Training and scheduling for a long season

This weekends fun on the trainer got me thinking a bit about advice around training for a triathlon season that extends well into the fall.  When one looks at a typical triathlon season it tends to follow the weather in their home geography, so for DC, that roughly looks like the following:

January-Early March: Base phase – no triathlon races, maybe a few running races – but just building up the mileage

Late March-May: Mileage and training is getting more ‘serious’, with a few test triathlon races (shorter) usually tossed in.

June until August: You usually have your “A” race in here somewhere, perhaps into the first week or two of September.  This is when your training and season peaks.

September/Early October: Sometimes a few lingering short triathlons, but most folks switch over to running races.

October-Early November: Running, with most people finishing up major running races by Thanksgiving (or weeks prior).

November/December: Off-season of some sort

Makes sense, right?  A pretty typical highly generalized schedule for most triathletes.  But what happens when you have a Ironman race that’s in late November?  For example, Ironman Cozumel?  What things do you need to consider?

Well, consider this thought of the day: There is exactly five months between Ironman Ironman Coeur d’aLene (IMCDA) in late June and Ironman Cozumel in late November.  That means that it’s no different to be standing five months out from IMCDA in January, as it is from IM Cozumel in June.

Yes, seriously, five months.  Now pretend that you’re an athlete training for IM CDA – on June 28th – you’re season might be done – or at least the serious portion of it.  You’ll probably take a few weeks of recovery, and then maybe a few later season races – but for most, your Ironman is the peak of your season.  Imagine having to then train for another 5 months though.  Five months of long rides, daily double workouts, long runs – the whole bit.calendar_Clip_Art-752803

Now let’s just tweak that picture a tiny bit.  Say you’re training for IM Cozumel, and say you’re doing a Half-Ironman in June.  This means that in order to be fully prepared for that June 70.3, you’ve probably been following the above rough schedule and training in earnest since snowflakes back in January.  You may be going strong and thrilled with day to day progress – or you may be tiring a bit.  The real question is – can you continue training at intensity for 5 more months from June – or 6 more months from now in May?

And that’s the real point I’m attempting to make with this post – is more of a scheduling consideration.  At this point in the year, most folks are well underway in training for this years triathlon season.  But if you’re planning on doing an Ironman next year – this is actually the time you have to figure out next season’s schedule.  Yup, over a year in advance – simply due to sellout rates for Ironman races (North American Anyway).

So when you’re picking your races, and your schedule – ask yourself the following:

A) When do you want your season to start and end?  Not just day to day workouts – but actual serious training?

B) If you’re doing a very late season race (i.e. Cozumel, or to some degree Florida) – are you picking appropriate lead-up races to that timeline wise?

C) Have you structured your Winter/Spring training and schedule appropriately?  Meaning, if I’m targeting a late season triathlon – did you inadvertently schedule early season race that forces you to train all winter at a high intensity, and maintain that intensity until fall?  Are you sure you want that?

D) If your friends and training groups are targeting a summer swing of races – does that mean you’ll feel forced to train with them on longer efforts in the spring?  Or conversely, will you be able to find those same friends to keep you company for those 100+ mile rides in late October or early November on a cold and windy day?

The reason I say this isn’t to scare you away from those races – but rather to help you structure your season around those races.  Coming from someone that has done a few long seasons (including one with two full Ironman races, ending in Florida in early November) – I can say there’s a definite and huge difference between a schedule that includes a late season Ironman, and one that ‘just’ has a late season marathon or other running race.  For example, you won’t find yourself doing a 6-8 hour run in October, like you would a weekly long bike for an Ironman.  Thus, when you structure your training plan, ensure that your weather, body and mental aspects can cooperate that late in the year.

Looking at my schedule for this year, I have a bit of a break built in.  My ‘A’ triathlon is Boise 70.3 in mid-June.  After which, I’ll be taking it easy for July as that’s my wedding and honeymoon for the first piece.  Then I’ll come back refreshed and ready to roll for the rest of the season, mostly running focused.  I’ll probably do a sprint tri or so in August or maybe September – but basically just for fun.

For me personally, I love switching over to running in the fall, and I love having the Philly Marathon the week before Thanksgiving, so I can enjoy Thanksgiving and the Turkey Trots.  But everyone’s different.  Folks who come from a cycling background may instead relish the 6+ hour long rides instead of the 2+hour long runs.  To each their own!  Enjoy and good luck!


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  1. Good post Ray. Now that I’m actually running in races, I find myself having to look further and further out to plan my season. I’ve already tentatively scheduled my races through April, 2012.

    I have a slightly adjusted DC annual plan, however, because I simply can’t take the summer heat around here. So instead I actually take off in the summer and target March-May for my main races. The cupboard is kinda bare around here during the winter for races, but it allows me to really focus on training. The cold doesn’t bother me at all, and there’s always the treadmill. But I simply can’t run, competively, in the heat of a DC summer.

  2. I do think it is possible that the ‘true’ cyclist relishes the 5-6 hour rides at any season – implausible, but possible!

    IMCDA is my ‘A’ race this year, and I have two fun endurance events in September that I’ll need to stay in shape for (10K swim and the amazing Survival of the Shawangunks, which involves c. 30 mile very challenging bike and then 3 x swim, run across lakes and carrying all your stuff). But I decided that I won’t do a fall marathon this year – it extends the season too much, and it doesn’t fit well with my other obligations in the fall. I’m starting to get a better feel for this after a few seasons – I’m also very, very pleased with Gale Bernhardt’s “Thirteen Weeks to a sub-13:00 Ironman” training plan. I will not finish that fast, I’m back-of-pack (really I am just training to finish, if humanly possible!), but the relatively short duration of the plan makes me feel much, much fresher than if I’d been following a 28-week or 40-week plan from way back in the fall. It is surprising how fast fitness comes if you’ve had some kind of a base before.

  3. Great post! I think it’s key as an endurance athlete to keep peak times and recovery times in mind so that you don’t burn out. My “A” race this year is IMFL and that’s not til the 1st week of November. So far my training for the year has included a marathon the 1st week in March and a HIM the 1st week in May. I’ve decided to take the next month easy just to get my focus back and not get burned out during the middle of the summer. Alot of my training partners are having trouble grasping why I’m doing this, but I just tell them that I have a great base and IMFL is 6 months away. I still have plenty of time to put the hay in the barn.

  4. Wes

    yea, that’s me. last tri is in July, then its 16 weeks to a fall marathon.

  5. Kind of grinding this year dude.

    My first race was Boston mary in mid march… A race is IMOO in Septemer (9/11/11 – maybe some special motivation there)

    I’m getting set for Eagleman in your back yard, but I am still at XMAS weight and stopped at the pub instead of doing my 2nd workout today.

    Long seasons make for poor training

  6. Besides the Seattle to Vancouver ride (which is more of a mosey than a race) and some relays, I’m not signed up for anything long this year as of now. It is kind of blissful! I run and I bike but if I miss a work out, no biggie! Ah, the good life…

  7. Ben M

    I totally hear ya on planning for the next season, and how tough it is to “hold out” for a season ending A race in November. I did the beach to battleship full-iron last year, and the 120 mile rides in october are definitely different than august and september! This year I’m doing Timberman for my first “A” race of the season, then IM Florida. I’ve already started planning for next season too. Next year will be Lake Placid in July, then (pending a qualifying time) USAT Long Course Nationals in October.