The Top 3 Points to Consider in Your Triathlon Race Strategy: Pacing

Part 1 in a 3-part series.

Toughness is a quality required in all endurance sports, but triathlon necessitates a little something extra. And that something extra is gumption. To be a triathlete you need to be shrewd, resourceful, and strategic.

A laundry list of tactics is available in the bank of triathlon knowledge to maximize your triathlon race. What are the top three points to consider in triathlon race strategy? Let’s narrow it down to these invaluable topics of interest:

  1. Pacing
  2. Swim Strategy
  3. Nutrition.

In today’s blog, we’ll look at pacing.

Pacing in a triathlon, regardless of distance, is perhaps the single most important aspect of triathlon race strategy. Much like weekly training, your level of intensity exerted during the race always comes at a cost. Push harder on this hill, and you have less power for the next one. Start the run faster, and you’ll have less stamina for the end of the race.

Weighing the cost of intensity for each leg of the race is something that should be considered far in advance and through smart training. And it’s going to differ depending on the kind of athlete you are and how competitive you’re trying to be.

For example, in a more elite context, starting T1 with the lead group is very important to remain competitive on the bike. Therefore, pushing a hard pace on the swim, even if it’s above your planned intensity, might be worth the risk.

Typically, pacing is easier to manage on the bike and in the run. Technology lends itself well to accomplishing this task. A power meter on the bike is by far the best pacing tool for such an unpredictable, weather-dependent, terrain-dependent portion of the race. Your watch and a heart rate monitor (especially in long course) are ideal for the run.

Depending on the triathlon race distance, you can use these tools in conjunction with your FT (Functional Threshold) numbers to determine what power, or beats per minute, or raw pace you should be holding for the duration of each leg. For example, if your FTP   on the bike is 215W then a good average pace to hold for the duration of a full iron distance bike leg is between 65-75% of that FTP number. This equates to an average power hovering between 140-161 watts.

Under the TriDot Training System, pacing is simplified even more. TriDot deals with your FT data in each discipline by assigning a SwimDot, BikeDot, and RunDot Score based on your physical data and training. These scores deliver incredibly accurate training and racing zones complete with proper raw pace, power zones, and heart rate zones prescribed specifically for you.

Beyond the TriDot Scores, a unique proprietary feature to TriDot is what we call RaceX – or race execution. RaceX is a far more advanced pacing tool than the simple calculation of an average pace zone based on the distance of the race and your FT.

RaceX not only uses your FT-adopted TriDots to prescribe pacing zones, but also takes into account the specific race you’re planning on competing in. For example, if your race is IRONMAN Wisconsin, RaceX will factor the average historical weather conditions present at the race in previous years, the terrain of the course, and even historical results at the event. This allows RaceX to accomplish a number of things:

  1. Your projected pace is environment normalized for the course (even by temperature and humidity) so that you’re given a more realistic expectation of what kind of splits to expect, and thus, what your actual pace should be during the race.
  2. Pace for the bike and run is subdivided for better guidance. For instance, power and HR values on the bike are given for the first 20-30 minutes, targets on all flats, targets on short hills, and targets on long hills. Pace on the run is subdivided by appropriate min/mile and HR for the first portion of the run leg, the middle portion, and the final stages. This is a pacing plan that maps every section of the race based on your TriDots to fully flesh out your true potential.
  3. RaceX projects your ranking for the event selected. Using finisher data from previous years, RaceX will predict your overall place, gender place, and age group place for your selected race. Consequently, you can use these predictions to create overall finishing goals and in-race pacing goals based on the competition.

Using the TriDot Training System and RaceX, pacing becomes a much more manageable facet of your triathlon race strategy. The calculations are more than just one number to stick by. A race is dynamic, and your pacing should be too. Thankfully, RaceX handles all the number crunching for you.

In part two of this series we’ll move on to the next point to consider in triathlon race strategy: swim tactics.

TRIDOT TAKEAWAY: Triathlon race strategy is devoid of meaning without proper pacing. All triathletes should be knowledgeable of their threshold capabilities and use said data to create a strategic pacing plan. With TriDot and RaceX, your pacing plan is handed to you on a silver platter.

TALK WITH TRIDOT: An entire book could be written on pacing strategies in triathlon. What other methods do you use to control your pace?

JARED MILAM is a professional triathlete, TriDot coach, and member of the Tri4Him Pro Team. He has 16 years of competitive running experience and 11 years of competitive triathlon experience with a half Iron PR of 3:59 and a full Iron PR of 8:30. Coaching under the TriDot system since 2011, Jared loves working with aspiring triathletes of all ages and performance levels.

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