The first major triathlon races of North America are upon us. Well, at least in the warm weather states like California and Florida. If you are so inclined, traveling to a warm destination race to test your winter training against those that have been fortunate to only wear one layer of clothing year-round is a good way to stay motivated. It does take some out of the ordinary planning to prep for an event that is 30 degrees or more warmer than your average daily temperature from November to March. If this seems a bit much, then consider doing something local as early as possible to get in some race pace action. Be prepared for obstacles like cold water and air temperatures. However, racing will provide an indication of what fitness level you’re at since the previous year’s final competition. Keep modest expectations of your finishing time and know that you have a full season ahead to improve on them. If you’re a fair weather fan like me, it may take another few months to get into the triathlon spirit but rest assure another triathlon season will be here before you know it.
DEVELOPING YOUR SEASON PLAN
We are at the point where if you have not already done so, the planning for the upcoming season has arrived and the chance to make a tentative schedule for the year. Once the schedule is planned, you can decide on a general training program to best prepare for important events. Please note that it is vital to check with the schedules of everyone else that is involved in your life including friends, family members, co-workers and your employer before paying that big Ironman entry fee. Of utmost importance is to try and avoid weddings, births, anniversaries and class reunions on your priority “A” race day. Remember that even if most of your friends have dates etched in their mind like the 4th of July, NASCAR or the Washington Nationals Schedule, most people are not aware of the triathlon calendar in any way. The following suggestions will help in your season planning:
- Be realistic in what you can do on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Your season goals should be identified, measurable and attainable, but still be a challenge.
- Partner up. The team allows for training partners to help you progress. Triathlon is often a very solitary sport and training with people of your level or higher on occasion will make you better. If training with others is not possible then substitute shorter races as a way to get faster.
- Identify seasonal goals. Limit this to three or four items and they could be something like: place high at a local race, qualify or compete at Nationals and complete a long-distance event.
- Develop several long term goals that can be accomplished over a period of years such as improving on your current times or overall placings.
- Create excitement by traveling to and competing in a high profile event.
DETERMINE TRAINING OBJECTIVES
It is important to determine your training objectives and put the plan to paper. By taking this step you will have clearly identified your racing goals and a way to reach them. If you are unable to do this, there are a number of outstanding coaching programs that offer an individualized Annual Training Plan or detailed full-time coaching service to help you with this. This is especially useful for new athletes or athletes trying to reach a higher level of performance. However, regardless of whether you go it alone, pay for an annual plan, or go with a full time coach for more constant support, motivation or interaction, the results are inevitably up to the athlete because no one else can actually put in the work.
As I have stated several (numerous, but it’s important!) times in the past, a proper training program will use some form of the PERIODIZATION concept in which your year is divided up into phases progressing from general to specific. You will first develop a BASE PHASE in each event putting in long and slow distance training. After a determined amount of time (8-12 weeks), you will gradually build on the developed base and progress to a SUSTAINMENT PHASE. This is followed by some INTENSITY PHASE to sharpen the base and finally reaching a PEAK PHASE at a pre-determined event. After a proper REST PHASE or less intensity the method is repeated several times throughout the season.
SELECT PRIORITY RACES
For competitive people, racing can be considered the test for all of your many training hours. Race day can be a nervous time that causes performance anxiety due to the stress of the preparing for, getting to, and actually competing in the event. Be positive and put yourself in a position to succeed. Although it is a day to test your current fitness level, it is also a reward to swim in the open water, ride on traffic free roads (hopefully) and pound the pavement or trail to a potential personal record. There are many ways to prepare for race day and make it the best experience possible.
- Compete in events that highlight your strengths. If you swim and ride well but don’t run so well, then you may want to stay away from hot hilly run courses. On the contrary, slower swimmers that are fast on land should gravitate toward events that are held on tough bike and run courses. Half Ironman and Ironman events are much better suited to the athletes with strong bike and run backgrounds because of the relatively short swim distance. This will allow you to compete against the competition and the clock with your best possible performance.
- Plan out your competitive calendar by placing an emphasis on several important (Priority A) races that are spread out over the season. Try to use the first half of the season to gain experience and then concentrate toward your goal events.
- Select races that you have the ability to prepare for and can actually attend. This is becoming more difficult to do with races selling out almost a year ahead of time. However, barring unforeseen circumstances, a quarterly race plan will allow you to emphasize training with some higher intensity tempo work as well as a taper to maximize race day performance.
- Race more. It is logical that the more you race, the better you will become at putting together the three distinctive sports of triathlon. Racing sharpens your skills with open water swimming, technical bike skills. Transition changes from swim to bike and bike to run, and running after an intense ride. Sprint and Olympic distance events are excellent opportunities to practice what you train at a faster pace.
Triathlete’s know that being fit and healthy is a benefit of living the multi-sport lifestyle. If your goal is to ____________ (insert whatever you want) then create a plan, stay diligent and focused and you will be on the right path to success. Good luckand enjoy!