How to plan your triathlon season and build new season fitness

Starting to think ‘races’, but don’t know where to begin in terms of scheduling and training? Six times Ironman world champ Dave Scott how to build new season fitness and stay focussed and strong throughout the season


It’s normal to be looking ahead to the tri season with enthusiasm and anticipation. But to make the most of your year, it’s vital that we make the most of the rest of your off-season.


This includes dialling-in your tri calendar and laying a solid foundation of fitness. Here’s the process I use with my athletes, which helps to ensure a healthy and successful season.

Don’t overdo it

I typically begin planning with my athletes early in the year by identifying their priority races – their ‘A-Races’. Regardless of distance, what’s important is that we limit the number of A-Races to just two or three per year, especially when aiming for Ironman-distance triathlons. I also recommend that your first A-Race be at least five to six months out.

When scheduling your races, think ‘quality over quantity’. Don’t clog your season with so many events that you’ll be burned out for your most important triathlons later in the year. It’s tempting to populate your race calendar with events every weekend. Don’t do it! To get the most out of your training, establish major objectives then purposefully construct a plan to support those goals.

Split your year in two 

Many athletes get too fit too early in the year, only to discover that they’ve burned out by late summer or autumn. To avoid that, I suggest scheduling your year in two halves. This could be: January through June; and July to November.

In the first calendar half, I like to see just one A-Race in May or June, allowing plenty of time to build fitness. Then, in
the second half of the year, book no more than two A-Races.

Covet your recovery

If your A-Races include more than one 70.3 Ironman, then be sure to separate them by at least three weeks. However, if you plan on doing multiple full-distance Ironman events, then you’ll need a buffer of 13 weeks (that’s just over three months!) between them.

We’ve all heard stories of triathletes racing back-to-back with very little recovery. This frequently comes back to haunt them later in the season, when they’re beset with a niggling injury or a general feeling of flatness. Typically athletes can hold their peak fitness for approximately eight to 11 weeks, but then need adequate time for the recovery and renewal for the second half of the year. Don’t mortgage your late-season A-Races by competing too frequently in May, June and July!

Strive for off-season efficiency

Once your planning is complete and your A-Races have been staked, you can commit to high quality training cycles that have purpose. As you’re still in the off-season, then allocate six to 12 weeks to steadily build your base and get incrementally fitter.

Remember: base building does not mean only logging long, easy miles! Regularly (i.e. at least once per week per discipline) insert short, high-intensity intervals (HIIT) into each workout. I prefer efforts of just 12 to 25secs during otherwise aerobically-paced swim, bike and run sessions during the off-season. These will help prepare your body for the demands of the more sustained higher-intensity efforts you’ll be implementing later.

Test yourself

As you near the end of this off-season base building phase, you’ll be feeling stronger and fitter… Now it’s time to get faster. I prefer to add a couple of non-triathlon races. My favorites are 5km road races and short duathlons. These will serve as test pieces that help establish benchmarks before you ramp up to your more serious training.

If a race isn’t convenient, then try a marker set in which you replicate race-like conditions during a workout. You’ll attempt to hold a specific pace or power output over a pre-determined distance. If you can convince a training partner to do it with you, then you can push each other to meaningful performances.

At approx. 10 to 12 weeks prior to your first A-Race, you’ll transition into an event-specific training programme. Hopefully you’re using a proven and efficient plan designed to reflect your experience, realistically accommodate your available weekly training hours and include regular HIIT sessions every week.

If you have further questions, visit or message me on on my Facebook page. Good luck!

Dave Scott is the first 6x IRONMAN World Champion and a Master Coach of IRONMAN U.  As the founder of the Dave Scott Multisport Institute, he dedicates himself to making triathletes of all levels faster and more efficient. 

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