Choosing The Right Triathlon

Limited on time? Here are a few tips to help you pick the best race to fit your strengths and schedule.

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Limited on time? Here are a few tips to help you pick the best race to fit your strengths and schedule.

It’s advantageous for all triathletes to choose events that are best suited to their strengths, but it’s particularly important for time-crunched triathletes. Here’s why: When balancing your commitment to triathlon with a full-time job and a family, you need to squeeze out the greatest benefit from everything you do in training. If you don’t have an overabundance of base fitness (many of us simply don’t have an extra 12-plus hours per week to train), it pays to be more selective about the competitions you enter.

Here are some factors to consider when selecting the “right” race.

Season and Geography

Athletes who live and train at an elevation greater than 5,000 feet above sea level, often feel like Superman in races at lower elevations. In contrast, those living and training at sea level might not have their best performance at a high-altitude triathlon. Considering heat and humidity is also key. If you’re training in a dry environment, you’re more likely to suffer from heat-related issues if you travel to a hot and humid race without taking steps to acclimatize to the conditions you’ll be racing in. For time-crunched athletes, acclimatization activities, such as training in an artificially hot or humid environment, are often too time-consuming to be practical. You‘ll perform best in events held in conditions similar to where you train.

If you’re planning a destination race, consider the seasons to gain a competitive advantage. This works best for athletes who live and train in southern states where it’s warm in the winter and the triathlon season starts very early. If you travel, you can have some fun by taking peak mid-season fitness north to a race where most competitors still have early-season fitness.

Racing to your Strengths

You can also benefit from selecting local races based on your personal strengths as an athlete. Here are some guidelines related to each triathlon discipline to keep in mind when choosing the conditions that will best suit your strengths.


– If swimming is not your strong suit, choose a race you’re certain will be wetsuit-legal to help you achieve a faster swim time with a little less effort. Strong swimmers should seek a non-wetsuit swim to gain an edge on the competition.

– Strong swimmers should look for a swim that will have a current, such as in an ocean, bay or river, whereas weaker swimmers are best sticking to a lake or pool swims.


– If you’re a featherweight athlete and/or a good climber, pick a hilly race so you can benefit from your high power-to-weight ratio.

– If you are a heavier athlete and/or train on flatter terrain, pick a race that features flatter terrain, and you’ll also tend to cope with windy conditions better than lighter or smaller athletes.


– If you are lighter weight and/or stronger runner pick a race that has a challenging run course with more hills.

– A flat run course will be best for an individual that is heavier and/or has a weaker run.

– Running surface is a big factor as well. If you train a lot on trails or softer surfaces, or your legs and feet cannot tolerate the pounding of the pavement, then pick a race with a run course that features more dirt or gravel. In contrast, if you’re a fast road runner, then make sure you pick a race that will maximize the amount of time you spend on pavement during the run leg.

Patrick Valentine co-wrote this article and is an Expert Coach for Carmichael Training Systems and the 2010 US Off-Road Triathlon National Champion in the 20-24 age group. Chris Carmichael is the author of “The Time-Crunched Triathlete” and founder and CEO of Carmichael Training Systems, the official coaching and camps partner of Ironman. For information on coaching options and official Ironman Camps, visit

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