Podcast, Racing

Season planning – how many races should you do in one year? | EP#317

 December 20, 2021

By  Bernardo Gonçalves


Season planning - how many races should you do in one year - That Triathlon Show

In this episode, coaches Helle Frederiksen, Philipp Seipp and Emma Carney each give their perspective and recommendations on how many races you can do in a season without sacrificing performance. 

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • The difference between different race distances (from super sprint to Ironman)
  • The physical and mental costs of racing, and the opportunity costs of missed training
  • How many races can you do at a high level of performance for different distances
  • How to think about placing these races in your season calendar
  • Differences between pros and age-groupers when it comes to race planning
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Helle Frederiksen

How should we categorise athletes, and how should we plan their season

05:00 -

  • We have four categories of distances they are doing, but many people combine 70.3 and Ironman racing. So, maybe that is a category too.
  • For Super-sprints and Super-League, athletes race 20 times per year, so they compete a lot.
  • In the final months of this season, athletes had competition four weeks in a row. And within each weekend, there are multiple races.
  • Therefore, these athletes race much, and they can do that.
  • Concerning Olympic distance and ITU events, athletes race around 15 times per year. They do seven races in the WTS overall, so they need to be consistent throughout the year. Athletes might also do shorter events like Super-sprints.
  • However, most professional athletes do these distances.
  • Then, we have 70.3 specialists. If we talk about professional athletes, they do six to seven half-Ironmans per year.
  • They might complement half-Ironmans with some Olympic distance events to keep athletes sharper and faster.
  • Athletes might even do eight races, but it depends on their season schedule. They have to think about their training blocks as well.
  • Finally, you have the Ironman races. In my experience, the best is to race twice per year. Athletes should not compete for more than that if they want to focus on the longevity of their careers.
  • Some professionals can do three Ironmans, but this spreads over the year. (Doing the first in March and the last in November)
  • However, if they do that, they should not do each year the same thing. I believe more is not sustainable.
  • This racing schedule has been how the best athletes approached their season.
  • Jan Frodeno, Tim O'Donnel, Daniela Ryf have raced like this for many years. Nevertheless, they do not compete much.
  • Athletes that race many Ironmans may have problems performing at their best. Do they perform well when it matters? Could they perform better if they raced less?
  • I always do that question when I see athletes racing often. That approach is stressful for the body.
  • In conclusion, I think they should race twice per year and do some 70.3 events in between. The reason is to keep momentum and maintain sharpness and speed.
  • Ironman racing for professionals is getting faster and faster. Therefore, they need to be in the best possible condition on the primary events of the year.

Planning a season for 70.3 professional specialists

09:13 -

  • I would like to have two or three 70.3 events close to each other. In the space of two to three weeks, do those events.
  • Some pros can do back-to-back races. However, doing these races within two to three weeks is ideal.
  • Then, you schedule a solid amount of training. If you keep racing, the condition will decline.
  • You can get a fitness boost from racing, but it is not the same as a consistent training block. When you race, you need to recover and taper for each event.
  • If you do a 70.3, it takes a week off work away. And it is a lot of time that athletes would spend training.
  • If you put 70.3 events evenly throughout the year, there will be no time to train.

Combining Ironman and 70.3 races for professional athletes

10:47 -

  • I would spread the races out throughout the year.
  • If you do Ironmans in March/April and October/November, I would put a 70.3 early in the season. (to maintain the momentum of racing)
  • After the first Ironman, I would do a season break and then do a couple of 70.3 leading into the second Ironman of the year.
  • Concerning age groupers, I would do one Ironman, two 70.3 events, and one Olympic distance race to start the year.
  • Later in the season, I would schedule another 70.3 race as a goal.

Super-Sprint and Olympic distance race planning for age groupers

12:25 -

  • It is individual. Concerning Olympic distance events, I would say five times per year. They would do some sprint events as well.
  • I think that is doable. Of course, it depends on the athlete's background. If you have local races, it is possible to have that schedule.
  • However, an Olympic distance race is as hard as a 70.3. Athletes need to have a lot of speed to be competitive.
  • Therefore, you want to train yourself to tolerate that high intensity.
  • If I did not taste blood, I would not be pushing hard enough. (when I was racing)
  • Athletes have to be willing to push themselves. So, athletes must slow down as well to handle the pain.
  • If you perform a 10 km race all-out, it will take time to recover from that effort.
  • We want to recover and get the fitness boost from the race.
  • We want to build more training so we can progress more. The goal is to have success in the next event.
  • Even for professional athletes doing 15 super-sprints per year, it is a lot of races in a year.
  • It is tough on the body, and the logistics also impact recovery. These athletes also cannot sustain this for a long time.
  • The World Champion is the most consistent athlete. However, you see many athletes that cannot handle that load of racing.

Season Planning for age groupers that perform 70.3 races

15:05 -

  • I would say these athletes can do three or four 70.3 races. It would be a good target for 70.3 specialists.
  • Of course, this will depend on the athlete's life and ability to train.
  • The more volume you can tolerate, the better condition you get, and the faster you will recover.
  • If you only train five hours per week, you will not handle much racing. The body is not ready to recover fast.
  • A 70.3 race, for someone training five hours per week, is a long distance.
  • It is a balance between how much athletes train and the time they have

The number of Ironmans age groupers should target

16:18 -

  • I like to limit age groupers to one Ironman per year.
  • They can do two Ironmans but spread over the year.
  • Athletes can do one at the beginning and one at the end of the season.
  • If they want to qualify for Kona, I will put an Ironman late in the season.
  • Otherwise, I would focus on one Ironman and do two or three 70.3 along the season.

Racing more to get experience vs Racing less to have the best performance

17:19 -

  • I think racing less is the best option.
  • Sometimes, we cannot compete much because of event cancellations. In these situations, I would put some fun events in training. (race simulations)
  • There are positive points about racing. Racing allows athletes for understanding the body better and dials the race preparation.
  • Athletes know what to do in each moment and build confidence for themselves.
  • They go out and perform better than they thought. Therefore, the next event seems less complicated. (athletes went to a place they had thought they could not go)
  • Pinning a number and being on the start changes the athlete's mentality.

How to increase the ability to race more (recovery techniques)

19:12 -

  • Active recovery after the races (e.g., spinning the legs) is a good thing to do.
  • We committed ourselves to bringing a trainer to the race. After the race, I would be cooling down at the hotel.
  • It is a commitment, but I would be spinning the legs straight after the race.
  • After having some nutrition, you can swim a bit on the beach.
  • There is also passive recovery with tools like recovery boots and massage.
  • It is again of having more discipline and thinking ahead of time.
  • Athletes should have prepared a recovery shake, so you can get it when you cross the finish line.
  • All these small things make you recover faster and tolerate more racing.
  • In the Tour de France, you see cyclists cooling down on the smart-trainers after each stage.
  • The best activity to do after is to get on the bike. The reason is swimming after the race is more floating than swimming.
  • Athletes find it enjoyable to get the weight out of their legs.
  • Therefore, spinning the legs for 30 minutes is better after an event.
  • Athletes must have that post-race vibe. So, doing any activity where they continue talking about the event is crucial.

Planning a season around race blocks

23:46 -

  • A six-week training block is good if you race a lot.
  • In six weeks, you can do many small micro-cycles. In these cycles, you do some strength and VO2max training.
  • You can progress a bit and build more resilience again. It will allow you for getting faster and perform better at the next racing block.

Philipp Seipp

Categorising athletes according to their racing schedule

26:00 -

  • I do this type of evaluation before the season. We evaluate condition, race goals, qualification processes, racing distances and race calendar.
  • We also have goal races and events, where prize money and sponsorship opportunities are high. (all points we have to consider when looking into the season planning)
  • All these topics influence our decisions.

How many races can professional athletes do

27:24 -
•Professional athletes can allow themselves for racing as much as they can handle. (ability to recover)
•They can also compete much if they can maintain their top-level performances.
•When I take an athlete to a race, I want them to perform at their best.
•I plan some development time, where you only focus on training. Therefore, the year is structured.
•I care more about if we have enough time to develop the athlete. If we have time to improve, we can place some racing.
•There are different development tasks for athletes.
•If you spend a lot of time injured, you will not have periods to develop. Therefore, they have less time to race.
•Long-distance events take a lot from the athlete. (if they want to perform at their best)
•Professional athletes can agree to race five to eight long-distance races, but they will never perform at their best.
•However, for professionals, the primary goal is to win. Therefore, we focus only on two to three long-distance events per year. And I would say top athletes can do two world-class performances per year.

How many 70.3 races long-distance professional athletes could do

29:45 -

  • It is a complicated question to give one answer.
  • If you have an experienced healthy athlete, you can add four to five 70.3 races on the calendar.
  • However, we must not forget we want to do it at the highest level.
  • For these races, you need a taper and a recovery week as well.
  • Athletes can return to training sooner, but I think the strain from the event is too high.
  • You can use 70.3 races to prepare for Ironmans.
  • We have to address is the mental and metabolic impact of these races.
  • If you have a 70.3 race in the US, it is a demanding race for European athletes. They have to travel, face jet lag and perform heat acclimatisation.
  • Races like these take much time off the calendar. If you face a nine-hour time-zone difference, you need at least ten days to adapt.
  • Then, you have to deal with the heat, and only after, start training again. In total, we are talking of three weeks to prepare for this race.

How many races should age groupers do

32:20 -

  • For me, racing is the highlight, and you spend the year preparing for those events.
  • It is not your job. (more your hobby)
  • I feel age groupers are excited much with racing because of travelling to new places.
  • I see many people having stress getting into the race and dealing with the logistics.
  • I recommend age groupers to have time to race.
  • An experience Olympic age-group triathlete can do two Olympic-distance, two 70.3 and one long-distance event.
  • However, you have to have a good plan for the season. For example, age groupers should only do two races abroad.
  • Athletes should avoid stress. If you stress before a race, you will not perform well.
  • Athletes have to take a step back and think about what they need. They should focus on having a long preparation.
  • The preparation should focus on having proper training and acquiring the equipment for racing. Athletes need to address nutrition plans as well.
  • If you think of these things ten days from the race, you will stress about these topics. Even the coach accumulates stress from all the logistics of racing abroad.

What makes some athletes race more than others

36:28 -

  • There are athletes like Jan Frodeno that prepare themselves on their own. And then, they appear in racing at a world-class level.
  • Other athletes can race much more all over the world. And it seems they have a deficit in the outcome. On average, they are slower.
  • If you race fewer times, you get closer to your full potential.
  • I am sure you can race five or six long-distance races per year.
  • However, your consistency is much lower and your average time will get higher.
  • Racing more means you have less development and high-quality training time over the year.
  • And we know that high performance correlates with development time. On the one hand, racing is deep learning. On the other hand, it puts high-stress levels on the body.

What is the optimal time between races to allow for the training progression?

38:55 -

  • One example of this happened this spring. We planned to race in Texas, but the organisation cancelled the event. And we skip Texas to go to an Ironman with Florian.
  • As a coach, it felt I was running out of time to develop the condition. We had already started the ironman preparation and focused on having a peak performance in Texas.
  • Therefore, we had to plan everything again. The time we had to develop was lower, so the primary question was how to use the time available to peak at that point.
  • After, we set new races on the calendar and tried to peak for Ironman Chamonix. Therefore, we focused on the first four weeks becoming faster and the four weeks leading to the race to get the Vlamax down.
  • The better I know the athlete, the better I can put time deadlines to influence the metabolic response of an athlete to training. Metabolic efficiency is the primary variable for long-distance racing success.
  • The other example is about long term goals. (e.g., improving moving pattern, better fat oxidation and aerobic capacity)
  • For these goals, you have to do a minimum of eight weeks of training. Nevertheless, eight-week blocks are not enough to make massive leaps in condition.
  • In eight weeks, you can do a good economisation block. It means we can lower the Vlamax for an Ironman.
  • If you know the right points to address during training to improve metabolic efficiency, you can have improvements in a short period.

Recommendations to recover as quickly as possible from a race

42:26 -

  • I think it is fundamental to refuel as fast as possible.
  • If you have some race food left at the finish, you should take it.
  • Of course, you need to replenish with carbs and protein as well. It is the first step to recovery.
  • The next step is to have a good night of sleep. Then, you have the traditional recovery methods. (e.g., ice baths, external pressure PSR system)
  • I believe massages are better than what people think. You can get rid of the by-products of racing.
  • The final step is to judge the psychological impact of racing on the mind. (Evaluate the importance of the race held)

Final thoughts

44:40 -

  • I believe season planning is highly individual, and we have to base our decision on the scientific and feedback of the person.
  • The goal is to find solutions for getting the best options for each athlete.
  • It is my job, as a coach, to align the season with the desires of the athlete.

Emma Carney

How different athletes should plan their seasons

46:17 -

  • Triathlon is becoming like swimming with so many events happening.
  • I think coaching has to specialise in distinct areas. (e.g., road cycling, track, MTB, BMX, time trial)
  • In triathlon, we are getting there as well. (e.g., sprints, relays, Olympic distance, 70.3, Ironmans)
  • For each discipline, we have distinct athletes. Overall, the younger the athlete, the shorter the race distance.
  • As you age, you lose speed, so you go up the mileage.
  • I think that is good for triathlon. You can compete until your 40s now with Ironman racing.
  • When racing, we should not forget the single-discipline as well. I think track running and cycling road racing are handy.
  • Road cycling allows learning to suffer and finish in the best possible state.
  • In Australia, open water swim races are also good. They help get the skills of open water competitions. And they do not take much of the body as a full triathlon.
  • I think people must consider those races as well.

How many Ironman events an age group can do in a season

48:21 -

  • I am surprised if athletes do more than two or three per year. It is a long event.
  • When I was a kid, you could do two marathons per year. I have never done a marathon, but I watched the best marathoners in the world. Many of them would skip the Olympics because they would do the primary city marathons to maximise their income.
  • Because of the Ironman demands, I cannot see athletes doing three world-class performances in a year.
  • Athletes vary in how they recover, and many use racing for "training".
  • They could use an Ironman race to get fitter to the next one.
  • Athletes surprise me with how many Ironman events they did.
  • It becomes more a question of if you want to finish or perform at the event. Those are two distinct goals.
  • I always assume that people want to perform at the events.

Race season for 70.3 athletes

51:08 -

  • I would have to look individually at each athlete.
  • I would not want athletes to do more than one 70.3 events every three to four months.
  • I believe that less is more, so I would prefer athletes to compete more on the Olympic distance to get ready for the 70.3. (instead of only building mileage at the pace they need to do)
  • It is a bit like: "A marathoner does not need to run a marathon to know they can run such distance".
  • Therefore, they do many 10 km races and give them some speed.
  • For me, four 70.3 races per year would be ideal.
  • We might be on the lower side of the racing volume. I have seen many people do more than 70.3, but I do not feel good about it.
  • To perform well, you have to give yourself recovery time.
  • It takes time to get back and build fitness to compete at the highest level.

How many races can Olympic and sprint distance athletes do in a year?

53:44 -

  • When I was racing, we would do 14 races per year. But it combines the national and international calendar.
  • I would do seven or eight ITU World Cups (WTS). And nationally, I would do seven or eight events.
  • I was doing a lot of racing, and we had a lot of work to prepare to perform at each event.
  • Every year, we had to have a primary peak. (World Championships)
  • It put much effort to accomplish that.
  • Concerning consecutive weekends of racing, I would only do two weekends. On the third weekend, I would feel tired from the competition.
  • To prepare for an Olympic race at the beginning of the season, I would do a sprint race two weeks out of the first race.
  • It was to get my body ready and comfortable competing again.

Race season for junior and under 23 athletes

55:49 -

  • We have to be careful with the youth, junior, and under 23 athletes development.
  • For the under 23, I am not keen on the idea of doing the classic Olympic distance race until they are 21 or 22 years old.
  • In the first year of the under 23 category, I think it is too young to do a two-hour solid race.
  • On these younger categories, I prefer focusing on single disciplines. (e.g., track 800 and 1500 m races)
  • The goal is to learn the skills of racing under pressure. The races athletes do is around the super sprint and sprint distances.

Factors that affect season break length

40:44 -

  • For the professionals, we can have periods where we cannot afford to have long breaks. The reason is you might enter an Olympic year, and the qualification and selection processes occur early in the season. Therefore, you have to maintain a good level of fitness to start the season in proper shape.
  • The season break, in this case, would be after the selection competitions, before the start of the preparation for the optimal goal.
  • If you got injured during the season, the break might not be that long. As you had that period of forced rest because of injury, you do not want to take a break.
  • You take some downtime and return to training.
  • Even with the lockdowns and the calendar variations, you might race in December. Therefore, you have to be flexible and adjust your training and season breaks to the changes.
  • If you had a regular season, the season break depends on the individual. Simon Lessing would take six weeks, and I would struggle to take two.
  • For age groupers, the length depends on their lives and lifestyle. Often, when I ask age groupers to take time off, that period might be one where they do not have many work hours.
  • Therefore, they could train well in that period. Training has to fit life as well. But I do think there should be a break at some stage.
  • It should fit in to maximise that break. (maximise family time, work time or any other commitments) With this, when they return to training, they feel refreshed.
  • I think that after an Ironman, they should have some break. With that, they can then start planning the next one. However, they should not prepare for one race like Ironman with only six weeks or so.

Benefits of racing consistently

57:03 -

  • Racing is vital for an athlete. It allows exposing every weakness an athlete has.
  • You can train well, but the first to cross the line wins.
  • The spirit of doing or dying of racing is essential for athletes.
  • In Australia, we had three primary racing series. Today, we do not have any, and the athlete's performance dropped.
  • It is not because of a lack of talent.
  • When athletes come to Australia, the opportunities to race and perform are not there. (we cannot simulate these situations in training)
  • We have to work out the balance for each athlete. It becomes a fine line between too little and too much racing.
  • If you go too far, you get injured. If you do not go far enough, you will not maximise your potential.
  • For long-distance races, it will depend on the athlete.
  • If you look at Gustav Iden, we can see he can move from a WTS race and go to a 70.3 and win.
  • If you look at Jan Frodeno, he could not go back into a WTS race, but he can do 70.3 and Ironman races.
  • You have distinct athletes at different points of their career, where they can move up or down the distance.
  • It will be interesting to see if Kristian can do it as well.
  • It is one aspect I like about triathlon. You can change the game by changing the event distance.

Racing benefits for age groupers

1:01:32 -

  • Some athletes do not race as much as they could do. But it all comes down to the cost of racing.
  • It is expensive to go to races, and I think age groupers could benefit from single-discipline events to race more.
  • They could do a local marathon to prepare for an Ironman.
  • The cost of racing is restrictive for age groupers.
  • The age groupers bring passion and the atmosphere to the sport.

Is it possible to train yourself to race more often

1:03:40 -

  • I think you can train with the goal of competing more often. But you have to have a period of consistent training leading to the block.
  • It comes back to the training principles. Without consistency, you will not be able to perform. And I think it is the same with racing.
  • I know that I was racing better at the end of the season because I was sharper.
  • You also have that downwards performance move. At the end of the season, you are tired.
  • You can race yourself to race fitness, but you can also fatigue yourself too much.

Recommendations for recovering faster

1:05:05 -

  • I would travel back home in the first three days after a race.
  • If the race were Sunday, I would put myself together on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
  • I would feel awful on those days. (tired and lack of motivation to train)
  • The training I did was about moving the body. I would do my travelling during that time.
  • After the first couple of days, I would start to feel better. And as I was at home, I could train again.
  • My recovery method would be "hot and cold". I would have a hot shower and a cold bath.
  • We would have icing and massage as well.
  • We did not have the boots, but they are handy in recovery.

Evaluating the point where athletes need a break from racing

1:06:41 -

  • I based myself in Australia. Therefore, I would pick races, do them and put myself back together at home.
  • I needed to return to train after a racing block of four to five weeks.
  • I could race three consecutive weekends. However, I would feel that fitness was going away.
  • Nevertheless, we did only Olympic races. In the current WTS calendar, you could do four consecutive weeks of racing. (before needing to return to a block of training)
  • Concerning long distances, you can only do one Ironman and then recover and train for the next one.
  • We would have breaks of four to five weeks between races.
  • I had some trouble finding speed during the block of training between races.
  • The volume between racing blocks would be lower, but I would maintain the quality of the sessions.
  • There were fewer quality sessions on the bike, but I would keep the speed there.
  • I apply long recovery periods between races to my younger athletes to make sure they recover well. They get to a point where they start to feel tired and back off training for a week or so.
  • I am more careful with other people than I was with myself.

Final thoughts

1:09:50 -

  • It is crucial to understand that racing is essential, and sometimes, your performances will not be optimal.
  • Overcoming those periods where performances are not good is a skill.
  • You should pick races that suit your strengths.
  • For example, my strengths were on the bike and running.
  • Therefore, I would choose races with hilly courses and a tough run. (especially on periods where performances were not good)


Bernardo Gonçalves

Bernardo is a Portuguese elite cyclist and co-founder of SpeedEdge Performance, a company focused on optimising cycling and triathlon performance. He writes the shownotes for That Triathlon Show, and also produces social media content for each new episode.

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