How To Plan Your Training for the Season Ahead

shapeimage_2Tips for planning and laying out a training plan to get you ready for race season.

(as published in

It’s the time of year when we are (hopefully) well rested and looking forward to what the year ahead will bring us. It’s also an appropriate time to reflect on the year past, and set our goals and targets for the months ahead. In triathlon terms, these goals and targets very likely focus on racing events, and the results that you would like to achieve at these – but getting from “here” to “there” in 6 – 8 months time can often be daunting, and this in itself can be a cause of poor motivation.  

So here follows my quick guide to planning a race season and structuring your training towards you goals. 

Step 1) Pick your target races.

These are the main events that you are motivated by. It might be a race that you enjoyed last season, and would like to better your time. It might be an event that many of your friends or club-mates are doing. It might be a new distance challenge, or an exiting new event in your area. Perhaps it’s a Championship event in a destination location that you wish to qualify for.

You might have a long list! In which case you’ll want to see how they fall on the calendar, and make an assessment as to how many of them it’s feasible to give your “best effort” at. This will depend on the distance of the races you do as well as your previous experiences of how well you recover.  Once you have your “shortlist” of races, then it’s best to get them booked ASAP as many races sell out very quickly. If you are racing Ironman, then you probably need to have entered your races months ago!

This is also the time to go through your goal setting processes, so that you know what you are training towards too. Write those targets on the calendar by the race.

Step 2) Define the start of your racing season (which is normally the first of your key races) and from that point we count back through the calendar to the start of your training plan. That’s very simple, but very important because after this point your training focus between races will be on post-race recovery then just maintaining race fitness with a little sharpening and race skills work. All the main training work is done before prior to the start of the racing season. 

Note: if you race Iron-distance events, and have a “split-season” (i.e races separated by 4 or 5 months) then each “race season” comprises just one race…and the same basic guidelines apply.

Step 3) Working back from your “start of season” date, that time should be split into 3 basic phases, which I call:  “Base”, “Build” and “Race Preparation”. I define these as follows:

Base – This is the “getting back into it” phase. You’re fitness will be low, so we don’t hammer ourselves, but rather concentrate of getting back into a routine of regular training. For me, this is my time for social training, so I’ll go along with others, do a few off season races and events with club-mates – all sorts of things to get me out the door! It’s also the time to focus on improving technique in all disciplines, and addressing any stability or core strength weakness in preparation for the next phase when you will be challenging the body with higher training loads. In essence, training should be Regular, Short Duration, Skills-Oriented, Fun until such time as you feel like an athlete again!

This Phase should comprise about 25% of the Training Period.

Build – This is where you start to build up the endurance required for the season ahead. Training during this phase should generally be low-intensity, but building in duration as you progress through the phase.  Through this time, consistency of training is vital; so the volume that you plan must be realistic for you on a weekly basis. It is better to achieve a lower weekly training load but hit it EVERY week, than to try for a higher load that leaves you tired, stressed, sick or injured and costs you the loss of weeks of training as a result. This  is the longest portion of the pre-season plan, and as such it is useful to break it into “blocks” of 3- 6 weeks, with a low –key race or progress test at the end of each, followed by a recovery week.

This Phase should comprise about 50% of your Training Period. This is the phase of your training when you might consider including a training camp to provide you with a focused week of high-volume training, followed by the appropriate recovery week(s).

Race Preparation – With a good level of endurance in you from your Build period, it’s now time to start working at and above race intensity – which you will have defined in your goal setting review at the start of the year, or by working with your coach throughout the training season so far. Sessions in this phase will be focused, very specific and progressive with time spent at race pace building up as you work through the block.

Because workouts will be harder, the overall volume of your training will be less in order to achieve proper recovery required, and at this time in the year, recovery  -nutrition, sleep, massage – really is vital to ensure that you get to your “race season” in good shape, rather than exhausted! (Tapering is also included in this phase) This is also the time to get out the race bike and start to do your key workouts on it – getting used to the aero position and how the bike handles.

This Phase should comprise about 25% of your Training Period.


Step 4) So now that you have a general overview of how you will break your training down between now and the race, mark it up into your calendar. You should also include any pertinent information regarding other commitments – holidays, work trips, big deadlines, family occasions; things that you know are likely to affect your training for that week. Planning around these things will help to minimize disruption (to your training and your life) and stress.

Step 5) The final step is working in the details – or at least the aims – of each session. The level of detail that you choose to plan in advance is dependant on your own training needs, and the workouts within a training plan are highly specific to the individual and their goals. Many people enlist the help of a coach to help them with this process, whilst others rely on generic training plans that are available in Triathlon magazines or from the internet and try to modify them to fit within their own Training Period and lifestyle.

Step 6) Grab your goggles, fasten your helmet or lace up your shoes – and get going! At the end of the day, all the planning in the world wont get you the results you want unless you get out there and DO it!


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