The season’s almost here! Here’s how to choose the right race…

For many of us in the northern hemisphere, the 2015 triathlon race season is just around the corner. You may already have your A, B, and C races set, but if you’re like me, you’re still contemplating a few.

maxresdefaultMany of us are in search of our next personal best. In endurance sports, we love the journey. Little by little we want to try and find ways to test ourselves, to test the limits of our abilities. This comes down to training and preparation. But, race selection and scheduling also plays a huge part.

Designing a race schedule is somewhat of an art. For the competitive athlete, it’s about cutting through all of the options to figure out what race is going to help you maximize your chances for success.

When thinking about potential races, I think about three major areas: 1) where does it fall within my schedule; 2) what’s the field been like in previous years; and 3) does the course align with my strengths.

Timing

This might seem obvious, but scheduling two races too close together means you’ll likely compromise on one or both of them. Knowing your body’s recovery needs is critical. Systemmic inflammation persists in the body days and even weeks after a triathlon, depending on the distance. Try and race when you’re body is still in healing mode and you’ll likely feel sluggish, fatigued, and heavy-legged.tired_runner

On the other hand, sequencing two races the perfect duration apart can sometimes result in a catapulting effect. For example, you can use a first, shorter distance race during a taper period to prepare for a longer distance race. Your taper is a time to cut volume and focus on race intensity. A shorter distance race can help with that.

Stepping back, the overall timing of the race in the calendar is important as well. Will the race be during a typical busy season at work that could suck time away from training and leave you stressed? Or, is the race in the early or late summer versus the dead of August? If I knew I raced better in less humidity or cooler temperatures, I’d look for races that fit that bill.

Research the Field

Less of a priority, but still helpful, is to research the field from previous years at the race you’re planning to do. As a coach, I’d only recommend this if you’re a serious age-group vying for a place on the podium. Also, it’s more of a general sense than an exact science. Some races are more competitive than others. It’s the nature of the sport. If I’m trying to qualify for the 70.3 IRONMAN World Championships or Kona, the historic strength and competitiveness of the field might be a big consideration.

Research the Course

Now this is the big one. You can’t control who else will show up on the start line, but you can 100 percent control how you prepare for a course. You also have 100 percent control over registering for a race with a course that suits your strengths. In last week’s article I talked a bit about the importance of understanding your goals, strengths and weaknesses. This will come in handy as you plan your race calendar. Here are a few things you might want to consider:

Elevation chart for the Savageman 70.0 triathlon. One of the toughest in the world.
Elevation chart for the Savageman 70.0 triathlon. One of the toughest in the world.
  • Is the swim a point-to-point, or rectangle?
  • Is the swim in a river, lake or ocean?
  • Is the water temperature historically wet-suit legal?
  • Is the bike course hilly?
  • Is the run course hilly?
  • Is the bike course along an ocean, plain, or some other area that gets a lot of wind?
  • Is the run on pavement, trail, boardwalk, or some other surface?
  • Is the run multiple loops?

If I’m a strong swimmer, I can have my pick. But, if swimming isn’t my strongest discipline, I might consider a point-to-point river swim. Ditto if I feel my sighting skills are sub-par. Also, if I feel more comfortable swimming in a wetsuit, I might consider a race where the water temperature will likely allow for it.

What are your bike and run strengths? Are you a strong climber? Go with a hillier bike course. Do you enjoy and excel at running on trails? Look for an off-road run course (or partially). Do you thrive off the energy from seeing your family and friends? Consider a race with a multiple-loop bike and/or run course.


Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, once said, “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” Your training is a big part of your success, but so is choosing the right race. Pick one that suits your strengths, and maximize your chances for a PR.


This article originally appeared in TRAINING a RUNNER, the better running magazine.

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