Triathlons can be addictive. It’s one of the best aspects of the sport.
And it’s no wonder. Triathlon is a sport that is both a competitive race and a personal challenge. It can also inject a little adventure into our lives.
This addictive quality has likely helped triathlon experience a steady upward trend in participation over the past 20 years. However, this addiction can have a downside. Athletes love the sport so much, they over race. It’s a mistake that will eventually lead to fatigue, burnout, and ultimately injury.
How many races are too many? There isn’t one right answer to this question. There are just too many factors, such as: how long are your races, how experienced are you as a triathlete, how busy is your life, are you traveling to races or racing locally, how durable are you as an athlete, and so on.
Follow these three basic guidelines to determine the right amount of racing for you.
Determine What Kind of Racer You Are
Doing events to simply do events is fine. Not everyone has to be super competitive. Even competitive racers should participate in a no pressure event once in awhile.
However, if you are competitively focused in your triathlon life then you’ll need to do fewer events and put more preparation and recovery into each race.
If you’re doing races for fun and don’t care so much about winning or placing in your age group you will have less mental and physical stress. In the end, it comes down to your definition of “fun.” Do you like competition or do you like getting outside and enjoying the day? Keep in mind, they don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
The Longer the Race, the Fewer You Should Do
The longer your races, the fewer of those races you’ll be able to do in a year. A basic guideline of what is realistic for each distance for standard eight-month season is:
- 2-3 Iron distance (12 week preparation/4 week recovery)
- 4-5 Half Iron distance or XTERRA (6-8 week preparation/2-week recovery)
- 6-8 Olympic or Sprint distance (4-6 week preparation/1-week recovery)
These numbers are based on preparation and recovery time of an experienced athlete beginning from a trained base not an off-the-couch athlete with no foundation of training. A novice first or second year triathlete will want to halve those numbers and probably take out the Iron distance racing altogether.
Most athletes will want to use a mix of distances to prepare for their longer events. In this case, one-third of the above numbers is usually appropriate, such as this combination of races:
- 1 Iron distance
- 1-2 Half distance in preparation for Iron
- 2-4 Olympic or Sprint races around Halves leading up to Iron distance.
Even if you are a “participant” stick to these numbers if you do Iron distance races as there is no “easy” way to finish long-distance races. You may be having fun, but they will still knock you around physically. Remember, active recovery is king, regardless of the distance of the race.
Have a Coach Give you Some Perspective
Ideally, you’ll have a coach who you can talk to on a regular basis and will know you well enough to recognize when you’re over raced. However, friends and significant others can also lend valuable feedback. Over-raced athletes won’t recognize they are over raced. They have their schedule laid out and get very committed to sticking to that schedule.
Over-raced athletes will present numerous tells physically and emotionally. Your friends, family, or coach will notice if you’re fatigued, stressed, or burned out long before you will. As an athlete, you need to have the confidence to listen to them and take time to recover and maintain the fun of racing.
Remember, its always better to be a bit conservative and keep the fun and excitement in racing. This will keep you loving triathlon for many years to come.