Five Triathlon Season Planning Tips from Endurance Nation

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I’m the “Season Planning Coach” on the team, responsible for outlining the training of our athletes depending on the flow of their races across the year. As such, I’m frequently mentoring our athletes on proper selection of races and giving them a macro view of their race calendar. Below are my tips for you, to ensure you have fun and stay engaged in your triathlon game while also ensuring you reach peak fitness before your key races of the season:

#1: If It’s Fun, Do It. Not Fun? Don’t Do It!

I constantly encourage our athletes to remember that this is all just a game and in the end we’re just a bunch of middle aged wannabees swimming, cycling, and running in funny clothes. I encourage them to not take themselves and the sport so seriously and instead consider themselves to be living a “Fitness Lifestyle,” with triathlon simply being the more current expression of that lifestyle.

Central to this idea is that racing should be FUN! So when selecting races for your calendar, simply ask yourself if training for and doing Race X sounds like fun. If yes, do it. If not…don’t do it.

Now, I’m not saying that training and racing should and will always be unicorns and rainbow kittens. After all, managing and enduring the grind can also be part of the fun. But I encourage you to keep it fun, putting any fun, motivating events on your calendar up until about 5-8wks out from your AAA race(s) of the season.

#2: Leverage Fun Events and Races as Accountability Tools

When choosing events to put on your calendar, make them sufficiently challenging (and FUN!) so that they serve to hold you accountable towards achieving intermediary fitness benchmark in route to your AAA+ race. Some events to consider:

  • A late winter, early spring half marathon to keep you accountable on your run goals throughout the winter, as a half marathon is a serious enough commitment to encourage/scare you into keeping up with your run training. Bonus if you can make this event the last in a series of 5k, and 10k races, to provide you with fun goals along the way.
  • An early / mid spring century, to also keep your cycling honest and give you a goal for when you likely transition to outdoor cycling, if you’re otherwise stuck on a trainer. If you’re looking for an added bonus, try to find an event with a ton of climbing, as this will also create for you a valuable body composition goal.

#3: Consider a Single Sport Focus Block

If you have a late season race, with few events on the calendar (ie, a relatively empty spring), consider doing a 5-6wks block of primarily single sport training, focusing on your weaker sport. That is, a strong runner would put their running in maintenance mode, maintaining just enough run frequency and intensity to simply maintain vs improve their running fitness.

This frees up training and recovery resources to allow them to focus on making themselves a much faster cyclist, before switching back to multisport training.

#4: Timing is Everything for a Half Ironman

I’ve stood at a lot of Ironman finish lines and I’ve never seen anyone checking the race resumes of the finishers to ensure they’ve first completed a half Ironman. Is racing a half before racing a full a good idea? Sure. Is it required? Nope. Some considerations:

  • Half as full distance race rehearsal, “practice” opportunity: half and full racing are so different that they’re really different sports. Very little of what you execute at the half distance is applicable to the full distance. In fact, even thinking about racing a full like you race a half is a surefire path to a very long walk. And so half distances races make for very, very poor full distance race rehearsal opportunities.
  • Half as accountability tool: very valuable, as a 4.5-7hr event on your calendar should certainly be serious enough to keep nearly any triathlete motivated across the winter and spring! In fact, we encourage our athletes to NOT think about their full race until they are about 12 weeks out. Until then they are 100% committed to training for any half Ironmans on their schedule.
  • Timing for a half is very important: ideally, I like to see our athletes put a half on the calendar 12-14wks out from their full. As a result, they can train 100% as a half distance athlete, saving their head and Spousal Approval Units (SAUs) for full distance training closer to their race. For example, an early to mid June half in route to Ironman Wisconsin, for which 12 weeks out (the start of the Race Preparation Phase) is about the third week of June. However, I don’t like to see our athletes race a half within 6 to 8 weeks of their full, as this is prime, full-distance-specific training opportunity space. High volume training is most effective when it’s applied closer to their race so I want them 100% committed to their AAA+ full distance event, without any other race distractions, in this final 6 to 8 week block of training.

#5: Rethink that Marathon

At the end of a season athletes often think that the solution to a suboptimal race performance is to train more, do more next season. So placing a marathon on the calendar seems like a good idea. However:

  • Training properly for a marathon will eventually preclude the type of training that will make you a faster runner and cyclist.
  • Tapering for, racing, and recovering from a marathon will punch a significant 3-4 week hole in your multisport training.
  • Finally, training for and racing a marathon definitely has a mental cost and you will likely find yourself later in the season wishing you had that mental currency available to spend on your multisport goals.

Please see more discussion of this topic here.


We encourage you to put fun, motivating, and appropriate events on your calendar in route to your most important AAA+ race(s). These events become accountability tools and, most importantly, trick you into thinking you are training for them (you are) vs training for your AAA+ race (you are, you just don’t obsess over it so much). Good luck!

Have questions about your season and how to approach it for maximum performance?

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