Planning Your Next Race Season: Expert Advice From A Triathlon Coach
Off-season is the time of year after your last race when you disconnect from the triathlon bubble that we tend to live in for so many months of the year. It is a time to recharge physically but importantly, mentally too. Whilst not training, you can start work on your coming season.
The more rested and relaxed you are, the more excited you start getting about the coming season. This is probably the best time to start planning for your next goals and what your next season will look like. I usually tell my athletes that rather than using their energy doing training, they should use that energy reflecting on the previous season, being objective, and drawing a sketch of their coming season.
However, how you do this is totally up to you. There is a lot of information out there about how to plan a season and there are thousands of training plans for different goals and distances. Here we will give you some guidelines and key points to consider when planning your next races and your season.
Structuring Your Season
There are many different ways to structure your coming season, but a good general starting point is with an Annual Training Plan (ATP) or Macro Plan. On this ATP, you will draw the big picture of what your season will look like; races, family and social events, holidays, and work commitments that may affect your training.
You should have three main training phases: general, specific, and competition. The general phase is mostly about building a base; you need to get your body ready to cope with training and building fitness components such as strength and endurance.
During the specific phase you want to look at the specific requirements of your event. From distances to disciplines to aspects that will have a real impact on race day. These could be power, hills, brick sessions, or open water swims.
The last is the competition phase, when you should be looking at peaking and tapering. Here, you will decrease the volume and intensity of your training. This is a critical part of the season as timing it right can mean success but time it wrong and you may get to the big race too tired or too rested.
Choosing Your Races
With the above in mind, it’s time to consider how to choose your races. When it comes to a new season, we tend to get carried away looking at races so let's stop for a second. Have you considered some of these points?.
- How many races do you want to do?
- What distances will you be doing?
- How will you manage work, family and social time with training for these races?
- When and where are the races?
- Will you follow any periodization?
During a season, we see professionals racing a lot and performing at their peak week after week. As much as this would be a dream for most of us, they train specifically for busy racing seasons with a dedicated coach and have all the support of a team behind them on a daily basis. As amateurs, we don’t have a lot of these luxuries and that is the main reason why we need to plan carefully.
Below are some tips for choosing your races.
Any athlete should reflect on the following: how many races did you complete last year? Which distances did you do? How many hours did you train per week on average? Was this manageable? If so, can you increase this? The answers to these questions will provide you with an opportunity to be objective and think more carefully about realistic goals.
Next, consider 2-3 big goals that you may have for the coming season. These may be to complete a longer distance, improve your time in a previous event or distance, or race at a new exciting location. You may notice that all of these goals start with a verb. This is on purpose as I believe the first goal for any athlete should be qualitative. I would always suggest to set challenging goals that seem quite scary, but for which you can draw a plan to achieve them with hard work and dedication.
Find events that match
With those goals in mind, it is time to start looking at possible events that match the above conditions. Selecting 2-3 main goals will allow you to break down the season into “mini-seasons” or cycles in the macro plan. These will be your A races and will define the rest of your year. Once these events have been decided, the cycles within the season focus on getting to perform at these A races.
Considering the distance of your A races, you will need to be careful with the timing within the season. This is especially true for long distance events as those doing 2 or 3 Ironman triathlons during a season need extra care to avoid injuries and over training. As a rule of thumb, I recommend any athlete to think about races that will allow them to have a few days or weeks afterwards to recharge mentally and physically to then start a new mini season. This is quite a personal decision and you’ll probably know what works best for you with experience.
B Races (Control Races)
So you’ve taken your time to think about your general objectives for the season, your A races and other qualitative goals, and you have considered how to distribute them throughout the season. Now it’s time to tell you a not-so-secret secret. In order to compete and perform well, you must compete beforehand and this applies to any discipline and distance.
Although not a must, I always encourage athletes to plan for some events before their main goals. These will be secondary races (B races) or control races. Why? Because they are the perfect test before the A-race to make as many mistakes as needed trying your strategy, kit, nutrition and any other variable that may play an important role in the A race.
Fitness for these races may not be at its peak, but that's not the goal and it’s important to step on the start line being aware that you're not here to compete or win. Instead, it’s an opportunity to measure where you are in your journey and to identify weak areas that need improvement.
These races will normally be close to your A race; I recommend 6 to 8 weeks before given that at this point you should be working specifically for your event already and be well prepared.
There will be a third type of race that you can consider and that can play a big role in your season: C races. These may be a 5k or 10k race that substitute the longer run on a weekend, or it may be a triathlon or duathlon where you want to have some fun with friends and is treated as a quality session for a given week. It is very important to remember that triathlon is a lonely sport when you train on your own and these C races add a lot to the sense of community and enjoyment away from taking things too serious.
These races may be at the end of smaller blocks of training that we normally call mesocycles. These mesocycles tend to be blocks of 3 or 4 weeks in which you will work in specific areas and fitness components and can also be used to track improvements in specific areas you may want to focus during the season.
About the author: Pablo Marcos is a British Triathlon and Ironman Certified Coach with experience coaching from beginners to elite athletes in all disciplines and distances.