(Did you know that your season should have seasons and phases?)
Peaking is extremely difficult to achieve so planning your season with optimal periodization is critical for season success.
Create an ATP
This is your annual training plan. With every week of the entire year in front of you (on a template like Training Peaks ATP) write down every race that you are planning of doing on the respective race day. If some races do not have dates, check last years date to get an idea of when the race may fall (or contact the race director).
Prioritize your races
With the available time that you now have left on your annual plan, do you feel comfortable with the timeline that you gave yourself to peak appropriately for your key races? Are you racing too much with not enough available time to consistently train? Do you have key races planned too close to stressful events or travel which may cause you to feel overwhelmed about training or your race performance? Are your races too close together that you are not giving yourself enough time to recover from your races which may increase the risk of burnout, sickness or injury? Are you trying to be superhuman and beat the odds of what is physically possible by your body?
It's likely that you picked your top priority races with a goal or two in mind. Next to all of your races, it is important to properly define the outcome of the race. Now here is where athletes often make mistakes. Perhaps you only have one or two top priority races but you may find yourself putting too much pressure or unrealistic (and unnecessary goals) on yourself at your races. The reason why I feel this is a big problem for athletes is because there is a B or even C race on the schedule but the athlete may feel competitive pressure or feel there is something to prove and instead of sticking to the plan that may be of lower intensity or it may be specific to practicing certain things on race day (like pacing, nutrition, transitions) the athlete may end up racing balls to the wall and essentially, expecting an effort and performance that would be worthy of a high priority race. If you are a competitive person and struggle holding back, I recommend picking very low key races (perhaps races that do not provide a purse prize, fancy awards or qualifying spots for a national or world event) for B races (which are often tune-up races) where you do not feel pressure to prove anything.
Now back to goal setting. There is a reason why you are not reaching your goals right now or you haven't reached them ever before. You want your goals to be challenging so you are motivated to work hard but they should also be timely, realistic and very specific.
Having a goal of winning a race or placing on the podium is extremely tough as you may not be able to always predict who shows up on race day. Race time goals are also difficult for race day because although you can certainly train yourself to become faster and stronger and set yourself up to be able to execute to achieve a certain time goal on race day, there are many variables that are out of your control (ex. weather) that may affect your time but may not negatively affect your overall performance. Many times, it is best to chase your closest competition instead of a time goal. I find athletes find success this way as a time on a piece of paper doesn't always tell the entire race story.
Aside from A-races, not every other race needs a goal or a specific defined outcome. However, for athletes who struggle with season planning or haven't yet figured out how to peak properly, I do recommend to be precise with your race goals, even for B and C priority races so that you can identify what it is you want to achieve at the race which will ultimately helps you move closer to your high priority season goals.
Bottom line - be OK with not being your fittest at every race. You also do not need to justify your performance at every race based on the race priority. Just know that you are doing exactly what works best for you. Check your ego at the door and be happy for those who are racing with you in their A-priority races when you are saving your best performance for another race. Accept the process that is needed to peak appropriately so you save your best performance for when it really counts.
It's important that you take the necessary time to plan out your season so you know where all that hard work is going AND so you can increase the odds of finding success in your 2015 racing season.