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Preparing for a New Season of Triathlon: Setting Goals and Making a Plan

By Dan Head

A male triathlete running out of the water
Per Breiehagen/Taxi/Getty Images

If you're like me, then it's probably been a couple of weeks or months since you've done any serious training or racing.

There's nothing wrong with that.

As an adult age-grouper triathlete, I think it's important to take an offseason, both to let your body rest and heal after the rigors of the season and to give you time to reconnect with your family and with the other parts of your life that exist outside the sphere of swimming, biking, and running.

However, now the New Year is right around the corner, and with it will come a new season of triathlon. Now is the time to start setting the conditions that will lead you to a successful season of racing next year.

How do you do that?

By setting tough but realistic goals, by identifying key races on your calendar, and by using those goals and those races to build your training plan.

Set Tough, Realistic Goals

As we approach the new season, the first thing that we need to do is think a little about last season. Make a realistic assessment. Ask yourself the following:

  • What went well?
  • Where can you improve?
  • Did you start strong but fade in longer races?
  • Did you feel like you could have pushed harder on the bike?
  • Did you challenge yourself enough, or maybe bite off more than you could chew?

Don't beat yourself up, but be honest and think about the parts of your race that need work. Remember, improving as a triathlete means training your weaknesses, not just your strengths. No one can be good at everything, but the successful triathlete is a well-rounded triathlete.

If you're having trouble, consider the following potential goals:

  • Improve your weakest discipline: swimming, biking, or running,
  • Improve your pre-race or in-race nutrition,
  • Improve your pre-race rituals: set up, check-in, warm-up,
  • Try a new, more challenging distance
  • Go shorter in your races, but be prepared to really race the full distance,
  • Finish at the Front of the Pack-in the top third or top quarter of finishers in your Age Group,
  • Win your Age Group in a race.

Identify Key Races on Your Calendar

You've identified one or two goals for your season, or maybe you set a couple of intermediate goals for yourself and a major goal for your season.

I usually do the later. For example, I might set an intermediate goal for the early part of my season and a major goal for the year. I might start by saying, "First, I want to improve my running. I want to finish strong and feel good doing it." To that, I'll add, "I'm going to focus on the Olympic distance. I want to finish at the Front of the Pack in my goal race(s)."

Now it's time to start figuring out how to achieve those goals. To do that, we need to do a draft plan of the season, laying out some potential goal races and intermediate (or tune-up) races for earlier on. I start by looking on the Internet.

Check out the Competition page for tools to find the perfect race for you.

This early in the season, you may not be able to find specifics on every race coming up in the New Year - in fact, you almost certainly will not find that information until about March. However, you can look at what's listed and what was listed last year, and you can begin to make some initial plans.

Given my personal goals, I'm in the market for a late-season Olympic triathlon and a few tune-ups. At this point, I usually write down all of the possibilities for next season on a draft Race Calendar, and then I go talk to my wife.

Fact is, triathlon is going to consume a lot of my time and energy. Before I set up my season, I need my wife's buy-in. Like it or not, a season of racing is a family commitment.

Building Your Training Plan

It's early in the season, and I've got goals, and I've got some ideas about where and when I'm going to race to achieve those goals. So now it's time to sign up for those races, right?


First we need to make a plan. Remember, it's still only December. We've still got a little time before we need to actually register for anything.

I'll talk about this a little more in a future article, but a general triathlon training plan involves four parts:

  • Train to train,
  • Build your aerobic base,
  • Sharpen your focus,
  • Rehearse and taper.

Basically, what you need to do is, you need to prepare your body to put in a lot of miles, and then you need to put those miles in and get ready to race.

  • How are you going to cram those long training sessions into your schedule?
  • When and how many key workouts you think you're going to need?
  • When do you need to start doing more intervals and speed work to sharpen your focus for your Goal Race(s)?

These decisions are guided by your goals and by your draft Racing Calendar.

It's also possible that, having looked at your potential Race Calendar and your schedule, you may want to revise your goals. There is nothing wrong with that. The purpose of this exercise is to set you up for success in the coming triathlon season.

If thinking about the season enables you to more accurately gauge what your goals can and should be, then this exercise has been well worth your time.

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