2016 Race Schedule: The Year of the Ironman / by Jonas Caruana

This picture was taken back in 2013. I threw this goal out there but at the time, wasn't in the life situation to support everything required to do Ironman. This year, it's on!

This picture was taken back in 2013. I threw this goal out there but at the time, wasn't in the life situation to support everything required to do Ironman. This year, it's on!

Ironman has always been in the back of my mind as an event that I wanted to do 'some day'. It has a pretty epic allure and as an endurance athlete I'm simply curious about exploring my body's physical limits. Beyond that, endurance sports give me a medium to test myself mentally and to practice things like dealing with setbacks, always doing my best, and giving wholeness to a process (finishing what you started). These learnings and experiences carry over into the rest of my life and make me a better person – so for me, Ironman, well... it's simply a bigger, badder test of all the above. I can't wait!

Back in 2013 when I set the goal to race an Ironman in 2014, I was a little naive about the kind of commitment in terms of time and resources that would be required to really do it. I wasn't in the life situation to be able to support it then, but I am now and 2016 is the year!

[jump to the race schedule]

Building a Training and Racing Plan

In 2014 (a triathlon-focused year) and in 2015 (a road cycling year) I self-coached and made my own annual training and racing plans. 2016 (another triathlon year) is no different. I self-coach for two reasons: 1) financial, 2) intellectual curiosity.

First: financially-speaking, triathlon as a whole can be an expensive sport by the time you add up gear expenses (e.g. bike, running shoes, wetsuit, etc), services expenses (e.g. physio, coaching, massage, nutrition), and race expenses (e.g. race fees, travel). Coaching comes in a variety of forms and when I did my research I found there were basically three options on offer:

  1. High level training plan: "make me a plan based on a goal race and I'll do my best to follow it on my own" (one-time cost = $100-200)
  2. Monthly training plan: "every month, write me a plan that takes into account progress achieved the previous month, working towards my goal race" (approximate cost = $50-150 per month)
  3. Fully managed: you and your coach develop an annual plan that typically includes multiple races, and your training plan brings you to peak form for the top priority races. You interact with your coach frequently; workouts are continuously adjusted based on how you're handling the training load, and together you constantly optimize the plan to ensure you are getting the most from it (approximate cost = $250+ per month)

I'm digressing but I think this is useful: if you're newer to endurance sports and don't know what you don't know then the unmanaged options (1 and 2) will be great to get you going and headed in the right direction (the downside is when you go off plan... you'll have to get it reworked). If you can afford a fully-managed option I say do it no matter your level: you'll learn at an exponential rate and provided you match up with a coach you personally click with your experience of the whole process will be so much richer and rewarding.

For me, fully-managed didn't work for my budget and options 1 and 2 didn't work because of why-I-self-coach-reason-number-two: I'm intellectually curious and love to understand the 'whys' behind it all, and am willing to invest the time to learn and make my own plan (no point in paying someone else to do it). If this is you and you can make the time (let's face it: we lead busy lives and there's nothing wrong with saying "just tell me what to do"), it's an awesome route because you learn what to plan into your training and why, then you go and actually do it, and now you're in the driver's seat to make the adjustments necessary to continue improving. Being empowered to shape your own training experience like this is great for many reasons, not least because the reality is you'll probably get sick for a few days at some point, or go on a big work trip for a week or two, and now you'll be able to rework your own plan and stay on track toward your goal.

I follow the training and race planning methodologies in Joe Friel’s “Triathlete’s Training Bible”. It's a long read but a very thorough one and if you're curious about learning the ins and outs of working your way toward any distance of triathlon, I highly recommend this book. Just be prepared to spend the time to work through it. And, as with all schools of thought, take it with a grain of salt and think critically about how well this model can work for you. It's certainly not the only approach to training that exists; though what's presented in the book is pretty common in tri circles.

In my first year of triathlon (2014), I used the Triathlete's Training Bible, read tri blogs and forums online, and asked lots of questions of other, experienced triathletes. This year, I have performance goals in mind and while I've gotten better at training planning, there's no substitute for experience and so I plan to consult with a professional tri-coach once per month, as a check-and-adjust session. We'll discuss what I've done, what I'm planning to do in the next training period, and basically get an expert's reassurance that I'm not doing anything silly; and that I'm not leaving anything on the table.

Here’s how my race season is shaping up…

The Races

February 14Pacific Road Runners First Half half-marathon; ‘C’ priority. After a long winter of training it's good to kick the tyres and see where your fitness is at. This will be my first time running the First Half, though I came out to cheer on friends last year and it looked like a blast. It's a relatively small race – about 2,000 runners or so – and there's always been a buzz about it in the endurance community as it's hard to find any local event this early in the year. Most of my triathlete friends are doing it, and I'm excited to join them. UPDATE: here's the race report

April 17Sun Run 10k; ‘C’ priority. I ran Sun Run for the first time in 2014 and loved participating in what is one of the biggest 10k events in the world. This year I'm using it as a fun excuse to rev the engine and get in a good speed workout as part of training for that week. UPDATE: here's the race report.

May 29Subaru Shawnigan Lake Triathlon, Olympic distance; ‘C’ priority. I also raced Shawnigan Lake in 2014 (it was my first solo triathlon) and loved it: great course, great community, great crowd. I want to go into Ironman 70.3 Victoria having gone through the motions of a triathlon beforehand. I could simulate this on my own, or I could do Shawni. To be determined. UPDATE May 24: I'm signed up! UPDATE: here's the race report.

June 12: Ironman 70.3 Victoria; ‘B’ priority. Victoria is my lead-in race to Ironman Canada and my second ever half-Ironman (the first was the Subaru Vancouver Triathlon in 2014). I'll be looking to put in a strong performance, and in particular, am excited about the potential for improvement in the swim and run legs. UPDATE: here's the race report.

July 24: Ironman Canada (IMC)Ironman distance; ‘A’ priority. Ooo weeeee! My first full Ironman race will be contested in beautiful Whistler, about 1.5 hours north of Vancouver. It's basically a hometown race and I'm very fortunate that I'll get to swim in Alta Lake, ride the bike course and run the marathon course beforehand. Very excited for this one! UPDATE: here's the race report.

September 5Stanley Park Triathlon, Olympic distance; ‘C’ priority. This one's entirely for fun, because I do so much training in and around Stanley Park that I can't pass up the chance to race there. Not particularly concerned about times in this event, just stay injury-free and have a smile on my face! UPDATE: Removed from the list; focused on rehab post-IMC.

September 10: RBC GranFondo Whistler. 'C' Priority. This is a 122km road race from Vancouver to Whistler and it's such a treat to have the Sea to Sky highway all to yourself and your fellow riders. I've done it the last two years and am excited to go again! UPDATE: Removed from the list; focused on rehab post-IMC.

October 31Noosa Triathlon Multi Sport Festival‘C’ priority. This one was a surprise as I got in off a waitlist! A trip to Australia is on the cards for this year and it will be awesome to race close to my family and have them come along to be a part of the festival. And it's a bit of a dream come true: I've known about the Noosa Tri since I was a kid; it's a real gem on the international triathlon circuit and I always thought it would be cool to race that 'some day'. This year's the year!

The last few months of the year will likely involve an additional Ironman (Cozumel?) and / or Ironman 70.3 race (potentially one in the 'States...). More to come! I’ll post updates here; as well, I'll add links to race reports as I write them.