Top Tips for Choosing a Goal Race

Updated: Feb 11

It's that time of year when you start deciding which races you're going to do. Here's some top tips of things to consider when choosing your races.


Time of year

  • Early season races - will you train outdoors over the winter? You need bike skills as well as time on a turbo, you need practice running outdoors, not just on a treadmill, and how will you get your open water swim practice so that you're used to your wetsuit and the water temperature, as well as open water skills such as sighting and drafting.

  • Late season races - will you be motivated to keep on training through the summer, especially once your training buddies’ races have finished. Do you want your summer weekends to be dominated by training sessions?

  • Whenever it is - have you got enough time to build up fitness needed for your goals and do you have enough time to train at the key times for your goal race? For a marathon your longest training sessions will probably be the 3 and 5 weeks prior to the race, with the month before that also being a time of heavy training. For a Half Iron the heaviest weeks will probably be weeks 3-5 prior to your race, and for an Ironman weeks 4-8 prior to the race. This will ideally mean blocking out those weekends for training/recovery, and also making sure that the weeks are not too busy, to allow for increased training and recovery).

  • And ideally you’ll do some tune up races in the period before as a practice run for your goal race. When thinking about those other races remember to include enough recovery time between them so you go into each (relatively) fresh, or at least not carrying dangerous levels of fatigue.

Race conditions

Are you better in the heat or the cold? Do you prefer hilly or flat? Are you good at riding in the wind? Do you have good technical skills for descending? Are you comfortable riding in a pack (although races are in theory non drafting this is not so well enforced in certain races). Do you want an on or off road course? And are you able to replicate these conditions in your training?

  • Hot races - Think seriously about whether you are a salty or heavy sweater (do you sweat more than those around you or have salt tide marks on your clothes) and if so, will you cope in the heat, are you comfortable consuming the necessary amount of water and electrolytes to keep yourself hydrated.

  • Think about how you will prepare for this – if it's an early season race/ hotter than the UK then will you be prepared to do heat acclimation training? (e.g. turbos in the sauna, turbo/running followed by sauna, wearing jumpers in the gym etc)

  • Cold races – do you deal well with the cold, this isn’t just about comfort but e.g. being able to open gels or control the bike with fingers frozen from the swim. And are you able (and willing) to simulate this in training.

  • Hills vs flat – what do you tend to ride or run in training? This will give you an indication of what you prefer, but also whether you’ll need to significantly change your training routes to deal with the conditions. Don't sign up for a flat course so you can get a PB and then do all your training in the hills rather than perfecting your aero position.

Other factors

  • Do you prefer a big glitzy start or something more chilled?

  • How much does crowd support matter to you?

  • Do you prefer a beautiful location or one that’s easy to get to?

  • Looped course where you know what’s coming, out and back where you can see the faces of your competitors coming towards you, or one big loop into the unknown?

Logistics and cost

  • Will you physically be able to get there (check train times, camping options etc) and get a good night’s sleep before the race?

  • If abroad, will you hire a bike or take your own? If flying check the cost of taking a bike with you, and do you know how to rebuild your bike?

  • It’s not just race fees, but transport, accommodation etc to think about. Many of which wont be refundable if you have to cancel for any reason.

  • Is it a split transition / different end location to the start and if so do you need a car to get between the locations?

  • Will you be able to get the right sort of food the night and morning before?

  • If racing abroad will they require things such as medical notes to clear you for the race?

Supporters and other racers

  • Do you know anyone else doing the race? This can help with motivation in training, as well potential to share lifts and a friendly face on the day

  • Have you got supporters coming to watch you? If so will the race work well for them?

Race organiser

  • Don’t just look for the high profile or branded events. Often the smaller races are more chilled out and friendly, and invest back into the club scene, as well as often being cheaper.

  • Has the race got accreditation from the relevant body (In Britain, it’s BTF. This will affect your insurance, as well as giving you some assurances that things such as water quality are being monitored).

Making your final decision

  • Once you’ve decided on your criteria, draw up a short list of possible races.

  • Check the course profiles so you know how hilly etc it is.

  • And then read some reviews from previous years – try and find some from a few different years as the weather can make a massive difference.

And most importantly, make sure that you know when you need to start training for the race (allowing a few extras weeks in case things get a bit off track), and get training!

If you want some help putting together a training plan to get you race ready, give me a shout, I have a range of plans to suit different budgets and levels of support.

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