Something beginner athletes are often surprised to learn is that winning a race isn’t just about pushing yourself as hard as you possibly can—there’s actually an incredible amount of depth and strategy that involves knowing when not to push yourself. This is a concept known as “pacing.”
Pacing is incredibly important. Studies have proven that properly implemented pacing strategies during a triathlon will have a substantial impact on the overall performance of an athlete. Not only will you do better in terms of performance, you’ll reduce the likelihood of injury and mid-event burnout. One of the most important times to have a good pacing strategy is during the time when you go from the swimming leg of the triathlon to the cycling leg.
During the cycling leg of a triathlon, you’ve essentially just come out of the water. The swim-to-bike transition after leaving T1 can be challenging, to say the least, on both a physical and mental level. As you shall see, it is not, however, insurmountable by any means.
In today’s post we’ll be discussing some pacing strategies which are intended to help you improve your performance during the cycling leg of your next triathlon. Remember that if you’re looking to get involved in local events, we always have our finger on the pulse—come and visit us at Rocky Mountain Multisport inside Runners Roost Fort Collins.
First, let’s lay a little groundwork:
Pre-Triathlon Prep: Making Sure That Your Bicycle is Ready
The state of your bicycle will have more than a small influence on how well you can transition from swimming to cycling. If it’s time for an upgrade or you’re just not sure what you should be riding, make sure to check out our guide Best Bike Buying Guide 2019: A Buying Guide for All Ages, Budgets, and Skill Levels where you’ll learn what to ride based on your skill level, athletic goals, and budget. Keep in mind that it’s always an option to rent a triathlon bicycle.
Before setting out, there are many smart reasons to get a custom bike fitting service. This process effectively entails making subtle-yet-important modifications to your bicycle so that it conforms to you and not the other way around. A properly fitted bike will increase comfort, reduce pain, and help you learn more about your unique skeletal structure, level of flexibility, and how the bicycle can be adjusted to fit you perfectly. Fittings are inexpensive but offer major benefits, so don’t skip this one.
Finally, you’ll want to make sure that your bicycle is in as close to perfect working order as possible. Sometimes the necessary repairs are obvious—such as a flat tire—but more often than not, cyclists experienced reduced performance due to one or more issues which aren’t immediately noticeable like the ones discussed in our article 5 Performance-Killing Bicycle Repairs Only an Expert Mechanic Can Spot. Having your bicycle audited for needed repairs during your bicycle fitting is an easy and logical combination.
Does “Slow and Steady” Really Win the Race?
In a word, yes. Or at least it can. Cyclists transitioning from swimming to cycling who try to push their bodies too hard are more likely to suffer during the latter portions of the triathlon. Early energy expenditure can give you the impression that your performance is outshining other competitors, but usually not for a few miles.
Take for example this common pacing strategy after immediately mounting your bicycle after getting out of the water: rather than going to a low gear and pumping away to get in front of everyone, start in a low gear first to keep your legs spinning. This helps to prevent cramping and discomfort, plus helps to get your legs warmed up for cycling rather than swimming.
Keep in mind that the ability to modify your pacing based on external situations is in and of itself an important skill to master. Do you have a tailwind or a headwind? In other words, is the environment working for you or against you? Are you on a flat surface or facing off against hills? Being flexible with your pacing strategy has been shown time and again to have a substantial impact on your final numbers.
Is a Triathlon Three Parts or Two Parts?
While a triathlon has three events, it can help to think of it as actually being split into two parts: the first part and the second part. What you do during the beginning of a triathlon will have a direct impact on what you can do during the second half. Going slower now often means going faster later.
Insofar as cycling pacing strategies are concerned, this means that taking a steady approach to your power output during the majority of the cycling event means that you’ll have more energy to put into the most important part of any competition: finishing it.
Speaking of which, are you racing or finishing?
A Seemingly Counterproductive Perspective Shift: Are You Racing or Finishing?
A quick but important note here before we wrap up.
In longer-form athletic events like triathlons, a common mistake is to focus more on the racing part than the finishing part. It sounds incredibly counterproductive, but the reality is that during the majority of a triathlon you aren’t racing. You’re pitting your physical prowess, strategy, and pre-triathlon planning against that of the other competitors—a steady power output is far more likely to see you through to the end. You can’t win the race if you don’t finish it.
Learning More About Colorado Triathlons and Getting the Right Gear
If you’d like to learn more about getting involved in the local tri scene, come and visit us at Rocky Mountain Multisport inside Runners Roost Fort Collins at the Square shopping center. In addition to friendly faces and great advice, we have everything you need to conquer your next triathlon, from specialty running shoes to wetsuits to the best bicycles in the world. We look forward to seeing you!