With so many races to choose from, it’s difficult to know which ones to do. Steve Lumley helps you decide
With the race season lasting from April to October and with so many races to choose from, deciding which ones to enter is daunting. It’s impossible for an athlete to maintain their highest level of performance throughout a whole season – mental and physical recovery are crucial. Only the mediocre are always at their best.
You have a choice between being at your best for one or two key races or racing at as high a level as possible all season long. There is no right approach here. Sometimes there is a case for consistent all-season-long performance.
A novice athlete wanting to gain experience or someone competing simply for fitness and enjoyment benefits may not feel the need to put all their eggs in one basket. Similarly, taking part in a multi-race series rewards consistent performance. So think about your goals: do you want season-long participation at a reasonably high level, or one or two outstanding performances at your very best?
The next step is to prioritise your races into three categories: A, B and C. Pick out the two or three races which are most important to you this year, or possibly only one if it’s a long-distance event. A races are the most important and training will be designed to prepare specifically for them or it. Ideally they will be selected to suit your strengths as an athlete. For example, if you’re a strong rider on hills you could choose a race with a hilly bike leg.
If they’re shorter races it’s better that they are grouped together, only a few weeks apart, or spread by six to eight weeks at most. This enables you to peak for these events. Peak performance can be maintained for two or three weeks, but not longer.
B races are those you would like to do reasonably well at, but not main targets. Plan them a few weeks before or shortly after A races.
In order to deliver your best performance on a given day, you need periodisation in your training. This structures your training programme, aiming to peak at a certain time. Taking part in lower-priority C races in the period approaching a target race can help increase this ability. It would be sensible to keep these close to home to minimise travelling, expense and disruption to training.
Steve Lumley is the UK’s most experienced Ironman triathlon coach. He’s competed in 33 iron-distance events and coached athletes of all ages and experience levels to over 300 finishes.