BUILDING A RACE CALENDAR – ADVICE FROM A COACH Ep. 2
Building a Race Calendar
Whether you’re a newcomer to the sport looking to select your first race, or a seasoned veteran looking to achieve a PB, putting together a race calendar can be a tricky process!
When I first started competing in triathlons, my race calendar consisted of whichever races were convenient without considering how each race fitted with my goals, the time of year or the relationship with other events. Over the past few years, as I’ve progressed as a triathlete, I’ve come to realise the importance of strategising and planning your racing calendar in advance. Rather than just looking forward, I now recommend to my athletes that they instead begin at the end of the season, visualising where they would like to be and work backwards.
I now begin the process by identifying what my athlete’s key goals are for the season and then work backwards. What would they consider as success? Whether this is completing their first sprint triathlon or qualifying for the ITU Age Group World Championships, the key is to write these down and evaluate them. How attainable/realistic are these in light of professional, family and/or social commitments? Having discussed this with my athletes we may then revise or adapt them, but the key is to ensure that the goal reminds a challenge that will require the athlete to push themselves beyond their current ability. Once these goals are then locked in, they will provide the core motivation for training throughout the year, and inspiring an athlete to get up at 5am for that swim set or out of the door for that run in the rain!
Having decided on these goals, it is then a question of strategically choosing races that will allow the athlete to achieve these goals. With so many races to pick from, which ones should you sign up for? Here are 10 key considerations that will guide this process…
The timing of races is crucial in several respects. Firstly, it is important to determine whether the date of a race affords enough training time to prepare sufficiently considering the identified goal. Secondly, for any age group athlete, there are likely to be several important social and family occasions throughout the year that cannot be missed, and so races and training will need to be built around these.
Different athletes have different concerns with respect to location. For some, triathlons provide a fantastic opportunity to visit and race in a new and exotic location. For the time-pressured athlete, the key may be to find races which are local and accessible so that disruption and time commitments are kept to a minimum.
Linking in with location, the logistics of a race can be crucial. As an example, some races have split transitions which require competitors to drop off their bike, cycle and run kit in different locations. For an athlete without a car, this can be a logistical nightmare, not only before the race, but also after the race when they must arrange for bags to be gathered from different locations when they’re often exhausted! Similarly, races abroad requiring various forms of transport while carrying their bike, are going to be much more stressful logistically than local races where they can cycle a short distance to the event on race morning!
Budgeting your Race Calendar
There is no denying the fact that triathlon can be an expensive sport. Not only with the various pieces of kit and equipment required, but also with entry fees, which for the bigger triathlon event organisers can be very high. In addition, with the potential additional costs for transport, accommodation and food for races far from home, it is important to tailor event choice to an athlete’s budget!
The beauty of triathlon is that no course is the same! Depending on event choice, on race day morning, an athlete could be presented with a swim in the choppy sea or a tranquil lake, a cycle along a pancake flat highway or through a mountainous valley pass, and a run through bustling city streets or via scenic river trail. Different athletes have different preferences and wants, and I believe they should choose a course that will truly inspire them!
Linking with location, the climate of an event can play a crucial factor in performance and achievement of race goals. Personally, I have found that in hot, humid conditions, I can really struggle if I’m not vigilant about keeping hydrated, maintaining salt levels and keeping my body temperature down. It is important for an athlete to experience in advance training in conditions similar to those that they will face on race day. Climate is therefore a key consideration when choosing races!
Strengths and weaknesses
Different athletes have different strengths and weaknesses. While some athletes may be incredibly strong swimmers, others may be less strong on the swim but fantastic on the bike. It is great to choose a course which will allow you to showcase your talent, and maximise your advantages. For example, on the key reasons why I love competing at Ironman Wales is that with an incredibly tough and hilly bike and run course, it really places the emphasis on climbing strength on both the cycle and run, which work. While it might not be a PB course, it’s an honest course that rewards physical and, in particular, mental strength and endurance. This works to my strengths as I look to finish high enough to secure my ultimate goal of qualifying for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
Size of the field
The size of the field can make a huge difference to a racer’s experience. For newcomers to the sport, racing with hundreds, if not thousands of other competitors can be quite overwhelming and so a smaller event can be a more confidence-boosting environment to make their debut. Conversely, for an athlete looking to push their performance levels, competing in a bigger field and against the very best can act as a great motivator to push themselves to a new level!
A, B, and C races
I always say to my athletes that the key to improved race performance is regular racing. Very often athletes will have their goal race for the season, whether this is the national championships or their first Olympic distance race. This is what we define as their A-race. However, in preparation for the big day, I always recommend that my athletes compete in smaller preparatory events. These provide a great opportunity to test new tactics or equipment ahead of the target race, and provide a fantastic training opportunity as it’s very difficult to replicate the intensity of racing in training. For B races, there will be less of a taper from training, as they’re not as much of a focus, and for C races even less so. Therefore, the pricing, location, timing of these races will differ accordingly.
One of the key motivators for training towards a goal can be training regularly alongside partners who are working towards the same goal. Therefore, you will often find within triathlon clubs and communities that very often groups of athletes will enter the same event together. It’s a great way to bring a sense of camaraderie to training, and it can be an amazing (and very often, logistically easier) experience travelling with and racing in an event with a group of your friends!
I hope these tips will help you with the exciting process of putting together your race calendar! Once your race dates are in the diary, the journey then begins to prepare and train for your goal races! I look forward to sharing further advice to aid you along every step of your triathlon journey, from technical training tips, to equipment advice, to race-day nutrition!
Next time we’ll be diving in to look at the tri discipline that can often seem the most daunting for newcomers to the sport, the swim. Hopefully with my advice, you’ll be able to take those first strokes with confidence…
In the first of a new series, Race Space team member and passionate triathlete and coach, Chris Wallace discusses the key challenges that amateur triathletes can face and offers his advice on how to overcome these obstacles and excel in your target race. Read previous articles in the series here: