Where's Your Triathlon Race Focus: Beating Your PR or the Competition?

Triathletes are pyromaniacs. They need fire. They need passion.

The best fuel for their burning flame is a competitive drive. However, what differs from one triathlete to another is where that competitive drive is directed. Is it against yourself or against others?

There will always be a place for those who merely want to get in shape, but if you’ve found your way to a website dedicated to triathlon coaching, chances are your ultimate goal is to go faster. That means your racing focus is probably to either improve your PR or beat the competition. Or both!

If your triathlon goal is solely dedicated to beating your PR, then that will affect how you race. A focus on bettering your PR requires a more passive, conservative approach to racing. Bettering the competition, on the other hand, necessitates occasional aggressive, risky behavior.

Those who are battling themselves must exist in their own little world. You can allow fellow competitors to motivate your effort to a certain degree, but ultimately your mission is to stay controlled and methodical in your pacing. This often means ignoring the surrounding competition. The race is against you and your numbers. You know what you’re capable of. How much can you push past your own threshold?

For those racing against your PR, try to focus on various checkpoints during the triathlon race. What was your split time at mile 10 on the bike last year? What was your normalized power by that point? Average heart rate? Are you faster or slower?

There might be good reasons to be either above or below. Maybe last year you went out too fast and while still achieving the PR, you know you left some of your legs out there on the course. This year you have the opportunity to to be more conservative and slowly creep up on those checkpoint splits until you’ve surpassed them outright.

For those racing against the field, the next race may be a time to take some risks. For instance, if you’re trying to qualify for Kona, you probably have no choice but to go for broke. The payoff could be exhilarating. But if the wager goes south, you’re in for a world of hurt.

Quite often triathletes are aware of fellow competitors who consistently place in the position they’d like to be. If you find yourself in such a situation, remember that this peer contender could potentially be used as a strategic guide in the next race you both find yourselves.

Let’s piggyback off this scenario with another analogy. Say a fellow competitor “friend” of yours is a strong runner but a weak cyclist. You, on the other hand, are exactly the opposite in strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, in past races this “friend” has always managed to pass you on the run and, by extension, on the overall results in your age group.

In order to beat Mr. or Ms. Friend you may need to push harder on the bike than ever before, opening the gap wide enough so that he or she has no chance of catching you on the run (granted that you don’t bonk in the process). Or maybe your strategy is being more conservative on the bike, allowing your legs more pep for a faster run this time around. Either way, the game plan is a risk that will deviate from your normal triathlon pacing plan. But when it comes to racing the field, sometimes we need to make uncertain changes to alter our destiny.

In the end, the goal post in front of you will define how you race. Decide whom you’re racing against and then focus on what needs to be done to win!

TRIDOT TAKEAWAY: Your racing strategy may heavily depend on whether your focus is on a new PR or top 5 in your age group. Whether the former or the latter, use the suggestions above and apply it to your next triathlon.

TALK WITH TRIDOT: What tips and tricks do you use to establish a new PR? If you’re racing against fellow age-groupers, what scenarios have you found yourself in during intense competition?

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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