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Full guide to planning a successful triathlon season

When you come to creating a season plan, it can be slightly daunting. That being said, it's also an exciting time where you can get enthused by setting goals and working out how to get there!

The key to any process is identifying the end goal and then begin to work backwards.

Set Your Goals for the Season

Every pursuit, whether it be fitness or otherwise should probably start with some sort of goal. These can be both short term or long term goals. Some examples might be;

  • Complete my first triathlon

  • Get fitter

  • Race a certain distance

  • Get a personal best

  • Qualify for an event

  • Make a podium

There are lot's of goals you can choose from, but you have to be sure that they have a measurable outcome... something that you can work towards.

Essentially you want to focus on SMART goals: Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely. I won't go into that within this guide but i'll put some links below for you to have a browse about what I mean.

Choose Your Races Strategically

There is a whole host of races you can choose from. Your governing body wherever you live should be able to help direct you to the right races on their website if that's what you're looking for, however it's far easier and more beneficial to seek the advice of someone in the know... and not just rely on the internet.

A coach at this point can definitely come in handy!

That being said, when trying to plan, there are a few things that you can look at to start to focus in on the races that will suit you.

1. Time of Year

Will you need to do the majority of your training in the winter or in the summer? For example, if you sign up for a May triathlon, you’ll be doing long rides in March and April, which may not be bad if you live in Florida but may be a challenge if you live in New York.

2. Swim

Are you comfortable with pool swims, fresh water swims or ocean swims? Wave starts or mass starts?

3. Race Size

Do you want to race on a crowded course or more by yourself?

4. Course

Does the course fit your strengths? For example, if you live in a flat area and are not a strong climber, then a flat course like IRONMAN Florida may be preferable to the hills at IRONMAN Lake Placid.

5. Location

What else is near the race site? Are there other activities for friends and family to do while you’re doing your race stuff?

6. Training Partners

Do you have friends who are training for the same race or another race around the same period of time? It can be lonely doing all of your long rides and runs alone.

7. Weather and Altitude

What is the weather typically like where you will train versus where you will race? What about the altitude?

8. Budget

How much does the race cost? How far are you willing or able to travel?

Create a Picture of Your Season - Work backwards

Start with the Annual Training Plan, where each week is represented by a row so that can you see your year from the start of training until your last race on a single page. In addition to races, include key events like vacations, work travel and social events like weddings. A weekly view will also help you visually see the weekly interval between events.

Working backwards from your key races of the season, add shorter triathlons leading up to them. Shorter races are an opportunity to practice execution, pacing and nutrition, as well as evaluate your fitness at that point in time. A good rule of thumb is to do no more than one race per month. Otherwise, you’re spending time too much time racing instead of training.

It completely depends how fit you are and how much training you've done before the race season however when placing races on your calendar, here are guidelines for the spacing intervals between events:

  • Sprint: 1+ weeks before another race

  • Olympic: 2+ weeks before another race

  • Half: 5+ weeks before another race

  • Full: 8+ weeks before another race

The more training you do before the race season, the fitter you'll be, the more you'll be able to tollerate, and the quicker you'll bounce back from a race, allowing you to race more within a season.

If you’re new to triathlon or trying to progress to the next level, find a coach or a training plan to help you structure the training periods of your season.

How do you get from A to Z

A being your current level of fitness, Z being your goal.

You need to know what both of them are before starting the process of how to get there.

First you have to work out where you are currently (A). There are loads of ways to do this, and the one that will be the most familiar to people will be the 20minute FTP test. But here are some other examples:

  • 5km running time trial / race

  • CSS test in the pool

  • Lactic testing in the lab

  • Vo2 testing in the lab

  • An educated guess using multiple sessions and training data (leave this to a coach)

Most people might not have the luxury of the last three, and and even with some of the benchmarks that people acquire, they don't understand what it means/ what to do with it, again, having someone who can interoperate the data could be invaluable as this will aid the process of controlling training intensities and tailoring sessions to your own personal profile.

So now you've got your physiological profile, it's time to work out how far off that is from your goal. You need to understand what it takes to swim/bike/run certain distances or times, how they get put together in a triathlon, and what this actually means. You need to work out how conditioned you need to be to complete a certain distance.

After you've done this (advisable to get help with interpreting and evaluating/ assessing the data, then you can go about crafting your training plan which will allow you to achieve this.

What will it take? - Create Your Weekly Schedule

We've written a whole post on this so be sure to take a look!

I won't go into the detail that's in that post, so do go back to it, but in short:

  • Use a training calendar such as training peaks to plan your schedule

  • Input any dates where you're already busy

  • Think about your work / life and then mould your training to fit in with that

  • Give yourself specific times to train

  • Make it a repetitive week that you can roll out for long periods of time without thinking about it.

  • Tailor the amount of time per discipline and then the sessions within to be more specific for you.

Make sure you want it

All of this is underpinned by your mental attitude to training. You have to ensure that you want to achieve your desired goals, and begin to enjoy the process and journey towards it.

You can't out work someone, for whom work feels like play.
The Best Kind Of Work Feels Like Play To You But Looks Like Work To Others.

It is, however, not as easy as it sounds to get it into a state of play / joy. For many of us, we have a lot of other things within our life that which requires us to integrate our training into.

It's here at which, of course, it's worth while recommending getting help with this. As if you're struggling to balance everything out, come up with a good training plan which takes into consideration your work, life and day to day mood, then it's going to be tough for the exercise to feel easy, enjoyable and purposeful.

Again, there are lots of places you can seek help which we've been through before, but it could be worth checking out some of the below:


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