I get a lot of questions about triathlon pacing on the bike. It seems a lot of people struggle with proper pacing during a race. I won’t pretend to have all the answers but I will tell you how it works for me.


As an industrial engineer I learned a lot about manufacturing and how to manufacture thing efficiently and effectively. One of the keys to improved manufacturing is what we call level loading. Level loading basically means you want a constant stream of products coming onto the manufacturing line, flowing through the manufacturing line, and eventually coming off the manufacturing line. Now for proper level loading to work you need to start with the end result, which in manufacturing is your demand. Once you know your demand, you can calculate how many pieces you need to manufacture each day, hour, and minute. Once you have this figured out, you can start to level load the manufacturing. If I know that I sell 300 widgets a month (and I’ll use round numbers here) that means I need to make 10 widgets every day. Let’s say I have a manufacturing line that runs for 2 hours every day making widgets and the rest of the day is spent making sprockets or something else. If I have 10 widgets to make in 2 hours then I need to make 5 widgets in one hour, one widget every 12 minutes. This means that I must start a new widget every 12 minutes for the 2 hour manufacturing run of the widgets. If there are 6 steps to making a widget, then each of those six steps must be done within the 12 minutes. If it takes more or less than 12 minutes to complete a step you need to change the process of the steps. While it may take less than 12 minutes to complete a step, it cannot ever take more than 12 minutes or you will be behind at the end of the line. So level loading means you will have a new widget coming on the line every 12 minutes, and completed widget coming off the line every 12 minutes. Great so what does this have to do with my pacing on the bike?


When racing in a triathlon on the bike, even pacing is always the best strategy. I use an SRM powermeter to provide me the best data about my pacing when I ride. The SRM uses strain gauges in the crankset of the bike to measure torque and thus calculate power in terms of wattage. Just like manufacturing, the best way to get from A to B is to maintain a level load. This means keeping your wattage constant. While spikes in wattage are sometimes necessary in order to get up a big hill or ride into a strong wind, you have to keep the total number of spikes low and the wattage as constant as possible. To figure out your target wattage you have to start from the end, just like in manufacturing. The best way to figure out your threshold wattage and thus racing zones is to first get a proper bike threshold test from your coach, then second go out and ride a 40km Time Trial as steady as you can. If you don’t have a powermeter, you should buy one. It is the best pacing tool available on the bike. Let’s say you don’t have one and for some reason don’t want to buy one, then your next best option is using heart rate as a guide. Your coach can again get you a threshold test using your heart rate. The biggest problem with using your heart rate to pace is that your heart rate lags behing your effort. So your heart rate often rises too high after you already did too much work. So, back to the pacing. If you know your threshold power on the bike is 280 watts that means you should be able to hold 280 watts for about an hour, now you must also have a functional threshold test which is the 40km time trial to confirm that you actually can hold 280 watts for an hour otherwise you the numbers do you no good. If you can hold 280 watts for an hour then you want to try and race an Olympic Distance cycling leg at about 5-10% lower than 280 or 250-265 watts, maybe more if your training is going really well! The key to the pacing is not letting your spikes get out of control. You need to keep your power under 10% over your threshold of 320 watts. So if you are climbing a big hill, try to keep the power as constant and steady as possible. Try not to ride up the hill at higher than 320 watts and try not to ride down the hill at less than 230 watts. While it makes sense to put more effort into the climb, burning all your energy climbing so you have to coast the downhill doesn’t make much sense. That would be like having one manufacturing station that took 16 minutes to complete and another station right next to it that only took 2 minutes to complete (assuming the demand is 12 minutes per station as above). You would be overextending on the front end only to under perform on the very next station. If you average 400 watts on the climb and then coast the downhill you not only tire out your legs and inhibit your ability ride at your threshold, but you also jeopardize the remainder of your race.           Just like in manufacturing you need to know what your average time per station needs to be, and then you also need to know what your maximum and minimum time per station actually is. You have to ride the hill more conservatively and the downhill more aggressively. Keep the wattage constant and within your acceptable range in order the manufacture a bike split that is maximized for your ability level.

Work Hard,