Getting the most out of your 2020 season isn’t just about training—it’s also important to know how to pick your races.

Training for triathlon is a lot of fun, but racing is what brings the sport to life. It’s an opportunity to test your fitness, your training, and your grit—and to have fun with your training buddies. And while it’s sometimes fun to pick races at random, it is worth learning how to plan your triathlon season in order to maximize your fitness and, of course, your chances of success.

Your race calendar and how you plan your triathlon season will be largely determined by the distance you intend to race. If you are racing Ironman, for example, you obviously won’t be racing as frequently as someone racing sprint or Olympic distance, but you will need to add some shorter races to your schedule as opportunities to sharpen your racing skills and gain feedback on your training progress. When it comes to Ironman and 70.3 racing, many races are sold out up to a year in advance, so to some extent your racing calendar might already be determined and it’s a case of adding races to set you up for success at your major events. Think of your major races as milestones to which all of your training (and other races) will be geared towards.

Know yourself, know your strengths

When thinking about events you’d like to race, take into consideration your strengths and weaknesses as well as your environmental and geographical preferences. Do you like courses with hilly bike sections, or do you prefer flatter, time trial style terrain? Are you happy swimming in the ocean or would you prefer a lake swim? Can you race well in the heat and/or humidity? Can you ride well in the wind? Do you prefer flat run courses? Do you enjoy running off road/on trails? Are you happy to fly to a race or will you always be driving? These are all factors to think about when writing your shortlist. Play to your strengths, but don’t be afraid to test your weaknesses in less important races. Also consider the area/environment in which you usually train. If you’re training through the winter and spring in Chicago would you cope well racing in Florida in May? (Note: I once tried to race 70.3 Florida in May after spending all winter and spring in the U.K.—it did not go well…)

How to Plan a Triathlon Season: It’s as easy as A, B, C

Once you’ve established the types of races that might work well for you, it’s then a case of choosing one to three key races for the year, which will be your A races. Of course, if you’re racing Ironman it might just be one or possibly two A races for the season. Your A races are the ones at which you are looking to be in peak condition and will tailor the rest of your season around. There will be other races—your B and C races—but they will act as stepping stones toward your main goals. Typically, your A races will be the ones that play to your strengths and will give you the greatest opportunities to succeed. Your B and C races will be opportunities to give you valuable feedback on your fitness, give you a fitness boost and test your skills.

How many is too many?

There are a lot of factors that determine how often you should race: the distance you’re racing, your fitness and experience, your goals and your budget, among others. Some age groupers will race six to eight 70.3 races throughout the season while others might prefer to tackle three or four. With Ironman, it’s wise to focus on one or two unless you’re very experienced. When it comes to shorter distance racing, it depends on you and your goals, but it’s not uncommon to race every three or four weeks in the thick of race season.

Set goals for each race

No athlete—not even the most celebrated Olympians—can expect to perform at their peak at every race. In the northern hemisphere, we typically consider race season to be May through October, but it’s important to realize that you can gain valuable fitness and experience by racing outside of this time too, which will translate into better performance in the heart of the season. There’s a lot to be said for “racing yourself fit.” Approach every race with clear goals, goals which are relevant and specific to you, and do everything in your power to execute your plan on race day. Take away learning points from every race and build and develop your racing through the season. With each race, you will gain a solid fitness boost, so with adequate rest and recovery following each event, you should see a good jump in performance. Now plan your triathlon season and go get it!