Pacing is vital in triathlon, especially if you are in a non-drafting event. So we asked Presca ambassador Jamie Price to give us the low down from his recent events.
"If you are just getting introduced to the sport, drafting is when you sit in someone's slipstream e.g. on the rear wheel. Drafting can be dangerous so most triathlons are non-drafting meaning you have to give at least an 8-meter gap between cyclists. I’ll give a brief overview of how to pace both a non-drafting and drafting triathlon.
I race in a UK series called "the British Super Series". Pacing in this series is a tricky concept because it's a drafting race you must be out of the water close to the front pack. Normally the winner of the triathlon will be someone from that front pack of cyclists. So if you find yourself near the front of the swim pack, it's ok to ease up on the speed a bit and recover. But if you are at the back of the swim pack, you have to push on to get to the front. This combination of the back fighting for the front and the front swimmers trying to be efficient is what causes accidental fighting in the water. Famously Alister Brownlie got disqualified from the Leeds triathlon for dunking another swimmer, perhaps he was unlucky to be caught as this is quite common in elite triathlons. The British federation has started to use drones to help spot people being excessively aggressive.
With my last race in Leeds, I came out of the water about 5 seconds behind the front pack, strategically I knew I had to dedicate some energy to closing this gap. Luckily transition was 950 meters from the swim, so I had almost a kilometer to run down the front pack. I made it.
Pacing when in a pack depends on what sort of athlete you are. If you're a good runner, you will want to sit in the pack and conserve energy. But if you're a strong cyclist you're going to want to tire out the runners and split up the field. In my case, I was with a lot of strong cyclists, and I was the weakest. After being dropped by the first pack I dropped back to the chase pack. I didn't listen to my body and made a poor decision to pull a few big terns at the front of the pack. This was bad pacing. After not listening to my body, the other cyclist pulled a few massive turns at the front of the pack and burnt me off the back. I somehow managed to go from the front pack to the 3rd pack. I've made these pacing mistakes so you don't have to! I listen to my body, and much to the annoyance of the other cyclists didn't pull any turns at the front of the 3rd group. This resulted in the last two laps feeling surprisingly easy.
Over 5k no tactics are needed, it's just full gas to the end of the race. After changing my tactics mid-race on the bike I managed to post the fastest run of the day, propelling myself from 18th to 7th. My takeaway from the race is race smart, not hard.
Finally my opinion on how to pace non-drafting triathlons. Even though it's a non-drafting event you can draft in the swim, so try and find someone who looks or is slightly faster than you and swim next to their hip or close to their feet. You will swim a lot faster swimming with someone than without. However, if you are finding the speed too much drop back and make sure you're sitting at a sustainable effort. You should be able to breathe every 3 strokes without feeling out of breath. This means you are swimming aerobically.
On the bike, you can use another cyclist as reference points, for example, keep the gap consistent with the person in front, if they're going too slow then overtake. But the perceived effort is key, you still need to run so sit at a 7 out of 10 effort.
For any triathlon longer than the Olympic distance triathlon, it is worth finding out what your heart rate zones or power zones are, and riding to your specific data. We will be releasing another document to help you find your zones for training and racing.
The run is just about survival, this is where you "empty the tank", if it's longer than an Olympic distance tri, you have to run to your zones. One of the best pieces of advice I got about triathlon is, you can't win a triathlon from the swim, but you can lose it."
presca community co-ordinator & semi-pro triathlete