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Tips for Pacing Your Next Long Course Race

For a long course race pacing the effort is the key to accomplishing the task of pushing through when fatigue sets in. I am going to share with you a few tips on how to pace yourself at your next race without hitting the brick wall so you are able to continue on even when the going gets tough.

Know the course and know it well. Treat the Athlete Guide as a bible during the weeks leading up to your race. Carefully look at all 3 courses as follows:

SWIM- Is the swim an out and back? Is it lake, ocean, or bay? Are there sharp turns around the buoys? How well will it be marked? Is the swim built around the direction of the current? Are there good landmarks for sighting? What is the history of the swim? For example what are athletes saying about it from last year’s race? Was it ever cancelled and why? Is it usually wetsuit legal? Sometimes folks write race reviews with details that you might not think about. Read everything! Your swim pace in the open water will usually be slower from that in a pool. The key is to not swim more than the required yardage of the race and swim efficiently. Good swim economy means swimming the distance from A to B in the straightest line possible. So in order to have a good pace you need good swim economy and therefore good swim form. I always recommend to my athletes to get with a high school or college swim coach for a few lessons because these folks are great for fixing inefficient swim form and helping you glide through the water with less drag and more forward propulsion.

BIKE- Know the course well and study it often if you have to. I highly recommend you drive the course or even better ride the course on your bike if time permits. Know the sharp turns, the windy flats, and the hills. It’s impossible to know the exact conditions on race day, but give yourself the advantage of knowing what to expect on the terrain. Think about how you will achieve your goal pace with different terrain in the mix.

RUN- Again take some time and really get to know the course. Run some of the course before race day and drive the rest so you know the terrain inside and out. Think about your pace on the flats, on the hills, and rollers. Are there 3 large hills or a lot of smaller rolling hills? Where are the water stops? Is the wind in your favor for some of the distance? Again check out what folks said about the run in previous years to give you some idea of what to expect.

Don’t go out too fast. Ease into a comfortable and sustainable pace and remain there for the duration. We become fatigued when there is a buildup of lactate in our muscles and this usually happens when we are accumulating lactate faster than we can get rid of it. Don’t chase the folks who go out in a sprint. Trust me they will crash and burn hard trying to maintain that speed. Staying at a steady and comfortable pace in the beginning will pay off at the end of the race.

Do time trial efforts in training that mimic your race day pace. For example, I will often have my athletes warm up, ease into race pace and remain there for the rest of the ride or run. Even better is to have them continue at race pace while throwing in a few higher intensity efforts to simulate riding or running on tired legs.

You can use your data from previous longer efforts to determine what pace to shoot for on race day. Data over time is a valuable tool in determining pacing. What was your HR? Power? What was your rate of perceived exertion on those efforts? Where did you struggle and how did you get through it? Getting to know your RPE (in my opinion) is a pretty good indicator of how much you can push the pace on race day.

Have a rock solid nutrition and hydration plan. Know how many ounces you should be drinking each hour based on sweat test data. If you are a salty sweater, be sure to take in sodium tablets each hour on the bike and run. A good fueling plan means no GI issues and therefore the ability to maintain your race pace as planned.

What to do when the going gets tough? Should you try to keep your pace even when you feel like crap? In general if you are having GI issues try to address that first. Get your hydration, fueling and sodium intake under control before you try to amp up the pace again. Good nutrition takes practice. I tell my athletes to practice their nutrition and hydration plan every time they go out for a long effort.

I hope you find these tips helpful.

Need an experienced coach for your next race? Click below for a free 15 minute phone call to talk about your race goals!

Mary Timoney

Ironman University Certified Coach

ACSM Personal Trainer

USA Cycling Coach


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