Thursday, June 9, 2011

Book Review: The 12-Week Triathlete

Every now and then, I plan on posting reviews of triathlon-related books I have read.  My first review is of The 12-Week Triathlete: Train for a Triathlon in Just Three Months by Tom Holland, which has been my primary training reference for most of the past year.  (Note: This review is of the first edition.  A second edition was released in March 2011.)

What I like most about Holland's approach is that it makes triathlon accessible.  Many training resources are full of complex jargon about heart rate zones and power levels.  This can make triathlon seem too complicated and time-consuming for the average person (like me) with a day job and family who is contemplating taking up multi-sport as a hobby.  However, Holland believes the vast majority of triathletes (i.e. just about everyone but elite competitors) don't need to focus on such technicalities.  Thus, he designed his training plans based on four simple "feel"-based zones: easy, race pace, just above race pace, and hard effort.  I appreciate this because it has made my training less about gadgets and arithmetic and more about swimming, biking, and running.

As advertised on the book's front cover, Holland has created 12-week training plans for all four of the most common triathlon distances: sprint, Olympic, Half-Ironman, and Ironman.  The book contains two plans for each distance: a "finish" plan designed to get you across the finish line and a "performance" plan designed to help you achieve a faster time.  I have completed the sprint-performance and Olympic-finish plans and will complete the Olympic-performance plan next week.  While I'm not yet sure how effective the "performance" plans are in terms of improving speed, all of the plans I have completed (or almost completed) have put me in sufficient shape to finish my races with a smile on my face and without feeling drained.

The 12-Week Triathlete is not just about the training plans.  It also contains advice on equipment, nutrition/hydration, and the practical aspects of triathlon preparation like, for example, how to quickly remove a wetsuit.  In addition, Holland devotes an entire chapter to walking through a typical race day, from breakfast to bodymarking to setting up your transition area to each leg of the race itself.  All in all, the book is a complete how-to guide for amateur triathletes.  I'd go so far as to say that unless you plan to take multi-sport beyond a recreational level, you would probably be fine using this book alone.

My only caveat is that I am somewhat skeptical of the claim on the book's back cover that "[i]t only takes 12 weeks to train to compete in a triathlon--no matter what level you're at now!"  I'd add to that: "... unless your current level is couch potato."  I have a hard time believing anyone could go from the couch to the finish line of a triathlon in three months.  However, if you have at least some basic level of physical fitness, following the programs outlined in The 12-Week Triathlete will get you ready to swim, bike, and run sooner than you might believe possible!

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