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Cycling: Long Cource Pacing on the Bike

When going into the longer bike portions of half and full Ironman's it is imperative to do 3 things. Have:

  • A good race nutrition, which I discuss in my article titled Long Course Nutrition
  • A pacing strategy that you have practiced
  • An effective way to implement your pacing

Today I will discuss both how to pace and how to implement your pacing plan. Likely you have had a major taper leading into this race and workouts leading up to it were probably pretty hard due to a build of fatigue. As a result of the taper you will probably feel extremely strong on the bike in the early portion of the event. If you are using a power meter, you would see that wattages that used to be very labored are now fairly easy. This early portion of the bike is not the time to drill the pace, rather it is important to stay at the PE (perceived exertion) or HR (heart rate) that you originally planned for yourself. Many athletes destroy what would be a great race with a early on that they feel better than they thought and so now its time to up the pace. WRONG! Stay at your pace and enjoy the steady, easy speed you are getting. In this early part of the race you are only drinking water to let your stomach settle from floating around. For the same reason, you want to stay calm and allow the blood to get redistributed in your arms and legs. If you immediately ride hard you are prematurely moving blood and spiking your heart rate. So for about 20 min (in a half Ironman) or 30 minutes (in a full Ironman) just stay steady, calm and hydrate. After that time you must asses your legs, hydration, weather and goals. At this point dial in your HR, watts, or PE. But you must have some way of effectively measuring your workload, other wise it is just to easy for the day to get away from you. I find that ego overrides PE on race day and makes it highly ineffective. I prefer watts if you can get a light wheel but most likely heart rate will be your method. Again, what feels easy now, will likely not feel easy in 2 or 4 hrs so stay patient and focus on your nutrition plan.

As the race progresses you will start to see that for the same speed you heart is slightly elevated, this is cardiac drift and is still your body giving you a chance to adjust the pace. At this point your faced with either slowing down a bit to stay in range or cut loose and make new goals- don't do the latter- stick with the plan! Later, your body might not be so nice in its request to slow down! If during the ride you feel great - then eat. It is hard to eat during endurance events and rather than speed up while you feel good, I always say - eat! As you approach the last 20 - 30 min of the ride it is important to do 2 things, one is to spin the legs out a bit and relax the muscles to prep you for the high cadence of running, secondly is to go back to water and a few electrolytes to prep your stomach for the run. You should have been eating all day and at this point you don't want to be digesting food. You wouldn't eat at home and then immediately go out the door and run, so be mindful on race day.

All of these things should be practiced leading up the race so that they are second nature. Just remember to set a goal, make a plan to get that goal, set a pacing strategy to meet the goal and then practice it regularly. This will lead to success. Making adjustments to these things on race day is very dangerous!