The triathlon season might have come to a close, but it’s never too early to set goals for the next.
It might be the off-season, yet winter needn’t be a case of hiberating under a duvet and waiting for Spring to appear. The months of October through to February are a great time to take stock of your achievements from the recent triathlon season and set goals for the following year. “The winter months are the ideal time to put the building blocks in place that will get you faster and stronger next season," says Darren Connaghan, Level 2 Triathlon Coach at Brighton based WeAreTri.
It's also the time to have fun; a time to fall in love with triathlon all over again and remember why you put yourself through all the pain and sacrifice. In the summer months you can be all-consumed with racing, but the off-season gives you the chance to experiment with new gadgets and mix up your training with other sports. “It’s the time to get a bike fitting, trial a new wetsuit and play around with your diet,” Darren explains, "the foundations that will help you have a successful season next year.”
Winter is also the time to focus on improving your technique, particularly in your weakest area. It’s always unwise to change your technique less than eight weeks before a race so the off-season is the ideal time to develop your skills in each discipline. This could include getting swimming coaching to help you identify ‘dead’ parts in your stroke and practising drills to improve, or following a strength and conditioning programme to help you improve your hillwork on the run and bike, for example.
"Autumn/winter is also the perfect time to set goals for the next 12 months," says Darren, "though you should be receptive to altering your season’s plans should your circumstances change."
Why is goal setting important? "When we coach athletes, it helps to fully understand their goals and have them written down for review in the future," Darren explains. "Effective goal setting helps us deliver an effective training schedule in the weeks, months and year ahead and helps athletes understand the hows and whys of their training sessions. So, for example, the next time their training plan features a long run in the depths of winter, they know exactly why it’s in there and how it fits into the bigger picture.”
There are a few methods Darren uses to help his athletes set effective goals – follow the same process and set your own goals for the year ahead.
Break your goals down into time, distance, fear and challenge goals.
Time goals, as it suggests, are time-based goal such as achieving a PB or a specific time in a race.
Distance goals are those where the distance is the goal rather than a specific time, such as running a marathon. These are often seen with beginners or those moving up to a new distance.
Challenge goals can be quite broad and can feature specific races, new events or something totally different such as ‘lose 5kg’ or ‘climb Kilimanjaro’.
Fear goals involve tackling something you’re scared of,” says Darren. “I see a lot of people with a fear of open water swimming as an example. Overcoming the fear with some specific open-water swimming sessions in the early Spring would be a great goal in such a case.”
A, B and C races
Prioritise your races to help you to structure your training in the year ahead.
‘A’ races are the races that are the most important to you and your training plan will be structured in a way to get you to your peak for these two events. “I usually advise to include only two or three A races over a 12-month period,” says Darren. “Any more than that and your performances will not be as good as hoped as peaking successfully takes a lot out of your body. When you have your A races in place, it’s a good idea to pick B and C races which fit your training plans.”
B races are less important and will help you prepare for the A races and help you refine your technique in a real race setting. They’re an ideal time to practise your transition, for example, or race in similar conditions to your A race. The ideal B race will fall about month before an A race, when you have done much of the base training and well before any tapering begins.
C races are the fun races, the ones where you can really go to town without the worry that you might bonk from going out too fast or wear a new pair of running shoes without the fear of blisters. The ideal C races fall in between A and B races. But be wary of entering too many and tiring yourself out: “Don’t be afraid of dropping a C race if it will negatively impact on your wider plans,” says Darren.
Lastly, be sure to make your goals SMART:
Specific: “We often use the notion of ‘tight’ and ‘loose’ goals, says Darren. A goal ‘to get fit’ is a pretty loose aim that will be difficult to track, whereas a goal to get faster at 5k is a ‘tight’ goal since it is easy to monitor.”
Measurable: This could be a finishing medal, a course PB or an aim to finish the swim leg faster than last year, for example.
Achievable: Set goals which are within the realms of your physical abilities and the amount you can train - outlandish goals often lead to a lack of motivation and ultimately drop out.
Realistic: Be honest with yourself on how much you can train; you know your lifestyle limitations so take them into account in your planning.
Timely: The date you will achieve your goal. This could be the date of the event, and or the major phases of training in the lead up to it.