Updated: Apr 21, 2022
In my last two goal-setting articles we talked about how to set long-term goals in the various aspects of your life in such a way that they complement each other. Review those here:
Today, let’s narrow it down to selecting races within a season that will help you achieve your overall racing goals.
This is a complicated topic with lots of answers like “it depends” and lots of room for artistry on the training plan on the part of your coach, but hopefully this topic will help you make good decisions regarding race selections to help you and your coach structure your overall training plan to best suit your goals.
If your overall goal is multi-year, like qualifying for Kona three years from now, then you might want to consider selecting an A-race where you may be most likely to qualify in three years, based on the course and your own strengths and weaknesses. This would allow you to gain familiarity with the course so you can come back and crush it 2-3 years from now.
Maybe you’re less concerned with winning a full IRONMAN and more interested in crossing the finish line at your first 70.3 this year. In that case, you’d want to work with your coach and do some research on which race might play to your strengths and which you currently have an adequate amount of time to train for based on your current fitness.
When deciding on an A-race, all too often athletes forget that it’s imperative that you actually look at your calendar, not just for the date of the race, but in the weeks BEFORE. Too often, I have athletes come to me having already registered for a race, but then tell me that they’re going to be unable to train adequately for several weeks, at some point during the training plan, due to some extenuating circumstance (travel, work project, kids graduation, etc.…). As your coach, it is my job to write your program in a way that sets you up to achieve your goal, while still thriving in the rest of your life. In that regard, I can work your program around a lot of foreseen and unforeseen circumstances. However, if you already know that you have a big project at work that lands 5-6 weeks prior to the A-race you're considering, then that might not be the race for you this year.
If you look at the table below, you’ll see how I usually schedule the weeks prior to an A-race. The way I usually set up my training plans is such that the athlete has a three-week taper going into their A-race, preceded by two weeks of peak volume and/or intensity work. It looks something like this:
Training Plan: Peak and Taper Phase
If you already know that May 4-17 are going to be crazy weeks at work, and you register for this race anyway, you might be setting yourself up for failure. Missing workouts those weeks starts to take away from the key weeks of training, right when you need your fitness peaking, to be in prime shape for race day.
Also, if you are following the program, you are going to be TIRED in early May. Having a lot on your plate outside of training, and not getting the rest you need, is likely to lead to you getting sick, or worse, right before your A-race. For this reason, I will usually send the entire program I’ve built to the athlete early on and ask them to really take into account what they’re going to have going on in their lives during those peak weeks of training when deciding if it’s do-able.
Sometimes life does just happen, though, and that’s ok!! If you were consistent in your training leading into those weeks and then something happens causing you to miss some workouts, it’s not the end of the world.
Prep Race Selection
Deciding on races to prepare for your A-race is a lot more of an art than selecting your actual A-race. There are a lot more variables and unknowns, but there’s also a lot more flexibility in what you can reasonably and smartly work into your training program. However, before you start registering for every half marathon and sprint tri that happens to be anywhere near you, the smart thing to do is to go back to your training plan.
For example, if your overall training plan for your A-race calls for a 50mi ride with a 45min run off the bike on Saturday, then running 10mi and a 2k recovery swim on Sunday, does a sprint tri really fit in that weekend? Probably not. It’s not going to achieve the same objective of the long workouts. That doesn’t mean you and your coach can’t adjust your plan to accommodate this race, but if you’ve also registered for another race the weekend before and then are going to be traveling and not taking your bike with you the following weekend, your coach’s hands are tied (or your own if you’re building your own training plan).
Again, there are a lot more variables and considerations when it comes to prep races. While that sprint might not have made sense for a seasoned triathlete with at least a few races under their belt, it might make perfect sense for an athlete who has never done a triathlon but has the goal of doing their first half Ironman.
When it comes to which specific weeks during the training plan would make sense for a prep race, again, there are a lot of variables to consider. What I’ve found works best is to work backward from your A-race and look for races that fit into what that week of training calls for. If, for example, the prep race was a century ride and the athlete is training for a full Ironman and would have had a 100mi ride that weekend anyway, that makes sense. Other weeks that I will often put a prep race are the second week of a two or three week build period (see the tables below).
Two Week Build
Three Week Build
It’s very rare that I’d schedule a prep race on a fall back week, as those are all about active recovery and rest. No matter how laid back an athlete might be, almost all athletes will push themselves harder in a race than they ever would in training, even if it were supposed to be an “easy” day, so fall back weeks are best kept to mostly easy workouts.
In summary, when deciding on an A-race, consider sitting down and really evaluating what you have going on in the rest of your life in the weeks leading up to that race. This will allow you to then work backward based on the training plan built specifically for that race to decide on the rest of your racing schedule. If you and your coach can work together on this, you’ll be setting yourself up for success in reaching your racing goals!