Music to Make Triathlon Training Fly By

Endurance coach Sage Rountree shares tips, tricks, and six online radio stations to help you push through those last few miles.

Sage Rountree will be teaching at our Wanderlust 108 events in Miami (Oct. 17) and Nashville (Nov. 1). Join us for a mindful triathlon including a 5K run/walk, yoga, and meditation.

Training for a swim-bike-run triathlon means many hours of repetitive motion. While you can’t race with music, it can be an enormous help as you train. And the songs that uplift you during your workouts can be useful in the race itself, as you can carry the music in your head to help you find the right pace at the start, keep a steady rhythm in the middle, and push through to a strong finish.

Music Strategies for Training

If you’re training over the winter or in a rainy climate, you’ll probably be putting in many hours on your bike trainer. Nothing breaks up the monotony of a long trainer ride like music. (For safety, don’t use earphones while riding in open traffic!) Choose channels you enjoy to help keep you motivated and present—and to help you develop a regular, steady cadence.

For example, to set a good rhythm for climbing in a low gear, choose tracks with a steady tempo between 60 and 80 beats per minute, and sync your pedal stroke to the music. (Use the second hand on your watch to estimate beats per minute or use an online calculator.) For cruising, look for tempo around 90 beats per minute. And to work on an efficient pedal stroke, spin in an easy gear at 100–110 beats per minute, focusing on a smooth stroke cycle with no bouncing—no matter how much you like the song.

Choose a station you like and develop an approach to every song: change your gearing every time there’s a key change; gear down and stand during each chorus. Be creative, and the time will fly by.

You can also use music to alternate your trainer workout. This works well when you’re putting in wintertime-based miles and just need time in the saddle. Choose a station you like and develop an approach to every song: change your gearing every time there’s a key change; gear down and stand during each chorus. Be creative, and the time will fly by.

Here are a few stations that have been inspiring my bike training lately:

If you’re running on a treadmill or empty track, music can help keep you engaged. In my training for ultra-distance runs, I’d save my headphones for the last hour of a four-, five-, or six-hour run. It gave me something to look forward to as the miles wore on. To keep from being dependent on any particular playlist, I like to stream stations in genres I don’t know well, finding new gems to inspire me.

Here are a few stations that have been keeping my interest for that last hour:

To help manage your pacing, go for more mellow channels during the early part of your workout, and more uptempo channels as you pick up the pace for intervals and toward the end of a long workout.

Race Day Strategies: Now It’s All in Your Head

As you listen to music during training, find songs that help you set the right mood: rhythmic for settling into a swim stroke, steady for climbing on the bike, uplifting for the run. You could memorize an entire song or choose a chorus to sing to yourself during the race.

On race day, you’ll leave the headphones behind, but you can carry the music with you mentally. Remember the songs that helped you start at a sustainable effort. Sing one in your head until you’re ready for the next one—I’ve had a single song carry me through a 1,500-meter swim, and I’ve had others pop into my head but immediately go right back out. Stay open to what comes. Let the tempo help you keep the right pace for each section of the race. Let the lyrics inspire you. Race day is a celebration of all the work you’ve put in over the months, and a great time to replay your greatest hits from training—both the workouts that brought you to this point, and the soundtrack that helped you get there.

Photo via istock

Sage-webSage Rountree ( is an internationally recognized authority in yoga for athletes and an endurance sports coach with certifications from USA Triathlon and RRCA. Her six books include The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery and Racing Wisely, and she contributes regularly to Yoga Journal and Runner’s World.