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What Kind of Triathlete Are You: Crystal Ball or Point-And-Shoot?

Some like to plan their entire season out months (or even years) in advance, while others complete one race before signing up for the next. Which method is better?

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Just as there are many different types of triathletes, there are many ways to approach racing and planning a season. That’s why one-size-fits-all advice doesn’t work when it comes to plotting out which races you’ll do. Some like to plan their entire season out months (or even years) in advance—gazing into the proverbial crystal ball—while others complete one race before signing up for the next—pointing and shooting as they go.

As you gain experience in triathlon training and racing, you’ll also get a better sense of who you are as an athlete and what works best for you based on your personality, lifestyle, goals, and priorities. You may be all about going up against the strongest competition, racing at your peak, pushing yourself to do the best you can, and placing well in your events. On the other hand, you may place more value on the time that triathlon gives you to train in beautiful places, calm your mind, stay physically healthy or make connections with others. Your decision-making process for choosing races may change over time, as well. Over the course of your life, your priorities, focus, or circumstances may shift, which might also change the way you plan (or don’t plan) your season.

Let’s weigh the pros and cons of either planning a whole season in advance or building your season as you go.


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The Crystal Baller

Pros of planning your season in advance

If you are concerned and focused on racing your fastest and best, having a good plan in advance for your whole season can allow you to strategically build to peak performance for your most important race of the season. By having a date circled in red on the calendar, you can work backwards in building a periodized training plan that will lessen overtraining and reduce the risk of you putting too much emotional weight into lower-ranking races, as you will be able to see one race as part of a bigger build into your “A” race.

Another advantage of planning a whole season in advance is that it helps with organization – not just for your racing, but for other life activities. Knowing what your race calendar will be like a year in advance allows for predictability and better communication with others, whether it’s your spouse, your employer, your coach, or your training buddies.

Plotting out your full race schedule allows you to be driven, motivated, and excited for the whole year. Having a full-season plan can help you to stick through the lower points of training, remembering that each race is building towards the next. If something doesn’t go well, you are able to see the larger picture and know that you are learning from each race experience, gaining and developing fitness that will help you throughout the season and into the upcoming years. Developing and practicing this mindset of going through ups and downs becomes exponentially important over the larger span of your athletic career – knowing that even the most important race of this season is just one part of an even larger plan in your racing life, not the end-all-be-all.

Cons of planning your season in advance

On the other hand, the major con of planning your whole season in advance is that you may have difficulties pivoting as needed. For example, an injury can make it physically impossible to complete your training on the timeline you’ve set. When life gets in the way – busy work periods or an unexpected family emergency – sometimes you’ve got to put triathlon on the back burner.

If you end up being forced to change plans, it could cause emotional turmoil to feel like you are giving up on your carefully structured plan, even when that may be necessary. Another downside is that more optimal opportunities might come up – you might miss out on these if you are too rigidly planned for the season.

RELATED: How to Rearrange Your Training Schedule for Illness, Injury, Busy Days, and More

Let’s consider the other side:

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The Point-And-Shooter

Pros of waiting to register

If you go by feel and wait until you’ve finished one race to register for the next one, you are likely to have more fun during your season. Why? Because you are basing your planning on where you are at the current point in your life. Being able to pivot based on what is most exciting right now can be quite the adventure. It also allows for more flexibility with the rest of your life, so you can adapt to unpredictable situations. For newer triathletes, this flexible approach can allow you to explore and experience different locations or types of events as you learn what you like most about your sport.

Cons of the wait-and-see approach

One big downside of this wait-and-see approach is that it may be harder to stick with your racing and training plans. Emotions and circumstances are always shifting, so if you’re the type to go by how you are feeling, you may be less consistent and have less ability to stick through the tough points or work through disappointments post-race. You may find yourself signing up to try to re-do a race when you are in the midst of post-race euphoria or intense disappointment, when it may be more beneficial for you to wait and see how you feel once you’ve recovered or more deeply processed what this race experience actually means.

RELATED: How Do I Know When I’m Ready to Race Again?

Additionally, if your goals are to do the best you can in your races, it may be difficult to get to peak conditioning if you don’t have a detailed, periodized plan. You may over-race or over-train, or have conflicting training strategies for individual events, especially if you are newer to triathlon training and not working with a coach. Sometimes this can also lead to unrealistic expectations, that when not met can feel like failure.

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Which approach is better?

There is no one “right” way to choose the races you’ll do in a season. Plan a whole season in advance if you want to reach peak performance and want to race your fastest and best. This style also works well if you like to know what’s coming, or if you tend to lose motivation during setbacks in training or racing. Planning will help you enjoy the current moment and allows you to structure your other life activities around your racing.

Piece your season together if you tend to prefer a more lighthearted approach to racing and you are good at staying active whether you are racing or not. If you thrive on a more flexible approach due to life circumstances or other interests, go by feel. Additionally, if you tend to stress out by having a full racing season and you aren’t enjoying the structure, it’s important to give yourself the flexibility to plan as you go. Remember that there are tremendous benefits to being an athlete who wants to race for enjoyment, mental and physical benefits, and social connections, rather than a focus on achieving your peak performance every year.

Dr. Cory Nyamora is a licensed psychologist and endurance sports coach. He is the founder and director of Endurance – A Sports & Psychology Center, Inc. a company that provides endurance coaching and psychological services to athletes of all ages. He provides trainings for organizations and athletes on topics related to the intersections of sports, mental health and overall wellness.