Here's a question for the club. I just did my first triathlons this year - Gen. Smallwood & Nation's, and am figuring out my race schedule for 2013.
I'd like to focus on increasing my speed in all three sports, but also would like to do a Half at some point. I have a half marathon in March, but the rest of the year is flexible.
Should I spend 2013 focused on improving my speed, or can I also try my first half?
A lot of the 2012 NTP Alums and me are working on the same stuff. You have probably read more on the subject than I have, but in terms of increasing speed, as long as you are integrating speed and form focussed workouts into your overall HIM training plan you should be fine. I recomend trying to get into one of the expanded masters swim classes either evenings or before work, coming out to Wednesdays night track work outs and maybe doing the winter quarter spin training will get you right on track. For me the masters program dropped 25sec off my base interval and that's after only one quarter of Friday only. That means my swim should theoretically be 6 or 7 minutes faster which is huge, and I still have 5 more months of Friday only swimming until my next Tri. As long as you stay active through the off season without burning yourself out and take time to focus on form the areas where you are weakest, you will definitely be able to accomplish both goals.
The best way to increase speed is to concentrate on the shorter stuff first. Pretty much every professional triathlete developed their speed at the shorter distances before moving on to the longer ones. Chrissie Wellington and Macca are both triathletes who started off in the ITU circuit before moving on to the longer stuff.
Working on speed at the shorter distances before moving onto the longer distances is the smarter way to go. However, that requires a lot of patience. Age groupers, as we are, have bucket list items. Sometimes those bucket list items supercede going the smarter path. Put me down as someone who did not go the smarter path. There is nothing wrong with that. It all depends on what you want out of the sport.
You can go from zero to Ironman within a year, so doing a half your second season should be no issues. If your goal is to focus on speed, spend a few years racing and training exclusively at the oly and sprint distances before moving on. Lay down the foundation and the speed at the beginning and you will be rewarded later on.
I absolutely agree with Tuan! However, one other thought...it also depends on how new you are to the sport. If you are new, you 'should' get faster just by training (through the means that Tuan stated ie organized group workouts) even while training for the HIM distance. If you are more seasoned or have glaring strengths/weaknesses with the different disciplines, focused efforts of technique and speed will definitely benefit you and might be the answer to your question.
Rev 3 Williamsburg (June 23) is a Club Featured Race next year. There are both Olympic and Half distances on June 23 so whatever you decide, plan on racing with everyone in Williamsburg!