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When to Push Hard on Race Day

By USA Triathlon Certified Coach: Tim Crowley | April 18, 2022, 11:07 a.m. (ET)

Race Ready Tips presented by Body Glide

Athlete running in a race

Knowing when to and how to push yourself on the race course can be the difference between a peak performance and a DNF. This article will help you prepare for your best effort on race day by exploring strategies you can employ in training and on race day.

These strategies will vary based on your experience and race distance. You will also gain valuable knowledge that will boost your confidence heading into the big day.

Triathlon is more than stringing together a swim, bike and run. Each leg of the race builds upon itself. For example, a poor run may be the result of lack of swim or bike fitness that does not allow you to run well due to fatigue. Before you can push yourself in competition, it’s important to know you can cover the race distance. Pushing yourself in key workouts will allow you to find your limits so you will know how hard you can go when it counts.

Training Strategies

Swim: Include some fast accelerations in your workouts to simulate race starts, accelerating around buoys, or to get into the draft of another swimmer. The ability to lift speed for a brief time and then settle back into race pace will allow for an efficient swim and build confidence in the water.

Sample swim sets

  • 10-20x 25 fast with 30 sec. rest
  • 4x200 alternating 25 cruise/ 25 fast. Rest 30 sec.
  • 6-10x 150 as (50 easy/ 50 moderate/ 50 fast)

Bike: Developing the knowledge and ability to hold a fast-sustainable pace along with the strength to ride uphill without blowing up will help guide you to your best bike split. Long race paced efforts with shorts rest intervals will allow you to build the fitness to ride strong and relaxed.

Sample bike sets

  • 4-6x 10 min at or slightly above race effort with 5 min. recoveries
  • 2-3x 20 min race efforts with 10 min recoveries

Developing the skills and power to ride hills hard and efficient will allow for a fast run off the bike. Find your upper limit for climbing both in and out of the saddle by monitoring heart rate, power and/ or effort when riding hills to find your limit. If you do not have access to hills, these workouts can be done on a stationary trainer.

Sample hill sets

  • 4-6x 1 min. hill reps alternating easy/ moderate and hard efforts with 3 min. recovery.
  • Include hills during long intervals sessions to practice race efforts with undulating terrain.

Run: Learning how to run well in the face of fatigue will allow you to finish strong. Strength endurance and running economy will allow to maximize your energy. Nobody wants to get passed in the final stretch of the race. Here are some tips you can include in your run training to develop a fast finish.

Sample run sets

  • 3-5x 100m strides with a walk back recovery at end of an endurance run.
  • When doing interval training, finish the last 2 efforts with a fast last 200m to simulate the final push to the finish.
  • Progressive runs that start at a moderate pace and gradually build. These can range from 15-60 min. in length depending on the race distance.

Race Strategies

When race day arrives, it’s time to put all your training to the test. When you are pushing to the edge of your abilities in a race you are truly living. Here are a few tips to get the most out of your race.

Swim: Be prepared to start fast to get out into clear water. Accelerate out of each turn for 10-20 strokes to get back up to speed. Break the swim into thirds, with the first third holding back 5%, and the last pushing 5% harder. This will result in a fast-even swim split.

Transition 1 from swim to bike (T1): Smooth, efficient and methodical is the best way to move through the first transition. Relax and get ready for the bike.

Bike: Don’t start out too fast. This is not the time to push. Rather, allow your bike legs come to you. It may take a few minutes to allow the blood to move from the upper body to the legs. Once your legs feel good, your goal is to establish a hard, even pace. The times to push the bike pace are when you need to get away from a pack of cyclists, or to push up and over a hill. The last few minutes you should back off slightly and spin your legs to prepare them for the run.

Transition 2 from bike to run (T2): Use the run to the bike rack to loosen up the get and get your breathing under control.

Run: Start the run with a goal of getting your run stride and breathing controlled in the first mile. Once established, you can begin to gradually increase effort slightly to the halfway point on the run. From here on you will try to increase your effort 2-3% each mile while focusing on posture, breathing and foot stroke. With a half mile remaining, attempt to increase speed every 200 meters all the way to the line so that you finish strong while emptying the tank.

No two races are ever the same, but practicing the training strategies outlined above, and then executing a solid game plan will allow you to perform at your best on race day. Along the way you will learn and make some mistakes, but these will only make you a stronger more resilient athlete. Good luck in your upcoming race, and don’t be afraid to race on the edge.

About the Coach

Tim Crowley is a USA Triathlon Certified Level III Coach and owner of TC2 Coaching LLC. Tim the author of The Powerful Triathlete, Strategies to Reduce Injuries and Enhance Performance. He is an Olympic Triathlon Coach and his athletes have won World and National Championships. Tim has been awarded USAT’s Elite Coach on the Year and Development Coach of the Year. He is also the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Montverde Academy (www.timcrowley.biz).

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