“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” —Warren Buffett
Depending on how your season went, you may be thinking one of three things when considering next season. Some of you may think, “Plan for next year? I’m not even done racing this year.” Or you may be saying to yourself, “I love triathlon. I want to keep racing through the winter.” Finally, your thoughts may be, “I’m so tired of triathlon training. I need a break from even thinking about triathlon.”
As an athlete, I tend to find myself in the last group at the end of the racing season. Please don’t talk about triathlon around me until December. I’m kidding, but you get the point. But, in any situation, today is the perfect time to start thinking about and planning for next year. Here’s why.
Think of your triathlon season as a giant picture puzzle with hundreds of small little pieces. The longer the season and the more races, the more pieces there are to fit together “just right” to form the perfect picture – i.e. the perfect training and racing season where you improve in all three sports, avoid injuries, remain motivated and achieve all your goals.
With any puzzle, a good strategy is to find and place the edges first. Start placing the edges on next year’s triathlon season now to achieve a perfect picture and your best training and racing season ever.
Here are three things to do now:
1. Look Back at This Year
Before you can move forward and improve, it’s important to look back and ask yourself these questions:
- Did I achieve my goals this year?
- What worked well and why?
- What didn’t work so well and why?
- What would I differently or not?
Separate your answers into two categories: things you can control and things you can’t. While swimming a crooked line due to poor sighting is correctable with practice, an unusually windy day that slows down your average bike speed is not controllable (although you can always better prepare for the wind by riding on windy days). Focus on the things you can control.
2. Set Goals for Next Year and Beyond
Goals provide direction and motivation. A review of more than 100 goal setting studies by Locke and associates found that “…the beneficial effect of goal setting on task performance is one of the most robust and replicable findings in the psychological literature.” So, yes, goal setting does work.
Use the SMART acronym for creating goals:
- S = Simple: Keep them simple.
- M = Measurable: Can you determine success objectively?
- A = Achievable: Research has shown that goals that are moderately challenging are more motivating and more likely to be achieved than goals that are either too easy or too challenging. Use your review of this past year as a starting point.
- R = Relevant: Is the goal actually relevant to what you want to accomplish? For example, if your goal is to become a faster triathlete, learning to downhill ski will likely not help you do that.
- T = Time bound: Put a deadline on your goal; otherwise, it’s just a dream.
An example of a S.M.A.R.T. goal is, “My goal is to finish IRONMAN Wisconsin in September in less than 12 hours.”
An example of an ambiguous goal that does not have a time limit on it is, “My goal is to go faster on the bike.” What does “faster” mean? A better goal might be, “My goal is to increase my average speed in a sprint distance triathlon from 22 to 23 mph at Sprint Nationals.”
Process goals, which are the short-term stepping stones to your larger goals, are equally important. Big goals define the end objectives, but it’s the process goals that incrementally build to the larger goals.
An example of a process goal is, “I will swim, bike and run three times each this week.” By setting this goal, I am ensuring that I do enough training this week to help me build my endurance and speed for race day.
Finally, write down your goals and place them visibly as a constant reminder. I place my goals on my desk so I see them every time I sit down to work.
3. Strategically Choose Races
Choose the races that will help you meet your goals, fit your strengths and align with other considerations like time of year, your budget, your ability to travel, and your available time to train. As a general rule, the longer the race, the greater the time commitment and the cost.
For example, if you have less than 10 hours a week available to train, live at sea level without any hills and have a limited budget, then choosing IRONMAN Boulder which is at over 5,000 feet and has a relatively hilly course will not be the best race choice. Instead, selecting a regional age group championship at the international distance on flat course will be a better choice.
One thing to be mindful of, as Seth Godin so eloquently states, “Most of the time, if you ask someone about their agenda, it turns out that it involves doing what’s on someone else’s agenda.” Choose your races for your own reasons, not your training partner’s reasons.
By laying out the edges of the triathlon puzzle today using reflection, goal setting, and intelligent race choices, you are setting the stage for your best triathlon season next year. Take the time now to reflect and plan. It will make the difference later.