Triathlon is unquestionably an individual sport, but it’s debatable to what extent it is a competitive sport. For many, the object is to complete, not compete. However, even for those who are competing, it’s most often against yourself. Sometimes that is a good thing, but sometimes you need to race other people. Let me explain.If you go too hard, you will blow up. There is a limit to what your body can sustain for a given distance in each sport, and you need to know what that is and stick to it (having a coach helps with that). Take, for instance, a duathlon, since it’s that time of year. Let’s imagine this du is a 5k, 20mi, 5k and that your 5k PR is a 21:09, and your 10k PR is a 43:27.If you get caught up in the adrenaline of the start like most people do, and go out at a 6:30/mi pace, you are going to have to slow down. Wait too long to slow down, and you are going to blow up. You have to run your own race, at your own pace, or you will fall flat on your face. Let’s say you do slow down to a 7:30/mi pace, and run a 22:45, then ride at 95% of FTP, and come off the bike just behind your arch rival, 30 seconds up the road. You know that your pace should be really close to your 10k pace, about 7:00/mi. Try to go faster than that to catch Funny-smelling Fred, and you’ll blow up and run a 25:00 instead of a 21:45.
Or let’s say you’re racing a 70.3 and a pretty girl passes you, something your male ego has trouble accepting. Your pacing plan (if you had one) goes out the window and you re-pass her and hammer down the highway. Good for you! The only problem is that you’ve just screwed your run. Let’s assume you’ve got a VDOT of 50 and are really well trained and able to run at 95% of threshold for a Half – you should run a 1:35 if you rode at 80-85% of FTP. But since you (tried to) impress the girl, you’re going to run a 1:45. Bye-bye, PR attempt.
Proper pacing is pretty easy to grasp, even though most people seem to have a hard time executing it. And as we’ve just seen, proper pacing is all about you, not about what anyone around you is doing. Sometimes, however, you need to worry about other racers. Let’s take a look at a few examples of when it’s okay to slightly alter your plan to improve your placing.
- When you can crack someone physically by pushing the pace in the short term
- When you can crack someone mentally with a hard surge or aggressive pass
- When someone is a good rabbit or good draft
- When you can insert doubt into someone’s mind or alter their pacing plan
- When you can play to your strengths or away from your weaknesses
That last one bears a bit of explaining; what does it mean to play to your strengths? I’m a strong cyclist, if I can put some time into someone on the bike and have a cushion going into the run, it might be a good idea to ride a little harder and get a gap (I won an Xterra this year with this tactic). If you’re not a great biker, you might push the swim a little bit to get in with better cyclists. If you’re running near someone who is a little faster on the flats, you might push the pace on a hill to get clear.
Steen Rose is the owner and Head Coach of Athletes On Track and an Elite Coach for Training Bible Coaching. He has been competing in cycling and multisport events for 16 years with 13 state titles and 3 national medals to his name. He has been coaching since 2003 and works with all ages and abilities of athletes locally, nationally, and abroad. He can be reached at email@example.com