Making Early-Season Goals and Plans: a Key Start for the Triathlete

Everything from the start to the finish of your A-priority race all depends on that goal and your plan you made months before

By Liam Dolan, A1 Coach


So, the season is over and you are taking a break from all things swim, bike and run. You are getting to watch TV past 10 o’clock and don’t have to get up at 6am for a chlorine bath. Ok, what next?


After a hard season you do need a rest. However, it will only take a couple of days before guilt will set in and you will feel the need to ‘do something’. Ignore it, and when it gets a little louder ride to the café for a cake or even do the unthinkable and go for a walk.


Then, when the guilt becomes an itch, it’s time to start back. You actually start to miss the structure, the discipline. Now is also a good to start thinking about next season. One for the 1980s kids, what was the best part of the A Team TV programme? It was when they got into a huddle, the montage started and, finally, Hannibal said: “I love it when a plan comes together”. And then they flew a homemade helicopter out of a lawnmower shed! That is key to a successful season: you state your goal, you put a plan in place, and you execute it, obstacles and all. If you stay true to your goals, success will come.


Goals are initially months away, then weeks, then days and, finally, you are sitting on the shoreline and the minutes tick agonisingly slowly by as you wait for the starter’s cannon. You’re off! The swim is madness: punches, kicks, no space to practice that beautiful stroke you worked on all winter. You fight on and finally get some space. You feel ok and go from thinking about surviving to finding a pair of feet to draft off. Then you are in The Zone! Each race, whatever the distance, has highs and lows, whether you are wishing to compete or simply complete.


Everything from the start to the finish of your A priority race all depends on that goal and your plan you made months before. Your year-long plan will have peaks and troughs, and secondary goals along the way to get you to peak for your A goal. Gut-busting intensity must be balanced with adequate recovery to ensure that the hard work is absorbed. The mind needs to be nurtured as well – it is probably even more important than the body as it will give up long before your muscles ever will. Why do most professional athletes retire in their early 30s? It’s the hunger that goes quicker than the ability.


Training wisely teaches you how to control the mind, that desire to quit. The pain and suffering of the race is all self-inflicted and you can stop it all in a split second. The thing about quitting is that, in reality, absolutely nobody else really cares! Your competitors will patiently hear your story as they wait to tell you theirs, not taking in a word of what you said. Your partner listens with sympathy and will simply say: “don’t be so hard on yourself, you gave it your best shot”. No, nobody cares, except you! And that’s what drives you, that’s what keeps you going – being true to yourself.


The basics of the goal are straight-forward – pick a race and state your goal: “I want to win Ironman Hawaii”, or “I want to finish the Ballygobackwards Duathlon”. As long as it’s achievable and you want it, then it’s a realistic goal. Don’t set them too easy: Chris McCormack shouldn’t be targeting any of Ballygobackards events. However, on the flip side, don’t make them unrealistic either: Mary Bloggs, fresh off a successful completion of her first triathlon, can’t expect to win in Hawaii the following year. With your goal you have a set date – your A race is pencilled into the calendar and you plan from there.


Your plan is constantly progressing, and three steps forward requires a step back. No one gets stronger in the gym – you get stronger sleeping in bed at night after being to the gym. Follow your goal, believe in your plan and don’t spend time worrying about what someone else is doing or the latest magazine article on how to “PR your next 40km cycle”. Use whatever help you can to draw up your plan, from coaches through to chatting to the local big fish.


Finally you need to enjoy it. Watch how the plan evolves, how your fitness develops. What is a monumental week’s training in January is considered a rest week in May. Don’t get too absorbed in it and be flexible: the plan may call for a 90 min. run but you know that your body can’t handle it, skip it.


Some find it difficult to clarify their goals, to make a plan, and to stick to it. Others can make the plan but become too rigid in applying in and fail to make adjustments as the season progresses. Burnout by Spring, or illness or injury, can be the result – we have all seen it. You will know yourself if you fall into this category. If so, think seriously about recruiting a coach, or else a knowledgeable friend. Chatting to the local big-fish might also a source of information, but beware that some athletes keep their successful formulas to themselves!


If you take this approach to planning your season, and get a bit of luck thrown in, come race day you’ll have a smile crossing that line that you won’t remove for a week!