Don’t know how or where to start? Read on for some tips to help set you up for your best triathlon season yet
So, you’ve signed up for an Ironman 70.3 next year. Now what?
While it’s good to start with the end in mind, assuming you’ve marked this event as your most important race (“A” race), now comes the meticulous task of planning the months, weeks, and days leading up to race day. This will be the first of a series of articles that I hope will help get you to that red carpet and finish line in the best shape possible. To help start you off on the right foot, here are some things to consider:
1. Other races (a.k.a. “B” and “C” races)
Most triathletes sign up for multiple races throughout the year. “C” races like fun runs, duathlons, aquathlons, and short-distance triathlons help shake off the off-season rust and help determine early-season fitness. “B” races are great for evaluating fitness gains and testing race-day strategies. Let’s use the Alveo Ironman 70.3 in Davao—the first Ironman 70.3 race of 2019 as the basis. For example, TRI1 would be a good “B” race for those looking at Ironman 70.3 Davao as their “A” race.
While having a few lesser priority races under your belt can be an advantage on race day, not everyone may have the time and money to compete in multiple races during the season. Keep in mind that it’s still possible to have a great race experience even if you can only afford to have one “A” race. It’s perfectly okay to do DIY race simulations if the option to participate in an organized event is not available to or practical for you. Be smart and honest with yourself. Racing is not your job, it’s just a hobby.
2. Training availability
Once you’ve marked your races on the calendar, the next step is another opportunity for you to be honest with yourself. How much time are you willing to commit to swim, bike, and run training as well as strength and conditioning leading up to your “A” race?
Map out your week and plot what days you can allot for each training session. Determine your preferred time for training (morning and/or evening) and whether or not your prior commitments and current fitness will allow you to train once or twice a day. Figure out if you have access to training venues and whether or not a gym and/or resistance training equipment is available to you. And don’t forget that sleep and recovery are vital aspects of race preparation, too. Allotting at least eight hours of sleep would be ideal but you need to factor in your family and significant partner as well, especially if you have your indoor trainer set up in the bedroom. Not all housemates would be cool with you making noise at 5:30 a.m.
It’s important to start off with an ideal but realistic image of what your preferred training schedule looks like but always leave room for flexibility when life gets in the way. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s worth reminding yourself that you are a time-crunched age group triathlete, not a pro.
3. Baseline fitness
Whether you are training for your first or nth race, you need to have a realistic and measurable grasp of what your current fitness level is. A good way to get a handle on things is to look back at your most recent and longest workout sessions. You never want to start off with training volumes and intensities that are too far from what you’ve recently been doing. This applies to seasoned athletes coming from the off-season as well as newbies training for their first half-distance.
Some coaches schedule assessment sessions like CSS tests, time trials, and FTP tests at the beginning of the program. Personally, I prefer to at least get a few weeks’ worth of training mileage in before scheduling these intense and often mentally stressful workouts. It’s important to note that the assumption here is that you have a clean bill of health, free from any injury, and have your doctor’s approval to participate in such a grueling race that tests the limits of human endurance.
4. Strengths and limiters
Everyone is born with natural abilities. This, coupled with accumulated training experience, determines our strengths and weaknesses. These can be identified by either looking back at how your previous season went and/or your athletic or fitness background. This information is helpful in determining which discipline you need to dedicate more time and sessions on, especially early in the season.
If you have a running background but just recently learned how to swim, you may want to schedule at least three swim sessions per week, preferably with a qualified swim coach who can correct your form, even if it means cutting down on your run sessions. Maybe you’re a strong cyclist but your limiter is running strong off the bike. If that’s the case, you need to address this by improving the quality of your runs and brick sessions.
Limiters can either be psychological (e.g. fear of the open water) or sociological (e.g. travel) so you need to find ways to improve on those within your control and strategically work within those that are not while still maintaining or improving your areas of strength.
5. Goals and objectives
A common goal for many triathletes is just “to finish” the race. This is already an accomplishment in itself and in order to get there, you need to set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) performance goals. They need to be specific and measurable so that they can be evaluated and determined whether or not they were met. They must also be achievable, relevant, and time-bound to ensure that the athlete is capable of attaining the goal.
So if your goal is “to finish,” a SMART way of writing it down is to determine the cut-off times for each discipline and the maximum time you are allowed to finish the race. For a seasoned athlete looking to set a new PR, you might write down the SMART goal as chopping off 10 minutes for your total time, then breaking it down to improving by two minutes in the swim, a minute in T1, three minutes on the bike, a minute in T2, and three minutes on the run. From there, you need to list down the corresponding training objectives that will help you get closer to achieving your goals. These can be based on target assessment test results as well as target times and/or age group ranking in “B” and “C” races.
6. Race conditions
When you sign up for a race, it’s not enough to know how long it is and where the event will be. You need to do due diligence and find out as much as you can about actual race conditions such as terrain, fresh or saltwater swim, temperature, altitude, course profile, wind resistance, humidity, etc. Knowing what you will be up against on race day will determine what sort of race-specific skills you should be focusing on, what equipment you will need to invest in and train with as well as the goals you should be setting for yourself. Studying the rules for your specific race early on will also help so that you know what equipment you will be allowed to use so there won’t be any surprises on race day.
These are questions I’ve asked my athletes at the beginning of their season. This not only helps me develop a structured training plan that caters to each one’s specific needs but it also helps them see their triathlon season as a whole. I’ve provided a sample planning worksheet that you can use as a guide in creating your own roadmap to your next “A” race. There’s obviously a lot to think about but these are important questions to ask yourself whether you are working with a coach or a self-coached athlete.
Don’t worry if you find a lot of technical jargon in there. We’ll tackle all of those terms along with the three cumulative training phases—base, build, and specialty—with emphasis on the base phase in the next article. For now, begin the process by putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and start planning a successful triathlon season. In the words of bestselling author and motivational speaker Hall of Famer Greg S. Reid, “A dream written down with a date becomes a goal. A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by action makes your dreams come true.”