Four top racing amateurs talk about their weekly training and how they turn it into real results.

A great run can push you to victory. These top age groupers tell you their secrets

Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to work for a living? Just imagine it if you won ten million pounds and you could train whenever you liked, get regular massages, jet off to sunny training camps and indulge yourself in the flashiest bikes and kit that money can buy. Think how fit and fast you would be! It’s just so unfortunate that the odds of this happening are only 14 million to one. What a shame – now you’re stuck with fitting your run training around family, jobs and a multitude of other commitments.

The good news is that it doesn’t mean you can’t achieve great things. In this feature we’ve interviewed some of the UK’s most successful age-group athletes who have all won big races while fitting intensive training around a normal life. Some of them have even gone on to become pros. Their take on what it requires to become a good triathlon runner doesn’t necessarily involve constant training camps, massages and free kit. Like you, they’ve been forced to cram their training around a hectic lifestyle. Here’s how they do it.

Sarah Barratt

  • Average weekly running mileage: 26
  • Achievements: World age-group champion, Olympic distance, 2007; Ironman Austria age-group winner, 2005

In a typical week I do two interval runs with my local running club, and a long run usually at weekends. I stick with three runs because it helps me maintain the quality of each session without risking injury.

My secret of success is consistency. I find it takes me a long time to recover my fitness if I do get injured, so I do everything I can to avoid it. My cycling keeps me strong too, and there is certainly a cross-training benefit between the two sports.

My best ‘bang for buck’ session is a hill session I do with my running club. It’s a non-stop 30-minute run over a very hilly five-lap circuit, which I do at my ten-mile race pace. I include a warm-up and warm-down, and I find it’s the session that brings on my fitness within weeks.

James Gilfillan

  • Average weekly running mileage: 15 to 20 miles
  • Achievements: World age- group Ironman 70.3 champion, national middle- distance triathlon champion, world age-group duathlon champion

My typical week involves regular brick workouts and tempo runs. I regularly run for at least 15 minutes off my long weekend bike rides, just to help me cope with the feeling of heavy legs after cycling. Tempo runs are my favourite way of making the most of limited time. I’ll go fairly hard during these runs, but at an intensity I can sustain without too much discomfort.

My secret of success is that less is often more. If I miss a session due to work commitments, I try to avoid the temptation of squeezing it in somewhere else in the week. It’s better to let it go otherwise you can end up with serious fatigue or injury, which in turn results in lots of missed training sessions.

My best ‘bang for buck’ session is a triple-decker brick workout. Each subsequent run gets faster and further. It takes me all morning, but it’s the perfect way to get fast for duathlons and triathlons. It never overloads the legs with a single long run, so it’s not as bad as it sounds!

Tamsin Lewis

  • Average weekly running mileage: As an amateur I ran 3-4 days a week, around 20 miles. Since turning pro I average more like 30 to 40 miles per week
  • Achievements: World age-group champion, Olympic distance; second place overall, Ironman UK

A typical week of running for me looks something like this:
•    Long run of 90-105mins
•    Brick run of 30-45mins
•    A tempo or interval run
•    An easy 30-60min run

My secret of success is doing everything I can to stay free of injuries. In the past I’ve suffered with a torn hamstring. At the time I did no strength and conditioning work. Last year I began to work with James Dunne of Kinetic Revolution (kineticrevolution.com) and as a result my running form and economy has significantly improved. Working on my glute activation and strength has been key to my improvement, as has doing a lot of race pace intervals under the guidance of my coach Cliff English.
My ultimate ‘bang for buck’ session is done on a treadmill. It involves 10×1 km at 10k race pace with 2 minutes easy between. I have the treadmill at a slight gradient. It’s hard but it definitely improves your race pace fitness.

Mark Threlfall

  • Average weekly running mileage: unknown. You’ll probably be shocked and appalled to hear that I don’t actually measure my mileage! I never have, and personally I like it that way. I have steadily built my running up over time. I have the typical ‘floppy swimmer ankles’, so strength and conditioning has always been a key factor in keeping me injury free. I am now running on average 7-8 hours per week.
  • Achievements: Winner, Vitruvian middle-distance triathlon; third overall, U23 World Cross Triathlon Championships

A typical week involves eight runs, with a double session on a Tuesday. I only ever do two hard runs a week, the rest are all steady paced. One session is generally a bit of high-paced work like a fartlek, the other is a 90-minute gradual build, focusing on fast running under fatigue. I back this up with another 90-minute to 2hr steady run later in the week.

My secret of success is to maintain a good running technique. My first triathlon coach, Chris Volley, used to shout “arrows” at us when we started losing our form whilst running. Most people thought he had lost it, but he meant the arrow shape your knees make when you run with good form. It sounds a bit silly, but it’s something I have hung on to and I find it helps to trigger all the key technical points in my head.

My best ‘bang for buck’ sessions are bricks. They’re a great way to get the absolute most out of training in a reasonably short space of time. Something like a 2hr ride with the last hour at race pace, down on your tri-bars, or in a chain gang. Then jump off your bike for 6x1km at your race speed. This routine effectively simulates a race for you, and the fatigue you feel coming off of a hard bike. Plus, that’s two good sessions in the bag within just a few hours, which when you have a job to hold down is a real bonus.

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