Instead of waiting to start your new season on January 1 like most people, I like to have my athletes begin their New Year on December 15. Why? Because it helps establish a disciplined laser focus during the holiday season and springboards them into January primed, motivated and ready to go.
Here’s the process I use with my athletes, which helps to ensure the launch of their healthy and successful season.
Don’t Be Overzealous
I typically begin with my athletes by identifying priority races. We call these their “A Races”. For many, this includes the IRONMAN World Championships – and sometimes a qualifying event to earn that Kona slot — but could just as easily be your hometown Olympic distance triathlon.
What’s important is that we limit the number of “A Races” to just two or three per year, especially when aiming for 70.3 or full-distance IRONMAN triathlons. Additionally I recommend that your first “A Race” be at least 5 to 6 months out.
When scheduling your races, think “quality over quantity”. Don’t clog your season with so many events that you burn out prior to your most important triathlons later in the year.
It’s tempting to populate your race calendar with events every weekend. Don’t do it! To get the most out of your training, establish major objectives then purposefully construct a plan to support those goals.
Split Your Year in Two
Many athletes get too fit too early in the year, only to discover that they’re toast by late summer or fall.
To avoid that, I suggest scheduling your year in two parts. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, those could be:
- January through June; and
- July to November.
In the first calendar half, I like to see just one “A Race” in May or June, allowing plenty of time to build fitness. Then, in the second half of the year, book no more than 2 “A Races”.
Covet Your Recovery
If your “A Races” include more than one 70.3 IRONMAN triathlons, then be sure to separate them by at least 3 weeks. However, if you plan on doing multiple full-distance IRONMAN events, then you’ll need a buffer of 13 weeks (that’s just over 3 months!) between them.
We’ve all heard stories of triathletes racing back-to-back with very little recovery. This frequently comes back to haunt them later in the season, when they’re beset with a niggling injury or a general feeling of flatness.
Typically athletes can hold their peak fitness for approximately 8 to 11 weeks, but then need adequate time for the recovery and renewal for the second half of their year. Don’t mortgage your late-season “A Races” by competing too frequently in May, June and July!
Strive for Off-Season Efficiency
Once your planning is complete and your “A Races” have been staked, you can commit to high quality training cycles that have purpose.
If this is your off-season, then allocate 6 to 12 weeks for steadily building your base and incrementally increasing fitness.
Remember: Base building does not mean only logging long, easy miles! Regularly (i.e., at least once per week per discipline) insert short high intensity intervals (HIIT) into each workout. I prefer efforts of just 12 to 25 seconds during otherwise aerobically paced swim, bike and run sessions during the off-season. These will help prepare your body for the demands of the more sustained higher intensity efforts you’ll be implementing later.
As you near the end of this off-season base building phase, you’ll be feeling stronger and fitter…Now it’s time to get faster.
I prefer to add a couple of non-triathlon races into the mix. My favorites are 5km road races and short duathlons. These will serve as test pieces that help establish benchmarks before you ramp up to your more serious training.
If a race isn’t convenient, then try a marker set in which you replicate race-like conditions during a workout. You’ll attempt to hold a specific pace or power output over a predetermined distance. If you can convince a training partner to do it with you, then you can push each other to meaningful performances!
Transition into Your A “Race” Training Program
At approximately 10 to 12 weeks prior to your first “A Race”, you’ll transition into an event-specific training program.
Hopefully you’re using a proven and efficient plan. I’m currently offering a choice of plans through my Dave Scott Triathlon Club (which is the best value going!) If the DSTC isn’t right for you, then seek out programs that are administered by an IRONMAN U certified coach. These should be designed to reflect your experience, realistically accommodate your available weekly training hours and include regular HIIT sessions every week.
If you’ve followed my advice during the off-season with deliberate planning and patient base-building, then you have set yourself up for a successful year of racing.