The right way to structure your triathlon, cycling or running season.
The winter months are an ideal time to plan your next race season. You may have already entered a couple of events, but now is a good time to fill in the gaps and add some detail to your plan.
Planning your race season is a good idea, because it gives you a set of goals to work towards throughout the winter and spring. It also instils a sense of fear and excitement. This increases your motivation and focuses your training on the specific demands of the events you’ve entered.
It’s also worth remembering that some events fill up fast, and if you don’t enter early, you won’t get in. And it’s not simply a case of entering a bunch of races either. The timings and types of events you enter will determine your success and enjoyment.
Here are a couple of quick examples of what can happen if you don’t plan your season intelligently.
I once coached a triathlete who (despite my advice) only entered one big event for the whole season. He trained hard for what felt like an eternity, and then event-day eventually came. Extreme weather conditions spoiled his race and despite being in great shape, he felt his whole season had been a disappointment.
Conversely, I also coached a duathlete who entered too many races. Throughout Spring, Summer and Fall, he raced every weekend or two. And when he wasn’t racing, he was either recovering, maintaining his fitness or tapering. There was no opportunity to progress his training or to try anything different. Inevitably his race performances plateaued, and he started to get bored, tired and unmotivated.
These are all mistakes you can avoid, if you follow the advice below.
Firstly, try to choose events that complement each other. In other words, events that are all part of a bigger picture. So if your main target is a 3-day cycling event, you might enter several shorter events that build you up to that big event.
It’s not always that simple though. For example, is running a marathon good preparation for an IRONMAN 140.6 triathlon? You might think so. But what if it takes you a month to recover from that marathon? Maybe it’s not such a good idea after all.
So when you’re entering events, consider the post-race recovery time and how that might affect your training. Don’t enter too many tough events, if they compromise your ability to train for the really important ones.
To help you choose races that complement each other, it’s useful to divide them into one of three categories:
‘A’ races, ‘B’ races and ‘C’ races.
‘A’ races are the ones that mean most to you. These are the main focus of all your training and preparation. Your goal is to be at peak fitness for these high priority events.
‘B’ races are also events that you’d like to do pretty well in, but they are not the main focus of your season. You needn’t aim to peak for these, but you should still taper for 2-days beforehand.
‘C’ races are events that you enter for fun, or as preparation for your ‘A’ races. Ideally, the post-race recovery time will be short, so you can resume normal training soon after. Examples include a 5-km run race, a 10-mile cycle time trial or a 1500-meter open water swim.
So we’ve touched upon the importance of entering races that are all part of a bigger picture. And you’re now aware of the importance of post-race recovery times. And you’ve learned that it’s a good idea to divide your races into A, B and C groups, according to their priority.
However, it’s still hard to plan your season effectively, because triathlon, running and cycling events don’t always come along at the right times. For example, you might decide that your two ‘A’ races are an IRONMAN 70.3 and a sprint triathlon. But as luck would have it, they are to be held on consecutive weekends. Which means you won’t have enough time to fully recover between the two events.
What can you do in these situations? Either you just do your best at both races and accept that it’s not an ideal situation. Or you re-plan your ‘A’ race targets. But do be prepared for this scenario, because it happens a lot. That’s life.
Below, I have set out some typical race recovery times. Please use them as a reference point when planning your season. They are all given as a range (e.g 2+ weeks) and are meant for amateur athletes. Just be aware that your actual recovery time will depend on variables like experience, fitness, race-pacing, nutrition and race conditions.
Triathlon Race Recovery Times
- Sprint: 1+ weeks before another race
- Olympic: 2+ weeks before another race
- IRONMAN 70.3: 4+ weeks before another race
- IRONMAN 140.6: 8+ weeks before another race
Cycling Race Recovery Times
- 10 mile Time Trial: 48 hours
- 25 mile (40-km) Time Trial: 48+ hours
- 50 mile Road Race. 3+ days
- Endurance event, 50 to 100 miles: 3+ days
- Endurance event, 100+ miles: 4+ days
- 3-day Endurance event. 7+ days
- 5-day Endurance event. 10+ days
Running Race Recovery Times
- 5-km: 48+ hours
- 10-km: 4+ days
- Half Marathon: 1+ week
- Marathon: 3+ weeks