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Matt's multisport musings...
Matt's multisport musings...

┬"How hard should I be pushing in my races?┬"

edwarmaby edwarmaJul 12th 2010
I was asked this question recently by someone who was about to do their first triathlon. I couldn┬'t give them a simple answer!

I┬'ve personally been experimenting with some ways of managing effort during both training and, particularly, racing. My conclusion is ┬- there is no right answer, it┬'s entirely pragmatic and whatever works for you is the right thing.

Here are two ┬- out of many - possible scenarios for how an athlete might gauge their effort level and pace their event. Hopefully there┬'s some food for thought in there┬....I know there is for me, and I┬'ve been racing for quite a while now!
Athlete one: athlete one has one or more of; a stopwatch, heart rate monitor, GPS and a cycling power-meter. They know their normal speeds, heart rate zones, and power output from training records. This helps them to know what sort of speed they can maintain during the swim, what level of power they can keep putting out on the bike, or what heart rate is sustainable on the run. Put this together with a GPS and they have all the tools they need to help guide their race effort. This athlete will probably refer quite frequently to their power or HR readings, using them to moderate their effort downwards ┬- it normally is downward moderation that is required, rather than upward! This athlete has a good idea, from their training, what power, HR or speed they can maintain and for how long. This gives them a degree of certainty, and may increase their confidence ┬- ┬"if I can do it in training, I can do it here!┬" Athlete one, if they are racing on a course that they know, will also have information about how ┬'well┬' they are doing compared to previous events and perhaps to other competitors. They will be able to measure speed and distance and so calculate approximate finish times. Athlete one has race-day information that reflects their past (eg elapsed time, average speed), present (heart rate, current speed, power-output) and future (pace, distance to go), helping them to make calculations and guide their effort.

Athlete two: athlete two has no watch, no HR monitor, no GPS and no power-meter. They effectively have no measure, at all, of how fast they are going or how hard they are working, apart from their own perception of effort and, perhaps, how they are doing in relation to other athletes. Athlete two experiences only various types of ┬'internal┬' feedback ┬- rate and depth of breathing, fatigue, heart rate, dehydration and so on. Athlete two is unable to really consider overall time goals or finish times, as they have no information to use. Their focus is on maintaining a certain ┬'feeling┬', based on their experience in training or racing on previous occasions. This feeling can be reinforced by the self-discipline of maintaining good ┬'form┬' on the swim, bike and run. Athlete one doesn┬'t have much feedback on what┬'s already happened (eg swim time, bike speed), how ┬'well┬' they are doing now, and what is coming up. Athlete two has almost no race-day information apart from how they feel.
Perhaps one of these appeals to you, or is similar to how you already race or train?
Neither one is right or wrong. The key is in experimenting, working out what is useful to you, and knowing ┬- importantly - that this might change according to the type of race, and also change over time as you learn more about yourself.

Perhaps you have seen everyone else using a watch to time their own race, but you┬'ve tried this and found you just keep looking at it all the time, so it┬'s a distraction? Next race, try not using a watch.

Perhaps you┬'ve had a race where you┬'ve pushed too hard too soon and ┬'blown┬' or really suffered late on. Do you need to consider getting to know your heart-rate numbers better, or making the investment in a power-meter, to help you manage this?

The field is open for all sorts of experiments here. So try something new . The results ┬- whether measured in finish times, enjoyment levels, or something else ┬- can be spectacular!
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