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Proper Pacing for Effective Racing

Proper pacing is essential for effective racing. In order to race to your potential, you must optimally pace yourself throughout your race. Triathlons are endurance events...even the shortest try-a-tri is an endurance event...and all endurance events require you to establish a proper pace. Most age group triathletes are in better shape and are capable of faster times than what their results would otherwise indicate. Think about that for a moment. Most triathletes could have better results in their very next race without actually having to get any fitter, stronger, or faster! Wouldn't you like to do that in your next race?

Our bodies are capable of producing energy in three different ways. By having an understanding of the different forms of energy production, you will be better able to understand the importance of proper pacing. Essentially, we are capable of producing energy for:

  • the immediate term (lasting up to ten seconds). Energy production for the immediate term is instantaneous. It is fast acting and in short supply. It is used for a burst of speed, a change in pace, a quick sprint, etc.

  • the short term (lasting for up to two minutes). Most triathletes will over-rely on the production of energy for the short term during their triathlon. Energy production for the short term involves breaking down sugars into the ever-dreaded lactic acid. Lactic acid is responsible for the burning one feels in the legs and arms when a good hard effort is put forth (like when climbing a hill, passing another cyclist or runner, or coming into the last part of the swim). If we produce too much lactic acid (that is, more lactic acid than our bodies can deal with) then we are forced to slow our pace down considerably. We are no longer racing effectively at this point, we are simply "holding on" for the finish line.

  • and the long term (lasting longer than two minutes, for up to several hours). Energy production for the long term is supplied by the aerobic energy production system. Our bodies utilize oxygen to help break down both sugars and fats to produce energy, without resulting in an over accumulation of lactic acid. Our supply of energy from this form is almost endless, capable of producing energy for days. It is this system that most endurance athletes should emphasize both in training and in racing.

How does all this apply to you and your pacing? Good question. Look at any duathlon race result as a great example of pacing. Choose almost any individual who did the race, and compare the pace of their first run to the pace of their last run. There is often a HUGE difference between the two paces. What the athlete has done is start the race relying on the first two forms of energy production. An over-accumulation of lactic acid results. The athlete is forced to slow down considerably, and use the aerobic system of energy production. The same can be said of a lot of triathletes who swim and bike too hard, and are forced to slow down on the run.

If this example characterizes your racing efforts, you MUST reverse the order in which you pace yourself during your next race. That is, rely initially and primarily on the aerobic system of energy production and progress to the other two forms of energy production as you near the end of your race. Go slower at first (in the swim and early stages of the bike). Much slower than you know you are capable of. Do not get caught up in the crowd and excitement of the start line! Pick the pace and effort up somewhat during the bike, all the while saving yourself for a maximal effort over the run. During the run, race it as hard and even paced as you can. If you do this, you will race well, finish strong, and perhaps set a new personal best time.

Here is your new motto when racing, "slow, medium, fast". That simple. Slow in the swim, medium on the bike, and fast on the run. With this mentality, you will properly pace yourself during the event.

For an example of proper pacing, look at the very best duathletes at these same duathlons. You will often find that they even- or negative-split the two runs. (A negative split is when you run the second part of your race faster than the first part. A 10km run where you run the first 5km in 20 minutes and the second 5km in 19 minutes is a negative split run.)

So remember to say to yourself during your next race, "slow, medium, fast!"

In summary:

Fast, medium, slow, your race result is low,
Slow, medium, fast, your race result kicks a#*!


- Adam Johnston

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