Triathlete and triathlon coach Brett Blankner says that pacing a triathlon successfully has three critical components: you should know how long the race will take you, understand the difference between aerobic and anaerobic capacity and be smart on the bike.
”People forget that a triathlon isn't three individual sports with a big break in between. Instead, you should look at it as one long aerobic event,” Blankner says.
“If this race will take you at least three hours, are you fit enough to keep moving forward for three whole hours? Have you trained three hours non-stop before? Should you be going this fast at the start when you have three hours left to go? Probably not.”
Going too hard has a very limited time-span and will end your race quickly
For pacing your triathlon right it is also crucial to learn the difference between aerobic and anaerobic energy systems and fuel accordingly.
“Once your heart rate goes above a certain level – the aerobic threshold – you are no longer aerobic and have to start borrowing energy against your anaerobic system. This is where heart rate can help you tremendously.”
“Going too hard has a very limited time-span and will end your race quickly. Your stomach shuts down so you can't digest fuel and your breathing becomes forced as your lungs try to ram air into your bloodstream.”
Blankner suggests using a method by Dr Phil Maffetone, the coach behind legendary triathlete Mark Allen.
“The heart rate limit for this is about 180 minus your age. If you stay under this number, you can breathe and digest fuel just fine and go all day. You can play with getting closer to and even well over this threshold number based on how short the race is and how close you are to the finish line. With some practice, it becomes the best tool available for great pacing.”
When you see somebody running well in a triathlon, you're not seeing a great runner. You're seeing a great cyclist.
The third critical component Blankner talks about is being smart on a bike. The bike portion of the race is so damaging to your running legs, that you need to make sure you train to limit that damage as much as possible.
“You can take a world-class marathoner and turn him into a slow walker in a triathlon if he can't bike well. If you end up walking on the run, your speed just dropped to near-zero.”
“When you see somebody running well in a triathlon, you're not seeing a great runner. You're seeing a great cyclist who can now run because the bike ride didn't hurt.”
Brett Blankner is an American ultra-endurance athlete and a coach, who also produces Zen & the Art of Triathlon podcast.