Last October, in the post-race glow of completing the IRONMAN World Championship, I signed up for my next race, breaking my rule of not committing to another IRONMAN within a week of finishing one. What's more, I broke another personal rule: signing up for an early season full distance race—IRONMAN South Africa. Doing so, I was subjecting myself to training through the wet Northern Californian winter. (I know, I know, I shouldn't complain!)
Kicking off my IRONMAN training at the start of this year, I developed a checklist of things to take care of as I prepared for the big block of training leading into my first race of the year. I also checked in with my coach and a couple of training partners to get their perspective on getting ready for a new season.
You might be a few weeks or months behind me in preparing for your own race season, but hopefully this checklist will come in handy and set yourself up for a successful season.
Sign up for a race
My post-race euphoria took care of this one, thank you very much. Though I have to confess that there's nothing better than having a race date on the calendar to look forward to. Not only does it focus my attention from a training perspective, I also find excitement and joy in planning the travel and logistics for the event. I’m a sucker for race-cations.
If you're still looking for a race to enter or have never considered a destination race, check out the global race map to plan your next triathlon adventure. Whether you've always wanted to see the Maine coastline, visit the Canadian Rockies, take the kids to Florida, or visit relatives in Europe, there’s a race for you.
Talk to your coach … or hire one!
Twelve IRONMAN races later and training for the magnitude of the event continues to fill me with equal parts excitement and dread. Rather than let fear overwhelm me, I discuss my goals with my coach, IRONMAN U Master Coach Matt Dixon of purplepatch fitness. Any triathlon is a physical undertaking, and working with a coach focuses my attention and prevents me from training myself into the ground. He develops a training plan that prepares me physically for race day, and includes workouts that build confidence along the way. Having a coach also holds me accountable on those cold, wet days when the California winter weather is not at its best.
Tune your ride
Ensuring that your bike is in good working order is a great way to prepare yourself for training and racing. Last winter, before the start of the race season, I made some critical gear upgrades, investing in a new triathlon bike with electronic shifting. This year I prepared for the km's by getting a full tune-up, thoroughly cleaning off the training and racing grime of last year, checking the brakes, and replacing worn cables. I also splurged for some fresh bar tape so my bike would feel like new.
Overhaul your diet
As a professional triathlete, Sarah Piampiano finds there's very little time during the year when she's not thinking about triathlon. However, she takes her off-season seriously—in particular, the freedom in her daily nutrition plan. "I'm not afraid to add 5-10lbs during off-season," she says. "In fact, I think it's good for my body." But nothing says that she's getting ready for the new season than a talk with her nutritionist, Dr. Phil Goglia of Performance Fitness Concepts, and a reintroduction to her regimented eating plan. "He puts me in food jail after my break," she laughs, "but I think my body craves the return to the healthy eating pattern, especially as my training starts to ramp back up." (Check out Matt Dixon's basic nutrition habits for triathletes here.)
The pre-season months are a useful time to take inventory of all your triathlon gear, making note of equipment that still has plenty of life and what needs replacing due to wear and tear. As many manufacturers launch new products for the season, you might just find a great deal on last year's models: everything from wetsuits, kits, and racing wheels, to power meters and running shoes. My gear was in good order but it was useful to stock on up on bars and gels to fuel a few months of training.
Sign up for a training camp
As I write this, I'm somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, en route to a training camp in Hawaii with my coach and many of his pro athletes. Every winter for the past 10 years, I've set aside a few days in February to train in warmer weather than San Francisco offers up. The locations have changed over the years with short trips to Santa Barbara, Tucson, and even Costa Rica, but the consistent theme is the fitness boost I gain from two to three days of focused triathlon training with friends.
Work on your weaknesses
Many athletes take advantage of the early season weeks and months to focus on weaknesses in their triathlon training. My coach uses this time of year to develop his athletes' skillsets while also building strength. "This is the time of year where we can afford to focus more time on technical aspects of the sport," he explains, "since we are not shackled by the immediate need for too much race specific training." Dixon goes on to say that this time can be used to work on developing power and speed, which aligns well with the reality of short, cold days for many athletes.
Whether it's a focus on your stroke mechanics in the swim, working the ends of range with low and high cadence on the bike, or building strength by running hills, this time of year can be a fun period of training without the laser focus of a looming race.
Check in with the family
Living in a dual athlete household, with children no longer at home, it doesn't take much planning to align the race season for my husband and I. However, I realize that's not the case for those with a different family dynamic. Sarah Cameto is a professional triathlete and mother of two. Planning and preparing for her racing season is a family affair involving consultation with her husband and two kids. "I learned a couple of years ago that racing through the summer while the kids are out of school didn't work for me," she says. "Last year, I raced through June and then took a mid-season break, continuing to train but omitted racing during the summer." That decision frees up important time to spend with her young children and the family.
Jordan Blanco is a multiple-time IRONMAN finisher, Kona qualifier, and writer living in San Francisco.