The Three Year Plan: Year 3 – Signature Race Selection and Mental Toughness

150 150 Rich Strauss


In this installment we conclude our discussion of the Three Year Plan (3YP) for Triathlon Excellence. If you’re new to the series we introduced you to the 3YP here, discussed Year One here and Year Two here.

Year Three Objectives:

  1. Signature Race Selection
  2. Single Sport Focus
  3. Run Durability Project
  4. Volume Camp
  5. Reducing the Suck on Race Day (aka Mental Toughness)

Objective #1: Signature Race Selection

A large part of our collaboration will be around identifying the optimal race for your target distance. This is primarily dependent, of course, on your budget. But we also need to account for your abilities, your body type, your geographical constraints (terrain & weather), any external work or personal commitments and much more.

A true personal best effort is the result of countless factors converging positively in your favor; we work with you to make sure that nothing is left to chance.

Picking a Race by Time of Year

There are a two primary considerations for choosing a race, based on the time of the year:

  • First, the best race for you to do, from a timing perspective, is the one you can train the best for, given the nature of your personal, family, and work schedule across the year, weather, hours of daylight, etc. For example:
    • Good Timing: A NorthEastern athlete racing a June half or July Ironman — they will likely be on a trainer until early April…but that’s ok, but they won’t start the race prep phase of their training until early April.
    • Bad Timing: This same athlete racing an April half Ironman or Ironman Texas in May — the bulk of their race prep training will need to happen while they are still sentenced to the drainer and dreadmill.
  • Second, understand that our best tools for making you much, much faster for your A-race are our OutSeason, Get Faster, and Focus training plans. Smart scheduling, with regards to the timing of your races, gives us an opportunity to apply these tools to the front half of your season, with BIG rewards on race day.

Not so smart scheduling, usually a function of racing marathons in the winter or scheduling early, early season events in route to your A-race, compromises our ability to apply our best “Make Me Faster!” tools to your training.

Picking a Race by Temperature

There are many races on the calendar that are guaranteed to be hot. Very hot. And heat is a huge factor that must be accounted for on race, significantly increasing the “smart execution degree of difficulty” of an event. That is, racing a half or full Ironman is already pretty complicated race execution exercise that’s made even more difficult to manage effectively when you introduce serious heat into the equation.

And so if you’re considering registering for a race that’s know for consistently high temperatures, ask yourself “given my location, the time of year, etc, will I have an opportunity to successfully adapt to the heat before the race?” It takes about 2-3 weeks of training in the heat to adapt. If the answer is no, you may want to reconsider registering for the race.

Picking a Race by Terrain

Finally, some courses are “good” or “not so good,” as a function of the body type of the athlete, because physics, Sir Isaac Newton, and laws of aerodynamics are always along for the ride:

  • Speed in hilly terrain: the steeper the hills and/or the greater the total gain of the bike course, the more speed is about power to weight ratio. That is, a strong and light guy will always go faster than a strong and heavy guy, with this difference being greater at steeper grades, first, and total gain second. And it’s not difficult to understand that this power to weight ratio advantage is carried over the run, with lighter folks generally running faster up hills than heavier folks.
  • Speed on flat terrain: is more about (1) absolute watts and (2) aerodynamics. That is, given two riders (a big guy and a small guy) with equal w/kg and similar aerodynamics, the rider pushing the most watts (nearly always the bigger guy) will go faster. And on a flat run course, the advantage of light weight, or the disadvantage of heavier weight, is of course less than on a hilly run course.

The net is that certain body types are better suited for certain races. For example, to athletes selecting races for a Kona or podium attempt:

  • Small and Strong:
    • Good Race: Ironman Wisconsin and Ironman Lake Placid, both with very hilly bike courses and a beefy run course (IMLP), which allows our hero to maximize his high power to weight ratio.
    • Not So Good Race: flat events like IMFL and IMTX, as the big diesels in his age group will have the advantage on the bike and he’ll typically be running from behind on the run course.
  • Big and Strong:
    • Good Race: flat events, like IMFL and IMTX, where cycling speed is much more about watts per unit of aerodynamic drag and there is less of a weight penalty on the run.
    • Not So Good Race: you guessed it…IMLP and IMWI, but especially Ironman Lake Placid with it’s very beefy hills in the last ~3-4 miles of the run course.

Objective #2: Single Sport Focus

The longer you’re in the sport, the more one fact becomes more and more painfully clear: greater and greater amounts of work are required for smaller and smaller time gains.

This is because as a triathlete, with your “I do all three sports” hat on, you’re trying to get better at three things at once. There’s only so much you can improve in any one sport when you’re working to improve all three. And so one of the most powerful tools that the Year Three athlete has is a single sport block or training focus, by means of our Focus Training Plans. These plans, Bike or Run Focus, target one sport while putting the other in maintenance mode.

We apply these to your season in one of two primary locations:

  • On the front end of your OutSeason: You finish your season with Ironman Lake Placid, end of July. After about 3 weeks of the Ironman Transition Training Plan, we drop you into the either the Bike or Run Focus Training Plan (choosing the weaker of your two sports). During this block you’re applying that Ironman aerobic engine to the task of improving that weaker sport while putting the stronger in maintenance mode.
  • Post OutSeason: You’ve selected a race schedule that allows you to complete the OutSeason and then apply that OS fitness to a 4-6 week block of the Focus Plan, before carrying on with the rest of your multisport season.

What does a Swim Focus look like and when should it happen?

Good question. The key is that the best time for us to make you a faster single-sport athlete is when we don’t also have to make a faster triathlete and/or train you to meet the requirements of a specific distance. And so, weeks of the year when you are not training “for” a race are always good times for “a” focus training block, swim, bike, or run.

As for what should a Swim Focus look like, as an age group, adult-onset swimmer, it should consist of:

  • High quality, local technique instruction, preferably with underwater video, then/combined with…
  • FAST swimming! If you wanna swim fast, you gotta swim fast and this is exactly how Coach Rich has written your swim workouts.

What does a Bike Focus look like (outside of a volume camp, if any) and when should it happen?

The Coaches can tell you from experience that when you drop completely the requirement to also run, you can do a serious amount of work on the bike, and recover from it. And get seriously fast. However, as a triathlete one of your most valuable and hardest to build attributes is run durability. And so any contemplation of a bike-only focus must consider the compromise to run durability and the time, effort, and risk associated with getting it back on the backend.

For the run, a single sport focus is already built into your third year via the Run Durability Project (see below).

Objective #3: Run Durability Project

The Run Durability Project began as an effort to help some of our veteran athletes who consistently underperformed on the Ironman Marathon. As you know by now, our guidance for race day in an Ironman is your Long Run Pace or Zone One effort. But while many of our athletes can run in Zone One all day in training (even faster!), not all of them can sustain that same effort across a complete Ironman event. The limiter here is essentially run durability.

We define “run durability” as the endurance and strength to sustain your target pace in a race environment. The Run Durability Project is a year-long process that has at it’s core a 28-day consecutive run block which happens approximately six months (Weeks 24 to 21) before your “A” race.

Objective #4: Volume Camps

In Year Two we introduced you to our Race-Specific Camp Series, an opportunity to build fitness and capture critical information about your upcoming race. These race specific camps are “mandatory” for second- and third-year TeamEN athletes.

An Endurance Nation Volume Training Camp
One of the best ways to ramp up your overall endurance is by participating in a focused training camp. We offer camps in California, Florida, and North Carolina, all related to putting in solid miles on the bike. You can find out more about all of our camps on the official EN Camps Page.

Your Own Personal Training Camp
There are additional self-serve resources in the Wiki regarding what it means to do a Big Bike Week and/or a Big Tri Week. Of course, there are tons of other cool things you can do with your fitness, from charity rides and brevets to running relays and Goofy Challenges, to the epic open water swim. Whatever your flavor of volume, we work closely to make sure it fits the overall plan!

Objective #5: Reducing the Suck & Racing

Finally, in your third year with EN, you will definitely be chasing time goals on race day. You’ll have the fitness, you’ll have the race execution tools, and the final piece of the puzzle is your mental game.

In our experience, everyone has significant PR time to be had by simply committing themselves to a very uncomfortable place in the last 30-90′ of a long course triathlon. Here are some tips and thoughts to help you:

#1: Forget the outcome and focus on the process that creates the outcome

We’ve seen this several times with Endurance Nation athletes who are chasing a Kona or podium goal — they do the research and the math to do determine that accomplishment of their goal requires a specific time, created by specific splits. And then things don’t unfold on race day exactly as planned – a couple minutes slower here, have been passed by a couple unexpected people in their age group a little early on the run, etc. They decide that their goal is out of reach and begin to mail it in, and/or begin to use these less than perfect examples as an excuse to back off and not continue to give it 100%.

Forget the outcome. The outcome you want to achieve is best reached by focusing on properly executing the processes that create the outcome. The best way to achieve your desired outcome is to make the proper execution of processes your goal. The outcome will follow!

Never give up! Long course triathlon is…long! A lot can go wrong, mistakes can be made, and everyone can have a bad day at any time, both you and the other guy! You never now what’s going on in the race up ahead of you and the guy who passed you looking strong at mile 22 could be under a bush at mile 24. Never. Give. Up!

#2: Racing Self Honors the Training Self

Your Training Self is the cat who was up at 5am every morning getting it done. The guy who worked very hard on the bike for 4-5hrs every Sunday, did all of the hard long runs, denied themselves no end of sugary goodness and much more.

The Training Self worked hard and suffered, for a long time.

Your Racing Self is the guy they gets to enjoy the rewards on race day that the Training Self worked so hard to achieve. If the Racing Self does it right, he only has to suffer for 60-90′ on his big day. Your Racing Self owes your Training Self his or her best,100%, take no prisoners, embrace the darkness effort.

To give anything less than 100% is to dishonor the hard work of the Training Self that made this day possible.


We hope you’ve enjoyed this discussion of the Three Year Plan for Triathlon Excellence that we’ve created for our Team. Hopefully we’ve conveyed to you our commitment to the long term goals of our athletes, largely as a function of bringing them quickly up a speed on a wide range of train, race, and think like a vet topics.

Thanks for reading and please share with us below any comments or questions you have for us!

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