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Top 10 Tips for Triathlon Season Planning

By Marni Sumbal
Photo by Paul Phillips/Competitive Image

triathlon swim startSigning up for races is easy: You need to have your credit card handy and hit submit after you fill out your registration. 

I find that many athletes jump the gun when signing up for races and do not consider the time, money and energy that it takes to participate in a race. In addition to the effort required to train for a race, an athlete needs mental toughness to face obstacles and setbacks.

But more than anything, the athlete must pick the right races. You never know if a race will be exactly what you planned for, but with a little thinking ahead, you can set yourself up for a great racing season and put all that training to good use on race day. 

Here are my top 10 suggestions for picking your races for the 2014 season.

1) Decide on one or two key races within six months. It's suggested that these races are three to four months apart so you peak appropriately for both of the races and recover properly after the first race.

2) Consider your personal short- and long-term goals for each race. Are you chasing a time goal or PR, an age-group or overall place, a qualification to another race or something personal?

3) Consider anything that may affect your entire racing season (and training) and consider a plan B if something good or bad happens before, during or after each race. Consider qualifying for another race (money, travel, time, recovery, etc.), recovery and preparation for races, work and home life, traveling, injury or sickness, etc.

4) Think really hard about why you are registering for a race. Do not pick a race just because you are feeling the itch because you just watched an Ironman finish or a marathon on TV or because a race is "open for registration." Have five to 10 top reasons for why you are picking a race (remember the money, time and effort that is required to get to the starting line).

5) Save your best performance for your key race. Build a foundation if you choose to race more than your one or two key races and be patient with your fitness. You do not want to peak in May if your key race is in August and you do not have to train 20 hours a week in January because you are excited to train after an offseason break.

6) After you have selected your key races, decide how you will best utilize your offseason and execute the phases of your periodized training plan. Will you use a coach, a pre-built plan or put together your own plan?

7) Before signing up for any race, be sure you have thought about the support you need from family, the time away from work and family for racing and training as well as anything else that will have a positive (or negative) impact on your race day experience. It takes a team to build an athlete but also a great support system to keep you motivated and excited when times get tough.

8) Pick the right course, with the right weather at the right time of the year. Consider indoor versus outdoor training, and make sure you can simulate race day in your training, including pacing and nutrition. Here are a few things to consider about your race, taking into account your weaknesses and strengths.

a. Swim: Wetsuit legal or non-wetsuit legal; lake or ocean; water temperature; mass start, water start or beach/land start.
b. Bike: Weather; rolling hills, climbs or flat; altitude or sea level.
c. Run: Weather; rolling hills, climbs or flat; altitude or sea level.

Also consider the time needed to travel to your event, acclimating to the weather and time change or anything else that may affect executing on race day with your current level of fitness.

9) Think again as to why you signed up for your races and be sure to have specific goals for each race that will keep you motivated to wake up every day to properly prepare your body for that race. Be willing to adjust your race day goals based on weather or any setbacks in fitness/training so that you can maintain good health before, during and after your race. Remember, unless you are a professional, training and racing for triathlons is not your job.

10) Have fun with the races you choose. Do not complain about a race that you signed up for and paid money to participate in. Do not stress about things out of your control. Do your research as to how you will get to the race, where will you stay, how long you will be at the race, plans for race day, possible weather for the race, competition at the race (if applicable) and how you will pay for everything. 

Happy training and racing in 2014!

Marni Sumbal, MS, RD, LD/N is the owner of Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition, LLC and works as a clinical dietitian at Baptist Medical Center Beaches. Marni holds a master of science in exercise physiology, is a USA Triathlon Certified Coach and a 7-time Ironman finisher. She enjoys public speaking, writing, plant strong cooking and traveling. She recently finished her third Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, with a PR of 10:37:10. Learn more at