How should you pace your triathlon run?

An interesting recent study looked at the best pacing strategy to adopt during the initial phase of an Olympic distance triathlon run. In summary, ten highly trained male triathletes completed three individual time-trial triathlons (1.5-km swimming, 40-km cycling, 10-km running) in a randomised order. Swimming and cycling speeds were kept constant for all three triathlons and the first run kilometre was done alternatively 5% faster, 5% slower and 10% slower than a control run. The subjects were instructed to finish the 9 remaining kilometres as quickly as possible at a free self-pace.

The run that started with the first kilometre being 5% slower than the control run resulted in a significantly faster overall 10-km performance than the 5% faster and 10% slower runs. The results showed that the running speed achieved during the first kilometre of the triathlon is crucial to the performance of the run as a whole. The authors suggest triathletes would benefit by running the first kilometre of the run at a pace 5% slower than their 10-km control running speed.

So does that mean that this is the strategy you should employ in your next race? Not necessarily. The study looked at ten highly trained male triathletes performing an individual time trial. This is different to a race situation in which other factors, such as the influence of fellow compeditors, may alter your chosen pacing strategy. However if you are only interested in racing the clock and are not concerned about your finishing position it might work well for you.
In a study by Tucker et al. looking at the pacing strategies for the 5000-m and 10,000-m running events, times for each kilometre were analyzed for 32 (1922 to 2004) and 34 (1921 to 2004) world records. The analysis showed the first and final kilometres were significantly faster than the middle kilometre intervals. Quite a different strategy to the triathlon run in the study above. The slowing in the middle of the race allows for maintenance of an ‘energy reserve’ for the final push to the finish line. This is probably the strategy you see most often in an elite Olympic distance triathlon too. Certainly by those who leave T2 in the leading pack. The chase pack just have to go hard from start to finish in the hope of catching the leaders.

Pacing strategy during exercise is regulated by a complex system that balances the demand for optimal performance with the requirement to defend homeostasis i.e. keeping the internal body environment in a steady state. There are many external factors that influence your pacing strategy. These factors are likely to be different with every race e.g. weather conditions i.e. hot versus cold, the nature of the course, energy levels of the day, other competitors. You can’t do much about the weather or other competitors but practising nutrition and hydration strategies in training and knowing the course will certainly be advantageous when it comes to pacing. Try different pacing strategies in training and low priority races to see what you prefer. Half the fun of participating in endurance sport is learning what your body is capable of!

See you Saturday. Long weekend…Bring it on! Tim (LFTC Coach)

PS. ‘The Runner’s Body‘ is a great book if you want to learn a bit more about how your body responds to exercise and how to improve performance using the latest scientific approaches.