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  • Writer's pictureRon Saetermoe

Race Pacing

If you’ve been watching the T100 races this season you’ll occasionally see the percent of maximum heartrate for the athletes. It’s interesting data but I’m throwing the B.S. flag.

While they are no doubt among the best triathletes on the planet I’m doubtful that even they can maintain 90% of their maximum heartrate for three-plus hours. If you’re attempting it, I’m pretty sure you’re going to fail.

There are plenty of ways to pace yourself in your next triathlon including power on the bike and pace on the run but I think the best way is heartrate. Not everyone will agree, but I’ve raced over 200 triathlons of all distances and heartrate works best for me.

As we all know, there are many variables that can impact our heartrate such as sleep, diet, stress and climate. So, it just makes sense that the power you push on the bike race day could be impacted by one or more of these variables reducing the power you can exert in your race.

If all systems are “go” you might be able to hit your optimal power, but if any of the variables are off, you probably won’t.

Here’s an example of mine: TriDot has me test my FTP (functional threshold power) every 4 – 6 weeks (it’s a lot, I know) which gives me a good gauge of whether my fitness is going up or down. And while this is great, it isn’t the same as my maximal heartrate.

In my opinion, the best way to test your maximum heartrate is to do a “ramp test.” A ramp test has you start out at a moderate pace (swim, bike or run) and quickly ramps the effort up until you blow up. It’s brutal, but it works. The trick is not to ramp up too quickly (or you won’t get to your max) or too slowly (or you won’t get your max). There is definitely a science to it, but I believe it works.

Swim max: 180

Bike max: 190

Run max: 200

Yes, I’ve rounded these, but for all intents and purposes, these are mine. Since I'm currently 68 (racing as a 69 year old) these numbers are high, but they are accurate.

So, let’s say I wanted to pace my 70.3 bike in an upcoming race. If I tried to maintain 90% for the entire bike I’d be at 171 average heartrate. I can tell you right now, that would NEVER happen. I might be able to handle 171 for a sprint but not a 70.3.

In round numbers, here’s what I think I can hold (based on actual race data):

Sprint: 170 (roughly 90%)

Olympic: 160 (roughly 85%)

70.3: 150 (roughly 80%)

Ironman: 140 (roughly 75%)

Again, if I were trying to hold a certain power number during my 70.3 and I had a bad night’s sleep and was stressed out (which is pretty much every race, right), I would probably have to reduce my watts (not my heartrate) to accommodate that. On a good day, I might be able to hold 200 watts (which is 150 HR or 80% of my max) but because of my internal conditions, I probably won’t be able to do that. If I did, my heartrate may jump to 160 which I know I can’t hold for 2.75 to 3.00 hours.

How about you? How do you govern your pace during your racing?

See you at the races!


Coach Ron Saetermoe


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