In late June I signed up for an Ironman-distance Triathlon Training Plan through TriDot.com. I specifically signed up for Tridot’s “free for feedback” program to guide my training in preparation for my first full ‘Iron distance’ triathlon, the 2013 Beach2Battleship triathlon in Wilmington, North Carolina. Although I am happy I signed up for the plan, I will probably look elsewhere the next time I look for a training plan. The biggest reason is that the cheapest bronze option, at $127/month, does not provide for regular coach feedback/communication.
After seeing enough web advertisements (I think mostly Facebook) for TriDot, I signed up for the TriDot “free for feedback” training plan in late June. Although free typically implies $0, the free-for-feedback program is actually a reimbursement offer. TriDot will reimburse you for the first two months of TriDot plan costs ($127/month) and the one-time TriDot initiation fee ($100). Reimbursement is contingent upon filling out and returning feedback forms- about 60 short-answer questions reflecting on your training. The forms can be completed in probably around 1-2 hours or less.
My training plan was built on TriDot’s bronze plan, which normally runs for $127/month. If I recall correctly I could have chosen a more expensive plan, but I would not have been reimbursed for that added cost.
What does the TriDot bronze training plan include? First and foremost, a ‘custom’ training program. My training plan took me from July to my late October race day, or about 20 weeks. I accessed my training plan through the members-only TriDot web portal. Additional resources and aspects of the TriDot plan are also accessed via the web portal. I used TriDot’s ‘resource’ page most often. The resource has a bare-bones glossary feel to it, but includes some useful basic information on training, such as a breakdown of nomenclature, form, drills, and other training-related information. Another TriDot resource is the ‘RaceX’ tool, which is an attempt at race planning. Conceptually this is a good idea, but it was not quite as helpful as it could be in practice. Finally TriDot also has a ‘sponsor’ page with discounts, but I didn’t find any discounts worth pursuing. Notably absent from the TriDot web site is a forum/bulletin board area where athletes can interact. Even though web forums are not innovative, I feel like this could easily add a new and valuable dimension to the TriDot product.
Regarding my training plan, my total training hours ranged from 10 hours to 17 hours a week. Saturdays are typically the longest days, where a long bike ride (from 3-7 hours) is scheduled along with a 30 minute run (aka “brick run“). During the week, bike workouts usually last an hour or so, with Wednesday long runs approaching 2.5-3 hours, and Friday swims approaching 1.5 hours. Bike workouts are done three days a week on my plan- Tuesday (typically threshold intervals), Thursday (easy ride), and Saturday (long ride). Runs are done 4-5 days a week- Mondays (easy), Tuesday (brick), Wednesday (long run), Saturday (brick), and Sunday (threshold intervals).
Pacing for the workouts is based on regular (monthly) Time Trials. The run pacing seems to mirror Jack Daniels’ VDot pacing. My plan requested I complete monthly assessments, built into the training schedule, on set courses at certain distances. The running assessment is a 5k time trial; the bike is a 15 mile time trial, and the swim is an 800 yard time trial effort. After submitting a new time trial result my paces and zones would be automatically adjusted. As my 5k improved, my easy running pace went from around 9:30/mile to below 9:00/mile.
Biggest positive/PRO: simply some external accountability and direction. I felt much more confidant and focused by using the TriDot training plan than using some free plan taken from a magazine or elsewhere on the web.
During my training my time trial times across each sport improved. To give a hard metric, my 5k time improved by about a minute, from 22 minutes to 21 minutes over the course of 3 months (without any weight loss). Could my time trial efforts have improved even more with a different plan? Possibly. This was the first time in my life that I did a dedicated plan with multiple hours of exercise over several months. But since I paid for the plan and committed to it, I probably trained much more consistently than I would have with a plan that had zero accountability and/or was free.
Biggest negative aspect/CON: Limited coach communication. On its face the bronze plan doesn’t even include email access to your coach- for that you have to pony up twice as much each month for the $247/month silver plan. During the course of my training I felt like more communication with my coach had the potential to be second in importance to my overall training- only behind the plan itself, and getting the workouts done. Were I afforded more coach communication, I feel like I could have gotten better feedback for how to attack workouts, what I should be getting out of them, what I was doing wrong, and understanding how things fit together. If you only buy a one-shot training plan, it makes sense that you aren’t paying for coach feedback. But $100+/month, on top of an initiation fee seems like it should buy regular or semi-regular coaching communication.
That said- BIG CAVEAT- my coach would occasionally send me check-in emails commenting on a recent workout, and was responsive to the odd question that popped up during training. So I will admit I may be judging TriDot too harshly given the reality of how my plan actually worked out. Even still I felt guilty emailing my coach since it wasn’t a part of the plan, and were more communication afforded on the Bronze plan I feel like I would have gotten much more use out of the plan.
Regarding the refund/reimbursement aspect, I completed the feedback forms and mailed them to TriDot in late September. About two weeks later I received a notification that my forms were processed, and my reimbursement would be coming; by mid-October my reimbursement posted. So as far as I am concerned, the “free-for-feedback” program seems to be on the up-and-up.
As of this initial review, I am still 9 days out from my first iron-distance race. Did the plan work? Race day results should give me a reasonable barometer, but overall I am satisfied with my TriDot training. Obviously, my sample size is one for this review, and I will never have another first iron-distance race. So I will never know if my time in the pool would have been more productive doing different drills, or straight up swimming, than the countless 100s I did with a pull buoy. Likewise, I don’t know how effective my bike workouts would have been versus another similarly-priced training plan/program. But I do think the structure and accountability of the TriDot plan/program was invaluable to my fitness improvements over the past four months.
Actually the plan/program distinction is one of my biggest take-aways from using TriDot. Based on the limited coach communication, the $127/month TriDot Bronze product felt much more like a simple training plan than a cohesive training program. Was it worth my money? Yes, especially since TriDot processed my feedback payment/refund. But if you are asking, I recommend spending your money on something more comprehensive- a program, if you will, that not only includes what workouts you need to do, but explicitly provides an avenue for you to get your questions answered and interact with folks that have been there before- be it through an online forum or emails with you coach.