I've had lots of triathletes ask me about the benefits of training with a group as opposed to training alone.
I've tried both and this is what I've concluded based on years of hit or miss training.
In the beginning(back in 1983)most of us had no idea at all how to even begin to train for the Ironman. It was just too new.
Everybody kind of went off on their own and trained at their own speed.
As the Ironman developed and continued to grow-so did the opportunities to get in on group training.
Now you can train for the entire year in some sort of group right up until the actual race. I found that groups have their place, but only up to a point.
Its a good way to learn some of the basics. . . . especially in swimming and cycling. For others its a social event when they get out and train with others. Ultimately having a coach does not guarantee the desired race result. No matter who you train with or how much coaching you have, how your Ironman race turns out will depend on your motivation, determination and strength of character more than anything else.
Here's what happened to me one year. . . .
For years I struggled with my swimming and finally decided that I would spend the whole training year with a swim group. Three nights a week. I never missed a night. I had to park about half a mile from the pool. It was one of the coldest winter in years. For weeks I would freeze on the way back to my car after swimming. I never disliked any training experience more in my entire 25 year career, but stuck with it because I was determined to improve.
Finally race day came and after ALL THAT, I was 2 minutes slower than the year before when I trained alone.
That was 15 years ago and I have not trained with a group since.
Looking back, I'm pretty sure of what went wrong. For one thing, the training was far too competetive. They had slow lanes and medium lanes and fast lanes and everyone was trying not to get left behind. All attempts at proper technique soon went out the window. Often these group coaches concentrate too much on ALL the strokes. I wasted a lot of time on butterfly and backstroke and kickboards etc. etc.
I realize now that all you have to do is learn the smoothest, most economical front crawl that you possibly can. Doing hundreds of meters of kicking with a board is a complete waste of time for a triathlete. If you want coaching, it makes more sense to pay for some private (one on one) coaching for a few weeks and then take what you learned and train on your own.
As far as biking goes, once you learn the proper technique, its time to hit the road on your own. Use a group or class or a few group rides to learn the basics, but I wouldn't recommend spending the whole year training with a group.
In the Ironman, you will be you and the course. It's extremely important to get the feel of being out on the road battling a headwind on your own. Cycling with a group and having just 2 other cyclists in front of you can cut the headwind by over 40%. That's exactly why you can't draft in the race. Its a serious unfair advantage to draft. Group riding just isn't a great way to prepare for this race.
Some other disadvantages of group training:
-You end up training on their schedule instead of yours. You constantly have to fit in THAT time no matter what.
-There will be times that you are tired and not really prepared to train at the group's fast speed, but you really have no choice. One session you may feel great and they will train too slow for you. It can work both ways.
-There is also the added expense.
-Some people get far to competetive in group training. That should be saved for race day.
Ultimately, every athlete must make their own choice. I suppose some need a group for motivation. Or as I said before, it may be an important social part of their life. So it seems there are some good points to both methods of training, so my advice is this:
Use the best of both worlds. Use group training to get started and learn technique etc. , but also do a significant portion of your training on your own. Possibly pick one day a week where you run with a big group and make it your social run. Plan a long ride with a group of friends and make it a social, easy ride.
Do the bulk of your training and the more intense training on your own, and I believe you will have your best possible result come raceday.
My name if Ray and I have an endurance race background of over 25 years, inculuding 14 Ironman triathlons. I have built a website full of training and racing tips for the first time Ironman Triathlon.
The address is http://triathlon-ironman-myfirstironman-ironstruck.com
You can also contact me with questions or comments. My contact page is: