At the end of every year, I go through the process of planning out the following racing season. I don’t have the luxury of going through this haphazardly; rather, I approach the subject as any prudent business would. Because racing triathlons is my career, I make careful decisions when it comes to setting goals, choosing races, and planning out my year. It’s my job to put myself in the position to make the best out of every year in terms of racing, development, and making a living. As we move into this New Year, I thought I would provide you with an inside look at how I go about this process.
I spend quite a bit of time thinking long and hard about what I want to accomplish in the coming year, and there are quite a few variables I take into consideration. I think through my sponsors’ expectations; my financial needs; my career scope within the constraints of Ironman and the sport of triathlon; my longer-term goals (3-5 years) in the sport; furthering my physiological development; and meeting my own personal wants are all factors that shape how I will approach entire coming year. It is imperative that I understand my goals for the coming year before I can move on in my planning process.
For example: each year, I need to decide if I want to race in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. If the answer is yes, my whole year is then set up specifically so that I can meet that goal. Ironman professionals have a qualification process based on accumulating points from placement at other Ironman and Ironman 70.3 events, and different races have different point values. If Kona is my goal, I need to make careful race choices while keeping this point system in mind. On the other hand, if I decide that Kona is not my goal, then my season can be set up in any number of ways without having to take in to consideration accumulating qualification points.
Strategizing for Gain
The guys I race against get faster, finish times come down, and the size and depth of the professional fields at races get bigger and deeper every year. As a result, I have to make continuous gains to simply maintain my placement each season. If I want to improve my placement (which I most certainly do), I have to make bigger and faster gains than my competition.
Once I have a concept of my overarching goals, I can set about strategizing how I’ll make these gains. It’s convenient to look at each leg of the race individually, trying to find how I can make small gains in each of the three disciplines. However, I can also look at the race as a whole, look at specific details of the race, as well as search for opportunities for bigger breakthroughs in each discipline. For example: this last year, I identified my running form as a limiter. I tend to over-stride, especially when I’m tired, which causes me to come down hard on each stride, absorbing extra impact in my legs and hips. That extra shock accumulates, adding fatigue and slowing me down in the later stages of races. So I focused on correcting my running form: shortening up my stride, leaning forward more, moving more of my footfall within my center of gravity. While it’s hard to break old habits, I’ve made significant gains in my running from by focusing on these details every day, and I’ve been happy to see this focus directly translate into better training and faster racing.
It’s no secret amongst those who know me that swimming is currently my biggest limiter in the sport. In the coming year, I’m looking for ways I can have a swimming breakthrough, instead of focusing on incremental gains. To do this, I’m looking into swimming camps where I can get focused, intensive instruction towards breaking down my stroke and fixing my bad habits. Whether I can find this type of program and fit it in my budget and spring race season preparation remains to be seen. A training camp and program that requires travel would be expensive, but just as any business, sometimes you have to spend money to make money; I need to make investments in myself to increase my chances for better race placement.
Planning my Season
Once I’ve decided on my season’s goals and set my strategy for making gains, I start planning my season. This is when I can finally break out the calendar and start playing around.. I look at all of the professional races with prize money and go through the process of factoring in my possible ROI on each race (travel expenses vs. prize money), how the course and environmental conditions fit my racing strengths, my placement goals and sponsors’ expectations, and races that I’ll be excited to train for and race. Then, I factor in the timing of the races with respect to the other events I plan on racing; I need to choose a schedule where I have time to incorporate proper build periods, tapers, and recovery, as poor choices in timing between races can have a massively negative impact on my racing and the entire year. I also make decisions on the right number (how many?) and mix (half Ironman, Ironman, other distances?) of races. I rarely jump into unplanned races or put events on the schedule without scrutiny. It’s my job to plan my races, training, and recovery so I look at this as any business would , giving myself the best possible chances for success.
After I’ve planned out my year, it’s a matter of simple execution of the plan; I know where I want to go, how I want to get there, and the time it will take to get there.. It would be wonderful if the plan could ensure success, but unfortunately putting it on paper is the easy part. The season rarely progresses according to plan. Race changers, such as injury, sickness, life matters, and interruptions rear their ugly heads every year. Throughout all the distractions, it’s my job to maintain focus the best that I can. I like to remind myself that the most important thing is to make the most important thing the most important thing, and that is to maintain my focus on the task at hand in my training and racing.
This doesn’t always work, so it’s equally important to understand and accept that modifying my plan and general changes come with the territory of racing. Without a certain level of flexibility, it’s easy to let changes get the better of me and derail me. When change is required, I simply go back to my goals and start through the process again. Sometimes it only requires small tweaks to the schedule; other times, an entire revamping is in order. What’s important is that I am always diligent in my planning and understanding where I want to go and how I will get there.
Patrick Evoe, professional triathlete, has been a contributing writer in Austin Fit Magazine since 2009. Evoe came off the couch and into the world of triathlon in 2003 after moving to Austin; by 2005, he'd taken fifth place in his age group at Kona. He decided to go pro in 2007 and has had a distinctive and supportive sponsor in Little Caesar's Pizza ever since. Currently, Evoe has 20 half-Ironman (70.3-mile triathlon event; 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, and 13.1-mile run ) and 11 Ironman (140.6-mile triathlon event; 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run) finishes, taking second place overall at both Ironman Louisville and Ironman Cozumel in 2011.