So, you've got a triathlon on your radar for 2014. Maybe you've even already signed up for it. Now what?!
First, don't panic and think you have to start training right now for a race that is a year away. There is no reason to overdo it and risk injury or total burnout long before the race. Instead, start working on your plan. When do you need to start training? Will you train alone or with a group or team? Should you hire a coach? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What is the best way to spend your time getting ready now in preparation for a race that might be a year or more away?
Here are some thoughts about all these things!
1. When do you need to start training? This is a very personal thing. If someone is coming off the couch for the first time (or maybe has taken some time off training for a while), they will likely need more time to get ready. If someone has been training consistently, a structured plan could probably be started a bit later. If you work with a coach, they should be able to guide you here.
2. Will you train alone or with a group/team? Again, this is a very personal thing. Some people like to train alone. Some people have to train alone due to other obligations and time constraints. Training alone can really work well for some people. Others like to train with a group or team. They are more motivated to get their workouts in with a group. This can also work great. However, often the best option is a combination of the two. Your coach can help you determine which workouts are great to do with a group and when you might want to go it alone so you can achieve your goals and not go too easy or too hard on some key workouts.
3. Should you hire a coach? There are a lot of options out there. Some people do well with just finding a canned online plan and following that. This often works best for a seasoned athlete and one who has comparable skills in all three sports and probably no glaring weaknesses in any of the three. For someone doing their first or second triathlon that is a sprint or olympic distance race, I often recommend a training program like Team in Training. These programs offer coached workouts, a structured schedule and a fun way to get into the sport or to improve. For those racing a half Ironman or full Ironman, I always suggest hiring a coach if it is in the budget. A coach can be sure you use your valuable training time wisely - working on your weaknesses and being sure you are focused on the things you need to be successful. A coach will write a schedule that is for you - working on your weaknesses and honing your strengths. They will work this schedule around your work, family and other obligations. A coach will help determine if you are overtraining. And, a coach will hold you accountable for completing workouts and achieving objectives. A coach can also manage the schedule for you as obstacles arise - a minor injury, illness, travel - things that often derail the schedule for a week or two or more. A coach will help you figure out how to get back into the schedule safely so you don't get hurt.
4. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Most athletes think we know our own strengths and weaknesses. But, often we just hear things like "I'm a terrible swimmer." There are probably a lot of other factors going on in there that determine the real strengths and weaknesses. Really looking at these can help get an athlete ready for success in the coming season.
5. What can we do now to get ready for 2014? Coaches fill up their rosters often long before January 1 of a new year. So, start talking with coaches now if that is the route you plan to take. You don't have to start a structured training plan right off the bat, but you can at least be sure you have a spot with your desired coach for next season. We all have different philosophies. And, we all have different specialties. So, talk to some of the great coaches in the area to see who is a good fit for you. Want to win your age group at Ironman and qualify for Kona? There are some coaches who can help you achieve those goals. Want to just finish your first Ironman and feel great? There are coaches who specialize in working with beginner to intermediate level athletes. A coach can also walk you through a variety of race options to see what might be a good fit for you to achieve your goals. No need to do all the research alone!
As for me, I have already started planning my season for 2014 - we almost have to now that we need to sign up for races a year in advance! I'll be racing Kansas 70.3 in June and Ironman Arizona in November. If I can help you get started in your planning for next year, please let me know. Right now, I do have room to take on some additional athletes for 2014. Thanks!
Train smart and don't forget to have fun!