Iron Distance Race Pacing - Guest Post by Patrick Wheeler

Patrick Wheeler is a professional triathlete and coach based out of Massachusetts.

Triathlon hasn't always come easy to Patrick, at his first 70.3 distance race in 2002, he struggled his way to a 5:38 finish. Since then he raced 50+ triathlons and has had some impressive finishes to include 8th pro at both IRONMAN Lake Placid and CDA. His results continue to get better year after year. 

Patrick has been coaching for QT2 Systems for much of this triathlon career and has experienced great success with his athletes. Check out what he has to say about race pacing for an iron distance race! 

Race pacing is a very big topic. People come up with crazy charts and graphs on the best way to pace an IRONMAN. In reality your best IM performance is going to be when you pace it exactly like you did on the few thousand miles you rode and ran in the 6-8 months leading up to it. Start out slow and build through the day!

Power paced triathletes love to look at FTP and 20 minute power as if that's somehow a predictor of IM performance. When athletes don't have enough time in their already busy schedules to train at the volume required to complete IM's to their speed potential we turn to intensity to elicit added training stress. What must be taken into account on race day, is that while an athlete doing a lot of high end work may have a killer FTP or 20 min power, what matters during IM is that athletes 300-360 minute power, and to just blindly say, "I'm going to ride at .78 of FTP",  because that's what the books say is not the smartest way to go about something you've given up a lot of time and money for.

 So, what is the best way to drill down a pacing plan for an IM?

I’d say that's pretty easy for 99.9% of athletes. You take into account

1) The athlete’s mental ability to pace a race
2) Training volume/durability
3) Heat stress
4) Nutrition/hydration

 1)The athletes ability to mentally pace a race and stay out of their own head when everyone else around them is crushing it. Does the athlete tend to over pace? Do they tend to under pace? Do they not "flatten out" the course very well with their power meter. 

 2) At the end of the day:  Durability trumps every single ounce of speed work you do. Until you can run to your potential off the bike, that should be your focus. Putting in the correct type of training stress at the right time. If your average heart rate is lower in the final 10k of the marathon than it is during the final 15 miles of the bike, you have a problem, and speed work is NOT it! For most athletes, the final long ride of their IM build is usually pretty close to what they should be averaging on race day. They will be rested, so it will feel to easy for the first 60-80 miles, just sit tight. You'll thank me later!

 3) Heat stress is a biggie! And this HAS to be managed through fueling AND pacing! Athletes need to manage the added stress by looking at the heart rate numbers vs. straight power numbers. Power is a great tool but it does not tell you the stress that is placed on the body. People love to say "200 watts is 200watts". I agree, it is, but 200 watts at 30 degrees places different body stress than 200 watts at 85 degrees and humid. Outside factors must be accounted and adjusted for.

 4) There are four reasons why an athlete had nutritional issues and two of them should be taken care of 6 months before race day and are simply unacceptable.

    1) No plan

    2) Poor plan - not specific to athlete needs

    3) Heat stress

    4) Intensity stress.

 An athlete should have a specific plan to their needs and it should be practiced every single day no matter what for months!

 The last two we already talked about above, but are very important. Heat stress can cause nutritional issues, so can intensity stress. Both issues cause the same answer, premature slowing down of the athlete. Both can be handled and corrected by a smart athlete with the correct tools in their toolbox.

 At the end of the day I look at three numbers when an athlete has finished their race before we dig really deep into power files.

1) Average bike HR

2) Average run HR

3) Average run HR final 10k.

 If the HR number gets bigger as we get deeper into the race I know we nailed it! Any issues along the way cause one thing - lowering of the HR. Lowering of the HR means one thing...


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