How to select your races for next year

It’s that time of the year where the triathlon events start to go on sale for next year, and also the time of year where you’ve got to pick and choose how to structure your season.  In some ways, how you structure your season will affect your ultimate race results more than your training.

For example, if you have too many races you’ll likely end up sacrificing valuable training blocks – simply to race for the sake of racing.  And if you have the wrong combination of races, you won’t be able to really apply the lessons from your less important races towards your ‘A’ races.

Oh…wait, you do have an ‘A’ race identified, right?

You know, the one or two races next year that you’re going to focus your training towards.  Despite what you may have heard, from an endurance racing standpoint you just can’t have every race be your ‘A’ race – if you race once a month anyway.  There’s just too much time for recovery and training blocks for that to work.  Instead, you’ll want to focus towards the races you want to perform best at.

It doesn’t have to be your biggest or longest race either.  It may in fact be something that you rather set a PR in, even if it’s a shorter distance.  Remember, short and fast can be just as much fun (racing you fools, keep your mind out of the gutter).

But – how did I put my schedule together?

Well, first I start with my ‘A’ races and my life events – in other words, things that are blockers to training and racing.  This can be vacations, expected periods of higher work volume, or other commitments you might have.  If you have one of these events occurring prior to your ‘A’ race, I’d reconsider your ‘A’ race placement.

In my case this past year, that was a wedding and a honeymoon in July.  So I specifically placed my ‘A’ 70.3 race just ahead of that – in choosing Boise 70.3 in early June.

Working backwards from that, I then placed two Olympic distance races, one a month prior to Boise in May, and the other a month prior to that in April.  Finally, I added in pacing of my wife in her first Half-marathon ahead of that in March.  While that was essentially a regular long-run for me, I treated it as a race from a recovery and build perspective.

In general, I’d recommend that you build distances as you get closer to your top race.  For example, assuming you had a July Ironman race, then I’d look at something like:

April – Sprint or Oly distance race
May – Olympic Distance
June – Half-Iron
July – Ironman
August – Bask at the beach

This allows you to shake out any racing logistics earlier in the season.  Note that any earlier than April, and you’re likely looking at running races – which are great ways to keep pushing through the winter.  I tend to have one or two races – of the 10K to half-marathon variety mixed in there from February to March.

But what about early season triathlons?  You know – like the ones down in warm weather places that look great online?

Well, I’d shy away from those.  The reality is that if I try and go from the cold weather of DC to race in a place like Panama City to do a 70.3…I’m going to get my butt handed to me from the heat and humidity.  There’s just no way you’re going to acclimate to that in any reasonable timeframe.


Further, keep in mind if you’re doing an early season 70.3 or 140.6 race – that means you’ll be out there doing your long rides in the dead of winter.  Either outside, or on a trainer.  As a general rule of life, I try to limit my 5+ hour trainer sessions.

Thus, you see why I choose running races instead in the winter.

And finally, if you’re newer to the sport note that in general, most of the popular triathlons in the US sell out well in advance – sometimes in a matter of minutes (such as the NYC Triathlon).  So if you’re looking at events for next year, be sure to know when registration opens up – and know how quickly it typically sells out.  If it historically sells out the same day, then expect it to again.  You don’t want to get left out in the cold!

So – what’s your race planning strategy for next year?  Anyone mixing in any non-triathlon/running endurance events as well?  Like some of the cross-Africa treks?  Would be interested to see those training plans!

Oh – and here’s a post I put together a bit ago on places to locate races – just in case you need some ideas.

Thanks for reading!


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  1. YNWA Steve

    Race Plan for 2012:

    DC Rock and Roll Marathon or Half marathon in March.
    Have baby in April…Try not to get too fat and play it by ear.

  2. Anonymous

    Mercedes 1/2 Marathon in February. Boston in April (A race). Rocket City Marathon in December. A few sprints from May – July then the biggy; Augusta 70.3. This’ll be my first 1/2 IM so the goal is to make it to the finish. Add in some century rides and call it a year.

  3. Anonymous

    Neither heat nor humidity is a problem in Oceanside. Ever. Still have to deal with long bike rides in winter.

  4. I’m in my base training for the Oceanside 70.3, my first ‘A’ race of 2012. Lots of long Pendleton rides up and down the coast during the winter to keep me off my butt. Looking for a couple of running races to get the race juices flowing before then!

  5. Anonymous

    Ray — I know you’ve done the Rumpass in Bumpass a few times. Do you know when (if?) it usually sells out?


  6. Spring DINO trial run series in IN.
    Rev3 Knoxville 70.3 May 6th – A race
    EPIC 150 in Vegas May 19th – for fun, wish I could get in the 250
    Ironman Lake Placid July 22nd – A race
    Multiple sprint for fun mixed throughout season.

  7. First year of Triathlons…

    Desert Tri Spring in March “C”
    Vineman 70.3 in July – sold out in 3 hrs! “B”
    IMAZ in November – if I can get a spot! “A”

    Prolly a fall Marathon and maybe a Spring one and some shorter stuff too, I also need an Olympic Tri

  8. Ray – I’m just starting out in the running thing, and stumbled on your blog while researching Garmin 210s (thanks for the great review BTW.)

    I’m just starting my 2012 plan, but it will progress from a mix of 5Ks (bal of 2011 and 01/12), 10Ks (Feb-Jun), leading to three half-marathon goals (maybe a 4th): San Francisco (Jul), Disneyland (Aug), and Rock’n’Roll: San Jose.

    BTW, the link for “where to find races” leads to your 2011 schedule post…

    Thanks for the great blog…

  9. I made the mistake last year of having too many A-level events (3 within two months – yes, I know). Never again! I intentionally took this whole year off from A races just to recover from that!

  10. CarlD

    I love this site, thanks for giving so much back to the community.

    I turned into a running freak this year and knocked out 7 – 1/2 marathons with Vegas ending out the year. I got into tris this year and did two sprints but really want to extend that to longer distances next year. Currently have 7 1/2s scheduled for next year but wont try and PR them all as some will be just for fun. My A race(s) is Xterra up here in WA and perhaps Augusta 70.3 in the fall.