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Rethinking Race Priorities: The Decline of the B Race in Endurance Sports

Rethinking Triathlon Race Priorities

In endurance sports, there once was a clear order of races among age groupers: A, B, and C. These designations not only determined how we approached our training cycles but also how we mentally prepared for each race and the entire season. 

However, I’ve noticed a concerning trend over the past five years. Every race on the calendar seems to have been promoted to an “A Race”, challenging the traditional wisdom and putting athletes at risk. As the saying goes, “If everything is important, nothing is important.”

When I began racing long-course triathlon in 2008, the roadmap was more defined. As age group athletes, we picked 1-2 “most important” races each season – our A races. These were the events where everything had to be spot-on: nutrition, pacing, and mental preparation. These were also the races with outcome or time goals. 

Around these major events, we’d sprinkle in B and C races, providing opportunities to refine our strategy, experiment a bit, or simply treat them as glorified training sessions. Yet, as the years have rolled on, this clarity in race categorization seems to be blurring, placing undo stress on athletes.

Consequences of Treating Every Race as an A Race

  • Physical Strain and Risk: The human body is resilient and adaptable, but it has its limits – especially for the busy age grouper. Peaking for every race strains the body and increases the risk of injuries.
  • Mental Fatigue: It’s not just the body that takes a hit. The mental strain of always being ‘on’ and in a hyper-competitive mode can sap the joy out of the sport and lead to burnout.
  • Lost Strategy: The essence of endurance sports lies in strategic planning. If every race is a top priority, then athletes can lose sight of long-term progression, missing out on nuanced training adaptations.
  • Overtraining Danger: With no ‘low priority’ races to act as recovery or active training, athletes risk falling into the overtraining trap, which can have long-term consequences on health and performance.

The Value of Differentiating Races

Race differentiation isn’t just some old-school methodology; it’s rooted in logic and long-term planning. By deeming every event an “A Race,” we inadvertently rob ourselves of the sport’s deeper benefits. “If everything is important, nothing is important.” This quote isn’t just witty; it’s profoundly true in the context of endurance racing.

5 Reasons to Strategically Designate Races

  1. Specific Training Focus: By setting 1-2 ‘A races’, athletes can better structure their training to peak at the right times. This targeted approach maximizes performance on the big day.
  2. Process Over Outcome: B and C races offer a goldmine for focusing on process goals. They’re the playground where you can focus on refining techniques, testing nutrition strategies, or experimenting with pacing without the looming pressure of achieving a podium finish or a PR.  
  3. Mental Recovery: Not every race should feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. B and C races can act as a mental reprieve, giving athletes the chance to enjoy the sport without the high stakes.  
  4. In-Season Assessment: Mid-season B or C races can serve as effective checkpoints. They allow for a pulse check on training progress, offering insights that can be invaluable in adjusting plans for upcoming A races.  
  5. Training Continuity: Labeling certain races as “training races” ensures a fluid training cycle. Athletes can maintain training momentum and better integrate races into their regimen without the need to taper for every event.

Wrapping Up

The magic of endurance sports lies in the journey — the meticulous planning, the highs and lows of training, and the excitement of race day. By reverting to the practice of designating A, B, and C races, athletes stand to gain much more than just podium finishes. They gain a deeper understanding of their bodies, a more profound appreciation for the sport, and ultimately, a more sustainable and enriching racing career. So, before you circle every race on your calendar as a top priority, take a moment to reflect. Sometimes, the best approach is the tried and true one.

Jeff Lukich Triathlon Endurance Coach
Jeff Lukich
Endurance Coach at Drive Multisport | Website

Jeff Lukich is the owner and head coach of Drive Multisport and leads Better Triathlete's coach match program. He is a USA Triathlon (USAT) Level 1, USA Cycling (USAC) Level 2, and USA Track & Field (USATF) certified coach. A 10x Ironman finisher and Boston Marathon Qualifier, Jeff specializes in coaching long-course triathletes, ultra-runners, marathoners, cyclists, and athletes with unique events, such as double Ironman, staged races, and SwimRun events. Learn more about Jeff.