Tips for triathletes, obstacle course racers, runners, and cyclists to create your best racing season yet
As racing enthusiasts are clinging to the last weeks of the 2022 season, endurance athletes are flipping their calendars and considering how to set themselves up for a great 2023 season. And that’s what High Power athletes do, too. Athletes we coach meet with us in late fall to assess their previous season and look ahead to next year.
Athletes in all endurance disciplines–triathletes, runners, cyclists, and OCR–and of all ability levels can benefit from having a plan for the upcoming season.
A plan will provide structure and a roadmap that you can look at throughout the year to guide your success. For example, planning out a race calendar, slotting in key events and races, and periods of training and recovery well in advance help keep the focus on the best approach to training for your goals. Planning a whole season may sound daunting, but our coaches help athletes focus on three things to get started.
Learn from the past year
Before planning for 2023, it’s important to assess how things went in 2022. Be objective and consider what went well in training and racing and what didn’t. Did you meet the goals you set at the beginning of the season? If you did, what do you think helped you achieve them? If you didn’t, what were the reasons, and what should you change for next season?
In addition to assessing the successes and misses of your past racing season, it’s helpful to consider your physical strengths and weaknesses (e.g., your limiters). Areas to think about, for example, include strength, speed, muscular endurance, recovery, nutrition, mindset skills – or perhaps a combination of these. Note if these are strengths, and if so, ensure you continue sharpening these in the upcoming year. More importantly, take note of your weaknesses so that you can create a plan to address them.
A good coach can lead you through a thorough and balanced assessment of your past season and highlight areas of improvement.
Define goals for next season
Once you’ve completed your self-assessment, you’re ready to set a few goals for next season. We encourage our athletes to select three to five goals that excite them. But we don’t let athletes set goals that aren’t SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. An example of a smart goal might look like this:
Gabe is a triathlete who has completed several half-ironman races. He finished his first Ironman in 2022, completing it in 12 hours and 30 minutes. In July 2023, he wants to finish his first full Ironman in 12 hours. Based on his previous race performance, he believes this goal is possible.
This goal is a great example of SMART goals because it’s specific–we know exactly what Gabe wants to do; it’s measurable–we can track Gabe’s progress and see if he finishes in 12 hours; it’s achievable–according to past race data we believe Gabe can achieve this goal; it’s relevant to Gabe trajectory as a triathlete; it’s time-based–we know Gabe needs to be ready by July for this goal.
Other examples of SMART goals may include something other than race performances. Instead, athletes may want to attain specified body composition metrics indicative of fitness and endurance, such as weight, skeletal muscle mass, or percent body fat. Other SMART goals could be to attain a specific 1RM weight goal in powerlifts or commit to one recovery week every few weeks. And everyone’s goals should include having fun and staying injury free.
Your goals should excite you, in addition to being SMART. They should also push you outside of your comfort zone. Being slightly afraid of a goal is a good thing. For example, many first-time extreme endurance athletes don’t think they can complete an Ironman, a 24-hour obstacle course race, the Spartan Death Race, or other events. Therefore, many are afraid to try. However, your goals should push you to do things you don’t think are possible. That is how you grow as a person.
A good coach can lead you through defining goals that excite you, make you uncomfortable, and are SMART.
Create a periodized training plan based on your goals
Creating goals can often lead down a rabbit hole of race planning. As you set goals, it’s easy to want to find the race that will enable you to achieve them. But before picking races out of a hat, it’s helpful to take a bird’s eye view at a calendar of the whole season. We recommend athletes choose only one or two “A” races or events; they are the season’s pinnacle for you, and all training culminates around these races. This leaves room for two to three “B” races and two to three “C” races throughout the season.
C races or events are pure training; they let you practice in race conditions but at a training level of effort. B races or events are between C and A races and events, where you will push harder than you would in a typical training effort, yet not all out. B races and events are great for practicing racing a specific discipline or skill. For instance, in a B event triathlon, you could plan on racing all out on the bike leg but treat the swim and run as training events. You could also work on transition skills, minimizing T1 and T2. B races are great for working on specific limiters, particularly leading up to an A race.
In our example, after Gabe decided he wanted to race a full Ironman in 12:00 hours, he likely started researching races in the summer and landed on a July race just a few hours from home. Gabe’s July Ironman is one of his season’s “A” races. Earlier in the year, Gabe might schedule some “B” and “C” races to give him practice and test his fitness.
When you’ve slotted your “A” races and a couple of “B” races into your calendar, you can begin to create a periodized training program to help you achieve the goals you set earlier. It’s best to schedule your “A” races first, then start to block out 4-6 week chunks of time on your calendar for your periodized training.
Periodized training is when we schedule progressive loading of volume and intensity weekly within a given block. In other words, one 3-5 week training block will build in volume and intensity over the previous one. Within any given block, the last week is a de-load or recovery week, allowing the body to recover so you can optimize the next training block’s workouts. Following a periodized program builds fitness over time, reducing the risk of injury and burnout. Before the racing season begins, you’ll want a block of time for base-building to prepare your body for the more intense training that’s to come.
A good coach can work to create a periodized training plan with you based on your goals. Then, once you have done all of the above, you are ready to get going with your workouts.
Map out specific daily workouts
Once you have your periods mapped out based on your goals, you can begin to schedule daily workouts, outline daily nutrition, mindset practices, and other important daily activities that will drive success. The daily workouts should each have a specific goal. For instance, developing aerobic endurance on the bike, speed on the run, strength, power, etc., are all goals that should be well understood as part of a workout. Workouts should be based on your limiters, working to improve skills, and should also be specific to your experience level and any limitations you are facing.
Your workouts should also be mapped to your schedule – the right workouts on the right days and times. In other words, you should tailor your daily workouts to you and your needs. A big mistake many athletes make is using cookie-cutter workout plans for training. Since those plans are not mapped out to your specific needs and goals and are typically one-dimensional, they don’t yield maximum results and may even lead to injury. Static cookie-cutter plans focus only on physical training and ignore other critical pieces of training, such as nutrition and mindset training, not to mention how to approach active recovery and mobility specific to your situation.
Work with an experienced coach to develop programming for daily workouts. The coach will plan and map out these workouts for the year.
Instead of training for one race at a time, planning a whole season allows endurance athletes to maximize their fitness potential, prevent injury, and achieve bigger goals than they thought were possible. If you’re ready to take your training and racing to the next level, our coaches are ready to help you succeed. Contact us to learn more about High Power Athletics Endurance Coaching.