These six tips will help keep your race fast right up to the end.
Build Your Endurance1 of 7
The most important fitness variable for every triathlon distance is endurance. You might have top-notch form, high-end speed and high-value equipment; but without the proper endurance foundation you can count on an overall slow (a pace well below your capability) race or one that bleeds speed right to the end.
Ask yourself this: "How much endurance do I need?"
The answer: Your longest workout time should be 50- to 100-percent of your predicted race time. The shorter the race the closer you will be to the 100-percent time in a single workout. For well-trained or experienced triathletes, the longest workout preceding a sprint-distance event will be more than 100-percent.
For beginner and intermediate triathletes, many racers can complete a sprint distance triathlon between 1:00 and 1:30. For those athletes the longest bike ride in the training schedule will be between 1:00 and 2:00, depending on the athlete and how many weeks of training precede the race.
As race distance gets longer, for racers doing IRONMAN-distance events, my rule of thumb number is spread over one to three days. For example, in my popular 13 Weeks to a 13-Hour IRONMAN Plan, the biggest weekend combination adds up to 9.5 hours over two days. Assuming a 13-hour finish, the big endurance weekend is 73-percent of predicted race finish time.
Takeaway: Build overall race endurance.
Be Consistent2 of 7
A big day, week or weekend of training is good for endurance, only if it's supported with consistent training beforehand. Race endurance is not built in a day or a weekend. You need to be consistent with your endurance training for some eight to 16 weeks prior to race day to capitalize on your big training days or weekends. In other words, big days or combinations of days are not stand-alone events.
Takeaway: When it comes to being an endurance athlete, consistency trumps all.
Train Your Pace3 of 7
In the final eight weeks or so prior to race day, your run workouts should be at race pace or slightly faster. For example, for sprint race training, use open (without a swim and bike preceding the run) 5K pace or heart rate zone 5b run paced intervals. If you are training for an Olympic-distance event, as you might guess, run intervals will be done at open 10K pace or slightly faster. The same applies for half and full marathon paces.
Running pace in training and racing is directly tied to endurance training, neuromuscular training and energy systems. Improving all of these systems takes time and patience. While there is more to the subject than can be covered in this short column, in short, your training must reflect your current personal pace for race distance. It does you no good to run 5K pace training sessions if you're aiming for a 70.3 or IRONMAN event.
If you are training for the longer events, you would be better served to slow training session pace to half-marathon or marathon speed and work to hold that speed for longer periods of time.
Takeaway: Run training pace is based on goal race distance and your current speed. Don't run intervals based on an unrealistic dream pace.
Maintain the Correct Bike Race Pace4 of 7
On race day, the easiest way to destroy your run is to ride your bike too fast. You must control bike intensity in order to finish the race with a strong run leg. Because more racers have access to heart rate monitors than power meters, let's use heart rate zones for pacing descriptions.
The race pace recommendations that follow are for intermediate triathletes. Beginners should aim for more time on the low end, or below, the recommended ranges. Advanced triathletes can aim for more time on the high end of the zones and occasional periods of time above the recommended zones.
Sprint: Zone 3 to 5b
Olympic: Zone 3 to 5a
Half IRONMAN (70.3): Zone 2 to 4
IRONMAN: Zone 2 to 3
Additionally, I prefer that athletes execute a race in a negative-split manner. In an ideal world, where the course is flat and there is zero wind, you would ride the second half of the bike course faster than the first half. This means your energy output or intensity the first half of the ride will be less than the second half.
Because so few courses are ideal, you have to base your pace off of your energy or intensity. Use less intensity (heart rate or rating of perceived exertion) the first half of the ride than you plan to use in the second half of the ride.
Takeaway: Control bike intensity in order to have a strong run.
Run Your Race Pace5 of 7
Assuming your bike split was intentionally controlled, you're ready for a fast run split. Because you practiced race pacing in training, you know that exiting T2 at a pace too fast for the distance is not wise. In fact, you want to execute your run with the same strategy as the bike ride, and that's at negative-split intensity. The first half of the run leg should be lower intensity, or average pace, than the second half.
The longer the race distance, the more difficult it is to run a negative-split pace. That said; the goal is to avoid blowing up and walking the second half of your run.
Takeaway: Use a negative-split strategy for the run.
Understand Race Nutrition6 of 7
Race day nutrition has less impact when you're racing sprint and Olympic events, than it has for 70.3 and IRONMAN races. That's not to imply nutrition for shorter distances isn't important. It is.
For long-distance racing, a well-tested hydration and feeding plan is critical to a fast run. It's impossible to have a fast run split if you have no energy stores left after the swim and bike ride.
Takeaway: For 70.3 and IRONMAN racing, race nutrition is critical to a fast run split. For shorter distances, it's not critical but it can help give you an energy boost if you have the right nutrition strategy.
If your endurance training has been consistent and you included race-distance appropriate speed work in your training prior to race day, you can expect to have a fast run after a well-paced bike leg where nutrition was dialed in.