So, You want to PR, Podium or Qualify for a Big Race: 5 Tips to Make it Happen

By Coach Maria Simone

I like to make big dreams happen for my athletes and for myself. In many cases, these dreams revolve around aggressive time goals, standing on podiums, or qualifying for specific races, such as the Boston Marathon, World Championships 70.3/140.6, or Team USA. 

When I work with an athlete long enough, we eventually get around to this question: What does it take to do [insert big dream here]? 

I love these conversations – they involve strategy, planning, and plenty of good old fashioned hard work. 

But the answer to this question has some tough truths embedded within it. So, as my father used to say, “Don’t ask a question you don’t want the answer to.”

These types of big goals involve a reorganization of your life, and a willingness to sacrifice the short term in favor of the long term goals. You have to be willing to do what you haven’t done before, to do more of what you don’t like to do, to expose the fleshy bits, to get well far outside of your comfort zone, and to mind all the 1% details – because every single one matters. 

In this article, I lay out the 5 basic principles that have guided my training, helping my athletes and I to earn PRs, podiums and qualifying spots. I believe these principles apply for all athletes. 

When it comes to qualifying for races or getting on a podium, at the national and international level, competition is getting tighter, and the speeds at the pointy ends of the age groups continue to get faster. I don’t say this to discourage your dream. I say this so that a recognition of the challenges becomes a part of the dream–and makes the dream worth having.

If the goal were an easy grab, it wouldn’t be quite as special, would it?

Here are my principles: 

  • Commitment
  • Consistency
  • Planning
  • Discipline & Sacrifice
  • Belief


The quest starts with your commitment to the goal. I don’t just mean saying, “Gee, I would love to do Kona someday.” That’s not commitment; that’s a wish list.

Commitment sounds something like this: “I’m willing to do what it takes to qualify for Kona within X years.” The X depends a bit on your specific situation and the nature of your specific goal, but I think it works best to keep it near-term, measurable and accountable, otherwise you are dealing with wishes not concrete goals.

For example, I decided in 2012 (really the end of 2011) that I was going to do what I needed to do to qualify for Kona within 2 years. I narrowly missed the 2-year target, but I got it on my third year, and 4th official attempt.

I’ve coached athletes who have made multiple attempts to achieve their goal. They never gave up until they succeeded. 

This demonstrates another aspect of commitment: you don’t give up if you don’t succeed right away. As Martina ​​Navratilova has said, “It takes a long time not to suck.  Stay committed.  Believe in yourself.”


One of the more challenging aspects of training for many age-groupers is consistency. Training has to compete with other important priorities like making sure our families remember who we are, and showing up at work so we can pay for our race fees.

Even so, if you’ve committed to the goal, you must find a way to make training a priority. If you can’t make the time to train for the big dream, then be honest about that. Consider a different trajectory that takes account of your current reality and available time.

You have to put the time in if you want to get the results out. Hitting a PR, podium or qualifying spot requires critical volume and training stress targets. Yes, there are exceptions. But, it’s important to note they are not the rule.

Consistency is about the day-in, day-out commitment to the training. As such, the long or speed workouts are not the only ones that matter. So, if you are skipping “base” workouts, but getting your race specific workouts in, don’t think this is enough. It’s not. It all matters when you are going after the big hairy audacious goal.

The specific details of your training will be dependent on:

1) Your available time

2) Your strengths and limiters

3) Your history in the sport

Despite the specifics of your situation, there are some general parameters to consider.

    • Be a partner with your coach. Talk with your coach about your training plan – the why, the what, the how, and the what next. Be a student of your sport, as our experience tells us that athletes who are invested in their training, get better results than those that are disengaged from it. 
    • Don’t skip strength or mobility. As Coach Lindsay likes to say, if you don’t make time for strength or mobility, you’ll need to make time to get injured. While it can aid in performance, the biggest benefit is injury risk reduction. 
    • Form is speed. Work on your technique no matter how good you think you are. Efficiency = free speed.
  • Training must mix quality and quantity. We can’t just throw volume or intensity at our training in a willy nilly mix and hope it all works out. The level and pacing of volume and intensity depends on where you are in the sport. If you have a big base and a long history of endurance sport, you can afford to drop some of the base volume in favor of more targeted training.

For example, in my run up to IMLP in 2013 and IMCdA in 2014, I trained an average of 13 hours a week, with a peak week of 18 hours. My first year of training for IM was closer to an average of 15 hours per week, with a peak week of 21 hours. But, the difference in this training was that I was working on building base endurance that first year, and in 2014, I was working on muscular endurance – so the focus was much more about quality of sessions, than quantity of hours.

Despite the lower training duration, my training stress was actually higher going into IMLP and IMCdA because of the intensity. I was also a lot faster than the first year. 


Planning comes in a variety of levels: 1) Multi-year, 2) season, 3) training cycles, 4) weekly schedule. This planning process should be done in concert with your coach. As you plan, you need to brutally honest about:

  • Your strengths
  • Your limiters
  • Race courses that suit you – and race courses that don’t
  • Previous racing successes and failures

I don’t have hard numbers here, but for most people, podiums and qualifying for big races won’t happen on a first attempt. So, you need to have a long range plan to cover how you will go from where you are now to where you want to be by your target race. A multi-year plan doesn’t need to be set in stone, but it should serve as a map for your journey.

Season planning involves identifying the training phases, prep races, and other things you need to do within a single season to prepare for that year’s goals – whether they are building goals or qualifying goals. You need to carefully select the races that you’ll do, considering courses that work to your strengths OR that will help you improve upon your limiters. Work with your coach on this, and RESIST THE TEMPTATION TO RACE ALL OF THE TIME.

Yes, I had to put that in all caps. If you are racing all of the time you are doing two things: Racing and recovering. The thing you are NOT doing that you NEED to be doing is training. Organize your season around a key A race. Then select 1-2 prep races to work into that. (Post-A race, you can schedule additional races for fun, for working limiters, etc.)

Discipline & Sacrifice

It’s important to take the time to wrap your head around the level of discipline and subsequent sacrifice that will come with a journey to make a big dream a reality. It may take months, but more than likely, it will take years. 

Simply put: you have to put the right work in if you want to get results out. That takes discipline – especially when your quest goes on for years. Certainly, we have moments when we feel like blowing off training, when we want to eat brownies, when we wish we could have a “normal” weekend that didn’t include 6-8 hours of training per day followed by massive eating and then sleeping. But, we have to work through those moments. 

So, yes, this means you will sacrifice quite a bit. Yes, this journey can put a strain on your relationships – even when your family is completely supportive of your goal. 

In all of the cases of big dreams in the making, one thing remains: there is no single magic bullet to the end goal. It’s all of the little things that you do (and don’t do) day after day after day that add up to the achievement.


I end this article with what is probably the most important ingredient in your success: Belief. You have to believe that it is possible to qualify, to podium, to PR. If you don’t believe, then it won’t happen, no matter how strong your physical game is. It’s that simple.

If you truly believe in your heart and mind that you can do it, then you will act in ways that support that belief. If you have the mind of a champion, you will train like a champion. If you train like a champion, you will race like a champion. If you race like a champion, you will one day become one.

Belief precedes action. So, get your mental game as strong as – or even stronger than – your physical game. 

Embrace your journey–resist the temptation to focus only on the endpoint. It’s all of the little moments that make this accomplishment so worthwhile. Be grateful for all of the experiences – good and bad – and know that you are pursuing something that isn’t just about the race itself – it’s about the extraordinariness of the human body and spirit, it’s about finding out just how amazing you are.

So, You want to PR, Podium or Qualify for a Big Race: 5 Tips to Make it Happen
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