Sunday, January 31, 2016

Early Season Racing Should Be Individualized

Holy moly it is May and triathlon season is officially starting -- well that is for all you age groupers out there. I, however, recently returned from South Carolina coaching the Stanford Triathlon team at the Collegiate Triathlon National Championship. That’s right, it’s only May and the collegiate athletes have just finished their season with their A race. Their weekend consisted of a sprint draft legal race on Friday and an olympic non-drafting race on Saturday. The best combo result determined who this year’s top male and female collegiate athletes were as well as which schools are the powerhouses in the sport. All in the name of bragging rights for a year. You can check out results on USAT’s site.

For Stanford Triathlon we start our season in September and are in the thick of race season from January to March so it is important we get our athletes some early “collegiate” season racing. Why is that important? We have athletes of all abilities join our team, from undergrad to grad students from no experience at all to, thanks to the growth of USAT, U17 junior triathletes who have been racing for more than four years. We use early season racing for a few reasons.

  1. It helps prepare and educate our athletes. Whether they are true beginners or advanced athletes, racing helps perfect the basics. There are a lot of logistics that come with racing and it is key to practice those before your key race. Training is different than racing so it is imperative we lead our athletes down the right path from the beginning. Racing will help teach everything from learning that putting on cycling gloves may not be the best idea to perfecting the flying mount -- all experiences our athletes learn prior to our most important race of the year.

  2. It helps measure the athlete fitness. Our athletes train for an olympic-distance collegiate championship race. For our beginners the thought of doing an olympic-distance race can be overwhelming even though they are doing the training for that distance. Throughout the season we schedule our athletes to do a few sprint races to help them to see where they are with their fitness. For our beginners it helps relieve the angst of the olympic distance and for our more advanced athletes, it is a great marker for them to compare year to year where they are currently in their training.

  3. Unlike the collegiate racers who are striving for one common goal, my personal athletes all have different goals at different times of the years. I have athletes that range from a beginner who has never done a triathlon and is doing her first Ironman this year to a seasoned athlete who will be heading to Kona in October.
    • For my first timer we looked at three goals in early season racing. The first goal was to complete the swim-bike-run combo no matter what it took. The second goal was to get as much open water experience as possible to build her confidence as swimming is her greatest limiter. The third goal was to build confidence that her training has her very ready to take on the Ironman distance.
    • For my Kona qualifier we used higher intensity training with moderate mileage to develop better speed. He will do several 70.3s before we get into our prep for Kona. These races will give us good data to see where are from last year, will get the kinks out from the winter, and will keep him fresh and excited for the time when he is training for Kona. For him, early season races are strategically placed to allow him to balance his job and family before he goes to the “cave” with the Kona build and focus

As you can see, early season racing can meet a variety of needs for a variety of athletes. Any races will do. I really enjoy low profile, new races that you may have never done before. If you can not find races in your area then I suggest running races, duathlons and aquathlons. In the worse case scenario that there is nothing you can find, set yourself up a good brick that will allow you to get some early race simulation type work. All the early racing will help build your confidence so that come your A event, you’ll be ready to take it on.


Gina Kehr was a professional athlete for 15 years, competing in events ranging from Olympic Trials to Ironman World Championships, where she achieved five Top 10 finishes in her career. She coaches athletes of all levels and all distances. Her experience comes from her journey as a novice age group triathlete who quickly worked her way to becoming an established professional triathlete. Gina also works with the Stanford Tri team, is a coach with Stanford Masters and leads a squad of short and long course athletes. You can read more about Gina at AffinityMultisport.com.
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