Pacing the run leg is an issue that plagues even the most experienced triathletes.
When Ed Crossman of Decatur, Georgia, started the run leg of his first duathlon, he quickly got caught up in the excitement and passing other racers. “I didn’t think about how long the race was,” he recalls, “I just know that I felt good.” With that in mind, his first mile was his fastest. Ever. The last mile was…a lot slower.
Newbies may be surprised to learn that pacing the run leg is an issue that plagues even the most experienced triathletes. Why? Because pacing can be emotional. Let’s say you’ve practiced bricks at a 10-minute mile, but when you get to T2, it’s 100 degrees, or you’re sick, or it’s just not your day. But you still decide to stick to that 10-minute pace, because changing expectations mid-race is emotionally tough.
Another reason why pacing the run leg is challenging: It requires discipline to stay on a certain pace. When you feel great and pumped up coming out of T2, it’s tough to reel it back in and run evenly and conservatively—a strategy that’s often your best bet for a PR in triathlon. A few things I’ve heard athletes say:
“My legs were just going so fast off the bike I couldn’t help it.”
“Everyone was cheering, so I bombed up that first hill.”
“I had to go for it if I had any chance of making my goal.”
Clearly, when race-day emotions come into play, a pacing strategy can go haywire. Here are three tips you can use on the big day to help keep yourself on track:
The simplest thing to do is to monitor your rate of perceived exertion, or RPE, measured on a subjective scale of 1 to 10. Try setting out at a 5 out o f10. It’s a pace at which you can still run comfortably, and one that you should be able to maintain throughout the run so you’ll never wind up walking—and missing your goal.
Whatever metrics you’re using to pace, you’ll likely need to do something counterintuitive: Chill out in the first mile. In transition, your heart rate may be the highest you’ll see all day, so the goal during the first half mile is to get your heart rate under control. In other words, don’t go too hard out of transition. If your pace feels a little too easy, you’re probably doing it just right.
Practice discipline in training by treating as many variables like race day as possible, from nutrition and hydration to bike pacing. Then, closely track your pace, RPE, and any other factors you like to monitor, like heart rate, when you do a brick on similar terrain. Don’t forget to do a quick transition to simulate race day, too. By race day, you should have a good idea of what it feels like to maintain a certain pace for over 3 miles off the bike.
Bethany Rutledge is a USAT-certified coach, two-time Kona qualifier, co-owner of the Atlanta Tri Club, and author of the forthcoming book, The Courage to Tri.