Triathlon tactics; how to get the best out of your race

Tips and tactics for triathletes

This week I’ve put together a few tips for my best race day tactics, I hope you find it useful and can apply it to your racing.

Will Clarke

Written by Will Clarke

Will is a British triathlete. He's a former U23 World and European Champion, competed at Beijing 2008 and has twice been British national champion.  He now competes on the World Ironman 70:3 circuit.

Course reconnaissance

Your triathlon is normally always going to be a long race, with races lasting anywhere from a one hour ‘sprint’ all the way up to Ironman events where you could be out there for over 15 hours! This means there are endless things that can go wrong for you but if you’re smart, there are plenty of ways to save time and energy and contribute towards your perfect race.

A full course recon is a great place to start. I’d always advise driving or even better riding the course so you know what’s in store for you. By doing this it will become obvious which parts of the course you’ll have to tough it out on. For instance you’ll see if you will hit a long climb, which parts of the course you can have an easier time on and any dangerous sections or parts that will make you rethink your tactics or equipment choices. 

Triathlon cycling woman

Pacing and strategy  

Pacing will always be an important factor in any race. Once you know the course you’ll have more of an idea of how to strategically pace yourself to go the distance and keep it strong. You should already have an idea from your training and past experience what is too hard for you and what is too easy just from feel. But you can also enlist the help of training tools like power meters and heart rate monitors which can also help massively.

I think it’s always best to aim for an even split race or even negative split if you can manage it, which means the back half of the race is as strong as the first half, especially as you attempt longer distances. That being said you need to actually be in the race so the higher level you wish to perform at, the more occasions you will have to be willing to dip into the red and go with the pace of others. It’s called racing, essentially!

You have to know yourself and know your body, that’s why experience counts for so much in the sport. You have to know how many matches you can burn before you can’t go any more but as a general rule, if you are in oxygen debt too often, you’re going too hard and you will pay for it. Keep to your plan, eat and drink when you need to and use the course to make up time or recover as you need. For instance there is no point in going so hard up a hard climb that it means that on the other side you’re so dead, you can’t push just as hard in the aerodynamic position. It will mean that everyone you just spent so much energy dropping will be right back with you! 

Beating your opponent 

It’s great to be able to beat your opponent by simply being stronger physically or even better by making a plan to beat them that works to your strengths (not theirs) and executing that plan perfectly. But it’s even more fun if you beat your rival and race beyond your level just by getting in their head.  If you’re the weaker of the two of you, a good proper attack will always place doubt in their heads. No matter how you look or how often it happens to you if someone comes past you going 4/5kph faster, then you’ll always make them doubt themselves! Pick your moments when the pace slows down a bit and you're feeling recovered, give yourself some space to gather momentum and sprint past them going as hard as you can, so you pass them at speed and put a gap between you quickly.  

That initial gap is important so make sure they can’t get into your draft, but keep the pace high for the next minute or so, so they think it’s not just a short meaningless attack. If you do it, you have to commit to it. It also works brilliantly about 400m out from the finish line as it’s so close but still so far and if you’re got at that stage in the race, then everyone is as tired as each other! I often count back 400m from the finish line in my recon so when I hit that point in a race I know it’s just another lap of the track. That is something I do every week so it’s easier on the head to get on your toes and give it everything. 

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