Joe Friel: The Six Most Common Triathlon Mistakes

  • By Joe Friel
  • Published August 20, 2012
  • Updated August 20, 2012 at 2:19 pm
Photo: Delly Carr / ITU Media

One of the most famous coaches in triathlon, Joe Friel, runs through the six most common mistakes made by triathletes, and how to fix them.

1. Poor ability to pace properly
Almost all triathletes start the bike leg of the race at much too high an intensity and then fade as the race progresses. They start the run on tired legs and generally have a poor race (except for the first 5K of the bike).

The fix: Athletes must learn to negative split races. This starts with workouts. Intervals must be done with the easiest first and then progressively get harder. Steady state/tempo workouts must start under control and gradually get faster to finish strong. Athletes must learn to be patient in workouts and apply that to their races while ignoring what is going on around them.

2. Too many hard days
Going into workouts tired means poor performance and little change in fitness.

The fix: To go truly hard in a workout, you must be ready. As the hard workouts get harder, the easy workouts must get easier. This means that the overall quality of training improves. And in turn, faster race times occur.

3. Not enough base
Athletes tend to start the high intensity training much too soon in the season. If one is to make a mistake in training, make it on the side of developing too much aerobic endurance.

The fix: Lots and lots of zone two and three training. The athletes I coach spend nearly 80 percent of their seasons training primarily in these two zones.

4. Haphazard training
At best, most triathletes have vague ideas of what they are trying to accomplish in training. For the most part, they are hoping something magical happens and somehow have a good race.

The fix: You must have a purpose for every workout. That purpose should be aerobic endurance, muscular force, muscular endurance, anaerobic endurance, speed skills or recovery. The higher one’s goals, the more important this becomes.

5. Set goals much too high
People think that shooting for the stars means if they fall short they will still make it to the moon. It doesn’t work that way. In fact, this does just the opposite. If the goal is obviously out of reach there is no motivation to even try for it. It just becomes wishing and hoping.

The fix: Goals must be just barely out of reach to be effective.

6. Too much emphasis on weekly miles
For the advanced triathlete, the key to race success is appropriate intensity, not how much weekly volume is generated.

The fix: If your goal is to run a sub-40-minute 10K off the bike in an Olympic distance, then the key determiner of success will be how much sub-40 pace work is done—not how many miles run in a week.

Joe Friel is an elite-certified USA Triathlon and USA Cycling coach and holds a master’s degree in exercise science. Friel is the author of 10 books on training for endurance athletes including the popular and best-selling Training Bible book series. You can learn more at

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