on. You will need to replace tough interval sessions with tempo runs. This is not to say all interval sessions must go but the really short, fast stuff can get shelved for now.

What does tempo mean? Well it’s open to all sorts of interpretation but a great way to look at it is race pace work. So for example you may do an hour’s run with 2 x 20min @ half marathon pace.

Most importantly, give yourself enough time to build everything up and you’ll have a great time!


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