It happens to rookies and veterans alike: a strong runner with heavy legs is forced to shuffle toward the finish line. How does this happen, and more importantly what can you do to avoid the dreaded death march on race day?
It all comes down to your ability to resist fatigue by making smart moment-to-moment choices, specifically choices that keep you moving forward at a sustainable pace without unnecessary spikes in effort.
Here are a few common mistakes that athletes make on race day that lead to failure on the run.
Going out too hard at the swim start. Hammering it for the first 200 or so yards and then settling into your race pace is a common strategy. That's fine if you trained for it and if you actually do settle into a pace you can handle. If you haven't, you can easily put yourself into oxygen deficit, which will force you to slow down and recover. This wastes valuable energy for no gain.
High kick rate in the swim. A good, rhythmic kick is an important part of your stroke. Unless you have a particularly strong kick, however, increasing the rate won't add much to your swim speed and can lead to early fatigue.
Riding above your pay grade on the bike. When other competitors flash by you it's easy to let your competitive nature drive you to push a higher pace. But unless this is a training race and you're purposely riding harder than you trained to test your fitness, you're setting yourself up for an extra-long, frustrating day. You can't out race your training.
Trying to make up for lost time. Imagine this: You're on track for a personal record with a Kona slot fully in sight. Suddenly you get a flat and to make matters worse the tire change goes badly. After 20 long minutes you're back on course and you decide to pick up the pace in hopes of reducing the lost time only to find your legs shot when you head out on the run. Oh yeah, this happened to me.
Bolting out on the run like a pro. Pushing too hard in the first half of the run can easily leave you hanging on for dear life when you turn for home in the second half. Going too hard too quickly slows the normal adjustment your body must make to effectively transition to efficient running form.