Another triathlon season is upon us. If you have been through the change of seasons once, twice or many times before then this is the time to grade yourself for a winter gone by. For those that have been doing this year in and year out maybe this is the year to change things up. If you have been doing long-distance racing then consider doing some shorter races and get out of the rut of long and slow. If you have only been racing short, then do something longer and build a volume of miles and challenge yourself at a longer distance event. Either way, "Come what May" as originated from Shakespeare's Macbeth is appropriate because it’s interpretation means: let whatever happens-happen, and then allow it to pass.
Throughout most of the country the month of May marks the start of triathlon race season. It can especially mean nice weather for training and racing before the heat and humidity of summer is upon us. Unless you have specifically planned an important "A" race, then you should consider it a time to work on increasing your fitness level, sharpen transitions skills and get the feel of going from swim, bike and run at race pace.
This seems to be the most prevalent time of year for triathletes to just log lots of miles without any real plan or guidance. An often heard sentiment is that they are “just getting into it” or that they have a few "B or C" races on their schedule but nothing important. Since their goal “A” race is months away the thought to start effective training within an identified plan is still months away. Although it is important to accumulate miles during the Base Phase of a Periodization Plan, an athlete still needs to have structure that will provide an adequate foundation (Base) and prepare them to move to the next two phases (Sustainment and Intensity) of their annual program. Each phase is a building block to the next and taking shortcuts or not having an actual accountability for what you will/did do to eventually reach the Peak Phase will not allow you to improve on past race results.
It is notable that the basics of how an athlete gets ready to race in events from the Olympic distance all the way up to Ironman is about the same. As was discussed in the previous article on heart rate monitor use, it is common for both new and experienced athletes involved in endurance training to be unsure of how much speed (Intensity) and distance (Volume) they can include in their workouts so they continually exercise in either a moderate or too high of heart rate. In either case, they are doing only one phase of what is required to maximize a quality race day performance. It would make sense that in the early season your training will be based on the amount of volume you were able to obtain during the off-season (winter) as well as the length of event that you will be focusing on within the first two months of your race schedule. Ensure that you use your early season to gradually build your endurance, listen to your body and discipline yourself to recover effectively. It seems common of late to do an early season half or full Ironman race when in most cases people are not able to accumulate the mileage required for the event.
There is an important distinction between training for general health and preparing to race. Some people train daily but have no interest in participating or competing in an event. I would consider this the mindset of "training to train". I have personally been following this pattern for the past decade only coming out of it occasionally for a short time to race in a few events. I enjoy the daily training regimen and after three decades of racing don't care to set PR's in the opposite direction each year. This type of training simply maintains your fitness but does not progressively move you through all phases of the Periodization Plan and therefore doesn't prepare you systematically to be at your best on race day. By planning out your early season training to properly prepare for an "A" summer race and an eventual climactic fall long distance triathlon, you will feel much stronger and avoid injury. So make the early season count in order to be at the starting line healthy and ready for your key races on this year’s schedule.
Doug Marocco is a former US Age Group National Champion and 9X Hawaii Ironman Finisher who tries to get in a few workouts each day.