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By: Oscar Rethwill

How To Race At Your Highest Potential

Over this past season Fitegg.com has covered many aspects of how to proberbly train for triathlons and other endurance events. However, training and racing are slightly different tasks therefore in the following we will discuss exactly how to race a triathlon at your highest possible potential!

Have A Race Plan

This is where having a coach comes in handy, if your self-coached you need to take a realistic look at your training times and previous race experiences to establish a pacing strategy. Beyond establishing your pacing, a race plan should include what you are going to do in the days leading up to the race. This includes your pre-race meal, the logistics of getting to the event, how you will warm-up before the event, etc.

The following is a sample race plan for an Olympic Triathlon:


7:00am 30min bike/15min run workout with 4x30sec race pace intervals.

8:00am Double check all bolts on the bike for tightness, ensure chain is cleaned and lubricated.

9:00am Ensure all gear is packed, depart for race venue.

11:30am Arrive at hotel, unpack, relax, nap if needed.

3:00pm Walk to pick up race packet, walk back to hotel (.5 miles each way).

4:00pm Attach race numbers to bike, helmet, and race belt. Lay out/prep all other gear for race.

5:30pm Eat dinner with fellow triathletes (Keep it clean: small piece of steak, baked sweet potato, and broccoli).

7:00pm Quietly meditate/ visualize race day.

9:00pm Bedtime.


Saturday (race day):

5:00am Wake up, shower, foam roll muscles.

5:20am Enjoy breakfast (baked sweet potato with honey).

6:00am Leave for race venue.

6:30am Set-up transition, pump bike tires,

6:45am 5min bike warm-up, practice transition to a 5min run warm-up.

7:00am Practice running into transition from both the water and the bike entrance.  

7:10am Put on wetsuit then make way down to swim start, take in 1 gel.

7:20am 5min swim warm-up (work on sighting the buoys)

7:30am RACE START!

Swim: Start in the lead pack and stay calm in the starting chaos. Once things even out begin to search for someone to draft off of. Don’t forget to stay on track and sight often. Towards the end of the swim begin to kick slightly harder to get some blood back in the legs.

T1: Exit water slowly than start to jog in transition. Toss wetsuit then immediately don sunglasses, helmet, and bike shoes. Take off!

Bike: Start off slow (let people pass you!) then slowly start to build into planned heartrate/power. Keep things steady without going above zone 5 on the hills. Continuously drink sports drink and water. Lighten up on the pedals for last 2 miles.

T2. Flying dismount into T2, rack bike, toss helmet, don running shoes, grab race belt while moving.

Run: Start off slow for the first mile to allow your legs to adapt to running. Build into planned pace, push the pace for the last 5k. Take in half a gel at first and fourth mile. Finish strong!


Learn to Race in Training

I can’t express the importance enough of having race like workouts. As your race gets closer your training needs to mimic what you will be doing on race day. Practice pacing, fueling, staying aero, and listening to your body in training to become familiar with these experiences.

Note on cramping: Although the science of what causes cramps is still under debated, I rarely see athletes that train how the race have cramps on race day. It’s usually individuals who have haphazard training then show up on race day and push their bodies beyond what they are accustomed to that get cramps.

Pace Yourself

Just as you should have established in your run plan, a pacing strategy is the difference between racing your best triathlon and simply finishing. Everyone has different paces which they have developed in training however, as stated above training and racing are different things. For example just because you can run a 10k in 42 minutes in training doesn’t mean you can when coming off a 40k bike in an Olympic distance triathlon. Be realistic with yourself on race day and don’t suddenly think you are going to have some hidden speed in your legs. When it doubt with your pacing during your race, hold back slightly on the bike and the first half of the run, then start to pick it up.

Don’t burn all your matches

This ties in pacing slightly however, most triathlons aren’t on a perfectly flat course with no wind so pacing isn’t always going to be perfect. There are indeed times in which you will have to go out of your planned pacing zone to get up a hill, pass another rider, or deal with a head wind. In situations like this the key is not to get off pace too many times, or in other words burn all your matches. I tell the athletes I coach to keep a mental matchbook, meaning every time they accelerate out of their planned pace to note they have burned a match, if they burn too many they will literally having nothing left to get them to the finish.

About Brad Haag

Brad is a certified USAT triathlon coach, a certified USAC cycling coach, and a certified NCSF personal trainer. Brad specializes in coaching endurance and warrior class athletes to peak performance. He can be found at HaagsAthletics.com.

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