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How To Pace Your Race

Posted by: on October, 29 2015

Found on Triathlon.com and written by Scott Fliegmelman

In most cases you can’t walk away from a from a race (especially an Ironman) and say, “I had a great bike, but an awful run”; one is directly related to the other. It’s all about pacing. If you pace the swim and bike right, you’ll set yourself up for a better run and a stronger finish.

Most age-groupers make the mistake of comparing their performance with other racers or a goal time instead of looking more closely at how they used their fitness throughout the race.swim triathlon

Going into your next race, set a reasonably challenging goal that is based on the actual training you did, not the training you had hoped to do. Use recent field tests, time trials or practice races in order to clarify your realistic current fitness and then follow the tips below to smartly pace your race.


Don’t worry about time. Triathletes can make the mistake of gauging swim success based on time, but courses are almost always short or long, so there is no sense in getting overly excited or dejected due to seemingly random buoy placement. Instead, base success on a smart start position, minimal contact and anxiety, skilled sighting and maintaining good technique from start to finish.


Ignore technology! That’s right, time is still a rather irrelevant piece of feedback, and the same goes for mph, thanks to wind, hills, etc.

Start easy. Allow your body 5–10 minutes to adapt to an upright position before settling in at your goal effort.

Commit to the effort you’d decided on before the race. Use a recent field test like a 20-minute “max effort” time trial, and then use a percentage of that effort to help guide you. (For help, use my free training and racing zones calculator at Fastforwardsports.net).

Stay in your bubble! Stay present and focused on what you need to do, keep your thoughts highly relevant and don’t give in to the temptation to ride the pace of anyone zooming by you. Every now and then, peek out of your bubble at that guy in the funny looking tri suit as he huffs and puffs to beat you up that climb—you’ll probably see him again on the run!

Allow yourself no greater than a 10 percent effort increase on uphill sections and then aim to stay “on the gas” during the downhill until you reach 30-plus mph, when you can coast. Avoid hammering the uphills and then catching your breath on the downhill sections, as it will be faster and more efficient to keep a steady energy expenditure.

Over the last 5–10 minutes, back off a gear or two to allow your heart rate to settle down, and your legs to freshen up for the run. This is another reason not to be chasing a bike leg time or mph goal. You might achieve that minor goal but then most likely pay for it during the run.


Plan to run swiftly and efficiently between aid stations and then take a 30- to 45-second brisk walk break that you divide into thirds:
First 10–15 seconds: Enjoy your hard work since the last aid station.
Middle 10–15 seconds: Get down some calories and fluids while your breathing and heart rate are settling down.
Last 10–15 seconds: Commit to a productive form focus, such as a quick cadence or forward lean from the ankles and get the competitive juices flowing.

Sign up for a “practice” race where you care a bit less about the results and try some of these tips. You may be pleasantly surprised when you allow yourself to look at the clock at the finish!