Making Early-Season Goals and Plans: a Key Start for the Triathlete

Everything from the start to the finish of your A-priority race all depends on that goal and your plan you made months before

By Liam Dolan, A1 Coach


So, the season is over and you are taking a break from all things swim, bike and run. You are getting to watch TV past 10 o’clock and don’t have to get up at 6am for a chlorine bath. Ok, what next?


After a hard season you do need a rest. However, it will only take a couple of days before guilt will set in and you will feel the need to ‘do something’. Ignore it, and when it gets a little louder ride to the café for a cake or even do the unthinkable and go for a walk.


Then, when the guilt becomes an itch, it’s time to start back. You actually start to miss the structure, the discipline. Now is also a good to start thinking about next season. One for the 1980s kids, what was the best part of the A Team TV programme? It was when they got into a huddle, the montage started and, finally, Hannibal said: “I love it when a plan comes together”. And then they flew a homemade helicopter out of a lawnmower shed! That is key to a successful season: you state your goal, you put a plan in place, and you execute it, obstacles and all. If you stay true to your goals, success will come.


Goals are initially months away, then weeks, then days and, finally, you are sitting on the shoreline and the minutes tick agonisingly slowly by as you wait for the starter’s cannon. You’re off! The swim is madness: punches, kicks, no space to practice that beautiful stroke you worked on all winter. You fight on and finally get some space. You feel ok and go from thinking about surviving to finding a pair of feet to draft off. Then you are in The Zone! Each race, whatever the distance, has highs and lows, whether you are wishing to compete or simply complete.


Everything from the start to the finish of your A priority race all depends on that goal and your plan you made months before. Your year-long plan will have peaks and troughs, and secondary goals along the way to get you to peak for your A goal. Gut-busting intensity must be balanced with adequate recovery to ensure that the hard work is absorbed. The mind needs to be nurtured as well – it is probably even more important than the body as it will give up long before your muscles ever will. Why do most professional athletes retire in their early 30s? It’s the hunger that goes quicker than the ability.


Training wisely teaches you how to control the mind, that desire to quit. The pain and suffering of the race is all self-inflicted and you can stop it all in a split second. The thing about quitting is that, in reality, absolutely nobody else really cares! Your competitors will patiently hear your story as they wait to tell you theirs, not taking in a word of what you said. Your partner listens with sympathy and will simply say: “don’t be so hard on yourself, you gave it your best shot”. No, nobody cares, except you! And that’s what drives you, that’s what keeps you going – being true to yourself.


The basics of the goal are straight-forward – pick a race and state your goal: “I want to win Ironman Hawaii”, or “I want to finish the Ballygobackwards Duathlon”. As long as it’s achievable and you want it, then it’s a realistic goal. Don’t set them too easy: Chris McCormack shouldn’t be targeting any of Ballygobackards events. However, on the flip side, don’t make them unrealistic either: Mary Bloggs, fresh off a successful completion of her first triathlon, can’t expect to win in Hawaii the following year. With your goal you have a set date – your A race is pencilled into the calendar and you plan from there.


Your plan is constantly progressing, and three steps forward requires a step back. No one gets stronger in the gym – you get stronger sleeping in bed at night after being to the gym. Follow your goal, believe in your plan and don’t spend time worrying about what someone else is doing or the latest magazine article on how to “PR your next 40km cycle”. Use whatever help you can to draw up your plan, from coaches through to chatting to the local big fish.


Finally you need to enjoy it. Watch how the plan evolves, how your fitness develops. What is a monumental week’s training in January is considered a rest week in May. Don’t get too absorbed in it and be flexible: the plan may call for a 90 min. run but you know that your body can’t handle it, skip it.


Some find it difficult to clarify their goals, to make a plan, and to stick to it. Others can make the plan but become too rigid in applying in and fail to make adjustments as the season progresses. Burnout by Spring, or illness or injury, can be the result – we have all seen it. You will know yourself if you fall into this category. If so, think seriously about recruiting a coach, or else a knowledgeable friend. Chatting to the local big-fish might also a source of information, but beware that some athletes keep their successful formulas to themselves!


If you take this approach to planning your season, and get a bit of luck thrown in, come race day you’ll have a smile crossing that line that you won’t remove for a week!

Time Trialling

“A Time Trial isn’t always won by the rider who produces the highest watts per kilogram figure”


By Anthony Walsh, BL


Time Trialling is often referred to as the race of truth. On the surface it would appear that the race of truth is the purest measure of a riders’ ability to generate power, maintain focus and endure pain. However, a number of subtle elements often combine to determine the eventual outcome.


Preparation for the event

The demands of road racing are dynamic. Different races require different skill sets. By and large, we can prepare with a degree of certainty for the demands we will face on race day in a Time Trial. Two of the most popular distances are 16km and 40km. In both these events, threshold power will be a massive limiting factor. The ability to withstand lactic build up at a higher wattage level is the main contributing factor in success or failure.

Training for a target event we move from the general to the specific. The closer we get to the event the more focused training should become and as we approach ‘peak’ training, stresses should mirror race demands. For brevity sake we will focus on the period eight weeks out from our target race and leave the intricacies of base period training for another day.


What sessions should I do?

The period seven weeks before the race is our key training phase. The last week is not the time to build any fitness. During the last week, our goal is to restore Training Stress Balance to a figure approaching zero. A 20 – 30% reduction in training volume and intensity will enable us to reduce fatigue while the inclusion of some short efforts will allow us to retain sharpness. This period is of fundamental importance and the quality of these sessions will go a long way to determining one’s result. The focus during this period should be on threshold efforts – efforts at or just below race pace.


A typical workout would be between 2 – 4 efforts of 12 – 20 minutes in duration, depending on how advanced in the training block one is. You need to be fully recovered from the previous session before attempting the next. I would advise three of these sessions per week which should be separated by a reduced intensity or recovery day



A structured warm-up is a crucial part of our preparation to optimise performance. It serves a dual purpose of preparing the body for the rigours of competition and allows time to mentally prepare for the battle ahead. The physiological and mental effects of the warm-up include but are not limited to:


1. Elevating body temperature
2. Raising the metabolic rate and heart rate – priming the body to release more fuel and stimulate increased oxygen/blood flow
3. Increasing nervous and hormonal activity
4. Increases mental awareness and serves as a time to focus on the task at hand


The shorter warm-up is shown to produce less muscle fatigue and a higher peak power. A warm-up that is performed at too high of an intensity, for longer than necessary, can result in fatigue and impair subsequent athletic performance (New findings challenge conventional wisdom and find shorter warm-ups of lower intensity are better for boosting cycling performance, Krupa, American Physiology Society, 2013)


The following is a suggested warm-up routine for events ranging from 16-40km:
10 minutes Zone 1


2 x 5 minute ramps (ramping power from Z1-Z5, 5 min recovery interval)
3 x 7 second all out cadence drills (aiming to hit peak cadence in the last second)
5 minutes easy


How do you pace a TT?

There has been a lot of research carried out on optimum pacing strategies. Most of us likely fall into the category of hitting the start ramp over amped and thus starting too hard. The hard start takes a massive toll and leads to a below threshold segment approaching the half way mark. The realisation that the finish line is in sight brings fresh optimism and an upping of the pace approaching the finish. If you fall into this category you need to rethink your pacing strategy.
The best strategy to employ is a dynamic one based on terrain and wind conditions. One should target areas of the course with the goal to gain the greatest benefit for any extra watts invested. More wattage is needed to overcome wind resistance at higher speeds – the faster we travel the more turbulence we create. To maximise the return on your wattage investment, it’s best to ride hills and headwinds slightly above your target wattage and take advantage of gravity and tailwinds with a lower than goal wattage.



A problem for professional and amateur testers alike is the restrictive aerodynamic position of the Time Trial bike. Attempts have been made by bicycle manufactures to minimise the frontal drag produced by both bike and rider. This means these bikes can be very uncomfortable. The restrictive hip angle often yields big drop offs in power at threshold when compared to a standard road setup. The only way to minimise your drop off rate is to adapt to this restrictive position. Ride the bike frequently. I would advise riding the Time Trial bike at least twice a week in the seven week period leading up to your A-priority event. It is a good habit to ride in the aerodynamic position for the entirety of your recovery ride.


A Time Trial isn’t always won by the rider who produces the highest watts per kilogram figure. Focusing on efficiency, pacing and preparation can yield a massive benefit in an event where small margins separate winners and losers.

10 Common Mistakes Made by Sportive Riders

1. Not Using the Gears
Your bike may have twenty gears or more – but those won’t do you any good if you don’t use them. Besides looking bad, poor gear use can place heavy stress on your muscles and put your joints at risk for injury.


2. Letting Yourself Overheat
Especially if it’s warm out, stave off the heat by wetting your clothes in key areas, such as the neck, armpits, and backs of the knees, to cool you off – just be careful not to get too cold by doing this before a downhill stretch.


3. Forgetting to Hydrate

Even light dehydration can handicap a rider by up to ten or twenty percent, and puts you at much higher risk for injury. You will be sweating no matter how cold it is, so be vigilant and drink often.


4. Going Too Hard Right Away
It takes time for your heart rate to raise to the optimum level and for your muscles to warm up, and not allowing your body to acclimate can lead to muscle weariness in even the most well-trained athletes.


5. Poor Pedaling Technique

Pedaling isn’t just about how hard you can slam your foot down – the best pedaling puts power in to the gears on all 360° of the movement. Use a mirror or video camera to monitor your feet, and strive toward a smooth, circular motion.


6. Matching Other People’s Pace

Even if someone else is going a certain speed, it might not be the right pace to take. Stay with your personal pace and ride in your zone, or risk burning out or injuring yourself.


7. Neglecting Injuries

If your body is sending you pain signals, listen to it or risk permanent damage. Stop what you are doing, rest for more time than you think is necessary, and start back out slowly.


8. Taking the Inside Bend

When going uphill, your first instinct can be to take the shorter route on the inside of the curve. This is the point with the steepest grade, and you can save your stamina by swinging around on the outside, where the grade is more forgiving.


9. Poor Positioning

When taking curves, especially downhill, learn your lines and make sure you are positioned so that you can see oncoming traffic. You can get all the speed you want, but if you get hit by a car, your time won’t be worth much.


10. Slacking

If you are riding with a team, make sure to take your turn in the front. If you are the person consistently riding in the easy spots, be prepared to be asked to help out or get out.

Out of Love

“I came to re-appreciate that cycling is a truly beautiful sport with a rich, textured and colourful past”


 By Anthony Walsh, BL


I have had a couple of injury-hit seasons. They have taken a physical and mental toll and prompted friends and family to ask: ‘Why do you still ride’? During the extended convalescence after my latest crash in the Rás, I started asking myself the same question.


I think I may have lost sight of why I love cycling. Apart from the broken bones, the constant travel of the last few years, racing abroad and living out of a suitcase, missed birthdays and broken promises, my passion for a sport I once loved had become dulled.


During my convalescence I took some time to reflect on my lifelong dynamic and complex relationship with the bike. I remembered why I used to love cycling. I remembered my first bike and the sense of freedom it instilled. It was an escape, it brought me places that were too far to walk and not accessible by bus. I loved that first bike for its utilitarian beauty, function over style. It was a vehicle: a vehicle that enabled me to build lifelong friendships and summer-long romances. In retrospect, what I loved about the first bike was what it represented – freedom and opportunity.


Casting my mind back to my college days the bike transformed my commuting experience. Traffic jams, bus fares and frustration were replaced with a sense of calmness. The bike was my reprieve. A window between study, work and college debauchery through which I could abscond for an hour at a time.


The bike saved me money and instilled great mental clarity. It was liberation from the mundane. Riding past the gym I would get a smug elitist feeling as I watched cars slalom through rush-hour traffic to join a queue for a parking space to go ‘work out’. I wasn’t ‘working out’ and yet I was getting all the associated health benefits. And there was nothing laborious about my task.

My cycling passion evolved and the bike morphed – it transformed from a vehicle to a tool. A burgeoning career as an aspiring cyclist loomed. I applied myself studiously to my new task – becoming a student of the sport. I learnt the history: Coppi, Merx, Kelly – the more I learnt the more absorbed I became.


I came to re-appreciate that cycling is truly a beautiful sport with a rich, textured and colourful past. I absorbed information and surrounded myself with good riders, but the thirst for knowledge also took me to new pastures. Learning the science of the power meter and human physiology, and marrying those concepts with centuries of tradition, brought a new dimension to my understanding of the sport.


As I sit on a bus surrounded by strangers, and six hours into a twelve-hour journey from Toronto’s suburbs to Chicago for a series of criteriums, I realise that the love I once had for the bike is all but gone. This isn’t fun anymore. This is a job. Cycling has lost its magic for me. I cast my mind back to those cars queuing to go ‘work-out’ in the gym and now I identified with them. I feel a sense of obligation, of routine, of chore.


All these are the antithesis I why I fell in love with the sport. How had the dream gone so badly awry? I am sure that when I am grey and old, with time clouding my recollection, I will look back fondly on these moments: a time when I travelled the world and raced my bike against some of the world’s best. Right now I can’t see past the drudgery that is the reality for an aspiring racer – travel, race, eat, sleep, and then travel some more. The love has gotten lost in a cloud of wattage, intervals and routine. I’m counting down the days till this season is over.


The crash and subsequent down time has afforded me a period of introspection. I was thinking about walking away from cycling, getting a ‘real job’. I thought long and hard. I resolved not to rush into a decision while injured. I wasn’t ruling out a comeback but in my heart-of-hearts I thought I was done. Chapter closed – move on.Getting back on the saddle for the first time during my recover, I wasn’t expecting any great comeback-story: it was a way to give me some closure, to be able to say that I didn’t quit because of an injury.


I rode for hour after hour, day after day. No power meter, no performance targets, no upcoming races. I rode just to ride – for its intrinsic value. I remembered the good times: the friendships, the laughs, the stories, my fond time at University College Dublin and the races we won. I began to feel at one with the bike again – a feeling I hadn’t experienced in years. The temperature had dropped just enough to contrast my white breath against the black tarmacadam of Howth Hill. I noticed my heartbeat was in synch with my pedal stroke as I climbed.


Glancing up from the handlebars I gazed out across Dublin Bay and watched the sun set behind the Wicklow Mountains – my favourite view in the world. With every pedal stoke I began to remember why I loved cycling.


I am not sure what the next chapter in this dynamic relationship will hold. However, I think I may be falling in love with the bike all over again.



Transition to Cyclocross

Cross is a fun, social and enjoyable sport. Stop thinking of reasons you shouldn’t race cross and get out there and have a blast”

The switch to cross season brings a new challenge and fresh excitement to racing. A few considerations can be made to allow for a smooth and effective transition to the rigors of the sport.

First you have some base fitness garnered from your road or mountain bike season. To increase your speed and stay injury-free, it’s important to do some cross specific work.

Try some running

After a long season of cycling we become so well adapted to the bike that other strands of our fitness fade from neglect. I recommend dusting down those runners and getting out for a short run each week. It’s important to progress the duration as our bodies aren’t familiar with the mechanics. Start out with a 10 minute easy run and progress gradually to a 30 minute run. One run per week should suffice.

To get ready for barrier hopping you can practice dismounts and remounts in a grassy field. After you become proficient, add speed, then add a barrier of a foot or more in height. Practice running over that slowly, and then faster. Resist the urge to do too much.

Cross requires a lot of agility, which isn’t necessary in road cycling. Look to include activities, which promote agility like trail walking or hill running.


More skills to practice include cornering, shouldering the bike, running uphill, bunny hopping, mud and sand riding, off-camber slopes and riding stairs. Try plot out a route in your local park which includes as many of these features as possible. Each session try to work at negotiating these features at increasingly higher speeds. It’s the constant variety of terrain and different challenges we face that gives cross such widespread appeal.


• Make sure your equipment is tuned up and race ready after an idle summer
• Get used to using the lowest tire pressure you can for added traction.
• Get toe spikes for your shoes , especially if the course demands foothold traction (running up hills).
• Set your bars a little taller and shorter than the road bike for added control, no need to be aero.

Do your homework

One of the best ways to learn cross skills and technique is by watching the pro’s. There are so many good races to watch online these days. Watch as many re-runs as possible. Observe the way the best riders choose lines and watch their technique as they enter and exit a corner. Watch closely as they drop their cadence in mucky sections and apply even force around the pedal stroke. Slow down the videos and re-watch vital sections.

Cross is a fun, social and enjoyable sport. Stop thinking of reasons you shouldn’t race cross and get out there and have a blast on two wheels!

Cycling is Not the New Golf

“His remark, ‘cycling is new golf’, troubles me. My instinctive reaction is one of defiance. The thought of cycling becoming a social platform to facilitate business transactions is disturbing”


 By Anthony Walsh, BL


The Sunday morning alarm clock sounds. For normal folk this a day of rest but for cyclists it’s another opportunity to log some precious winter miles as the season draws closer. A cursory glance from the window reveals a strong breeze but a dissipating frost.


The military nature of my preparation is too precise to be labelled a ‘ritual’; this is a ‘routine’. Everything is timed backwards from my departure time. Breakfast volume is dictated by the hours we plan to ride and clothing is chosen to tackle the prevailing weather.  Comfort is prioritised over style and performance – our bikes are heavy, weighed down by fenders, saddle bag and frame pump.


I pedal gently for ten minutes, shaking out the previous day’s fatigue from my legs, to meet a local group. I wait as latecomers frantically inflate tyres and stuff gels into jersey pockets. The preparation which has become routine for me is still unique for some. The distinctive ‘click’ as a cleat locks into position serves as our signal to depart. I haven’t previously ridden with this group. We ride a rotating pace line and make small talk. I rotate into position beside a forty something year old – he is over-weight and under dressed. His docile, open demeanour encourages conversation. A nice guy, a business man – he’s new to cycling. Amidst the small talk he mentions how many of his colleagues are getting into cycling and jokes ‘cycling is the new golf’.


I complete a rotation and sit at the back, odd man out, surveying the group. I notice my new friend is not alone. His peers are easily distinguished. They have the physical attributes and skills of a beginner but their tools are not those of a humble apprentice, they are more akin to a seasoned professional. I observe the group demographic – it’s changing. He is a member of a new generation. A growing mid-age, middle-class participation base.


I pedal pensively at the rear of the group. His remark, ‘cycling is new golf’, troubles me. My instinctive reaction is one of defiance. The thought of cycling becoming a social platform to facilitate business transactions is disturbing. When one thinks of golf, immediate connotations of exclusivity, affluence, and elitism come to mind. None of these are values which I think would enhance the cycling community. I resolve not to make a hasty judgement. I am contemplative for the remaining hours as I rotate throughout the group.


Western society has normalised the idea that during one’s life time we should endeavour to move up a notch on the social ladder from our parents standing. We strive for a more advanced education, higher paid jobs, to live in better neighbourhoods and drink finer wines. This concept of stepping up a notch on our imaginary social ladder touches all areas of our lives – including cycling.


From the very moment I threw my leg over a cross-bar I continuously strove to reach the next level. Never satisfied, never content – the nature of a competitor. Humble targets like not getting dropped on the Swords Club Run morphed into grand dreams of securing professional contracts. The same can be said of many club riders; always in a state of flux – looking to progress A4 to A3, A2 to A1. We feel the goal in cycling is to step up on our metaphorical ladder and cast dispersions down. We label and stigmatise riders of lesser ability; ‘fred’, ‘choad’ or ‘Jonathan’.


As we roll back into the car park to conclude our spin I have decided we should welcome our new friends. They are bringing a fresh non-competitive perspective to a sport with rigid ethos – fresh ideas and a new direction.


Sure they need to be indoctrinated, learning cycling customs and rules for safe participation but we can also learn from them. At this time of the year we can learn to slow down, enjoy the sights, the sounds, the conversation and the coffee stops. Let ourselves slip a little into their world – where cycling is just for fun. where we explore new roads and it’s always fresh. Remember the magic of when we started out. A fresh youthful enthusiasm now will make the hard work to come that much easier.


As the evenings get longer this relationship dynamic will change – we can suck them into our world and more  A4s will be battling to become A3.

Five Tips to make you a Better Rider by the New Year

“A critical review of the season just passed is essential before we start planning for next season”


By Anthony Walsh, BL

Although we are many months from our next priority event it is not the time to despair but the time to take stock, access and rebuild. I’ve compiled these five winter tips to put you on the right road before the New Year.

Rest and Recovery

Rest is a crucial part of peak performance. When we train and race hard we only create the possibility for improvements in our fitness levels. These improvements are only realized after a period of structured rest. A period off the bike at the end of the season is necessary to mentally recharge and come back to the bike hungry but also to allow the body time to recover from the rigors of a difficult competitive season. Now is a good time to address underlying injuries we may have. Everyone should have a full health check up in the off-season including a dental visit – it’s important to address minor problems before they graduate and prove disruptive during our race season.

Cross Training

Regardless of the level you compete at the dedication that the sport demands means your family and friends make big sacrifices to facilitate your competition during the season. I always recommend athletes, after a short break, include 2-4 weeks of cross training. Try walking, running, hiking or team sports.

Weary of injury or residual fatigue during the season we choose not to play football with our friends or golf with our co-workers – use this time to remedy that.

Season review / goals

A critical review of the season just passed is essential before we start planning for next season. The review will help you identify obstacles to success last season. By identifying them at this early stage we can take proactive evasive action and plan around them. I always recommend that athletes sit down with a friend or teammate. Often we lack objectivity when it comes to accessing our own ability. We may view ourselves as a ‘sprinter’ and thus justify our poor climbing ability but a teammate may view us a average sprinter who is too heavy for the hills. This critical assessment of last season will help you plan SMART goals for the season to come.

Structure your training

Whether your target next season is the Ring of Kerry or a podium in National Championships it’s important not to just drift through the off-season without a plan. The off-season is great to work on improving your threshold power. Don’t buy into the common winter myths about no intensity or only riding in the little ring. I always include plenty of work just below threshold for my athletes. Include the work now and your performance level will jump for 2015.


Winter is not the time to pack on excess weight and spend months of the competitive season trying to shift it. A little extra attention to diet now will ensure you hit race season your lightest yet.

• Avoid eating 3 hours before bed
• Avoid drinking calories eg. soft drinks, beers etc.
• On rest days/reduced duration days limit carbohydrate.
• Snack on fruit, nuts, nut butters instead of sugary snacks.

In the coming weeks A1 coaching will be launching its new eBook – Winter Preparation for Summer Success – a 12-week Winter Training Plan. We’ll bust all the winter training myths and take you step by step to the perfect winter.