Pacing & Fueling for a Successful Day at the Races



Here’s a follow-up to Mike’s training adventures…. 

My big race for the year at Vineman 70.3 is in the books and I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what made it a successful race for me.  Most everyone that toes the starting line at a big race has put in countless hours of preparation and training, almost everyone is fit.  So why do some people cross the finish line going strong and feeling the adrenaline rush after hours in the heat while others seem to fade into ‘race-day oblivion’ somewhere along the way and struggle to just keep going?  The answer to this lies in race-day plans for both pacing and fueling. 

Many athletes train hard but feel disappointed with their race performance.  They often talk about being on-pace for a certain time goal but then something happens and they miss it.  The reality is that they were never really on pace for that goal time, they were on pace to blow-up.  Your pace is dictated by dividing up your finishing time, not your time based on effort on the front half of a race. Ignoring the basic science behind pacing and fueling will lead to great starts and lackluster finishes.  

If you’ve read my previous blog postings, you know that I’m an advocate of blood-lactate/Vo2 Max testing at the TRIO Lab early in the training process.  This is essential to establish proper training zones for your chosen effort monitor, be it heart-rate, power, or pace.  These training zones are also immensely important in establishing race pacing, especially in long course racing.  Perceived rate of exertion, as I’ve written before, is a poor measure of effort especially over a long course race or training session.  To make it simple, your effort on the swim & bike portions of a 70.3 race must allow you to run a solid half-marathon off the bike.  This sounds simple, but the temptation to go harder on the bike, especially if it’s your strength is often the demise of athletes.  Establish the exact parameters of effort for the bike based on your training zones before the race and stick to the plan.  For me, in a 70.3 race, this means keeping my Polar heart rate monitor registered between 143-156 BPM on the bike and 159-165 BPM for most of the run.  If I do that I will maximize my fitness, if I don’t I will suffer more than necessary & blow-up.  Those are still hard efforts at or above lactate threshold for most of the race.
The same goes with race day nutrition.  First of all, eat breakfast, a real breakfast with carbs, protein and fat.  Most of us need between 200-400 calories per hour during hard racing.  During long training rides, I gobble up Bonk Breaker Bars because they provide me with some protein and fat, which stimulates the fat-burning metabolic system.  (Yes, eating fat encourages the body to use stored fat as energy.  Don’t argue this one with me or I’ll have Coach Gareth open up a can of sports-science-whup-ass on you.)  However, during races, I prefer Gu Roctane gels with water due to the quicker rate of absorption and mucho caffeine.  Typically on the bike I like to have a bottle of plain water and a bottle of FLUID Performance sports drink.  I bring gels on the run and use the aid stations.  People obsess about their hydration, just drink when you are thirsty and you’ll be fine.  During hot races, or for super-salty sweaters, supplementing w/ some Salt Stick tabs during training/racing is a good idea too. Keep it simple, just get the calories in and keep going.  I also keep some ibuprofen with me in case things start hurting. 
In the end, everyone that is pushing on race day will suffer on the course.  Most everyone will cramp or get pain in some muscle/ligament/joint during the day.  If your pacing and nutrition are dialed in, you can power through the normal aches and pains to find yourself at the finish line feeling proud and ready to drink some beer with loved ones.  If you pace poorly or neglect the calories, you will be in the hurt box.

All products mentioned in this article are available at

For coaching/performance testing look into   

You can follow me and my random thoughts on Twitter @MrTeachTri

comments powered by Disqus