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Perfect Pacing for Musselman

Perfect Pacing for Musselman
By Doug Bush

You have planned and completed the perfectly periodized training plan, finalized the ideal race day nutrition, spent a ton of money on the latest high tech bike and run equipment, and yet when race day comes many athletes don’t put much thought into how to pace themselves during the event.  Many athletes who have had great performances at sprint and international distance races struggle at longer events for the simple reason that they are racing at too hard of a pace. 

For ½ iron race distance it is vital to have a good race day pacing plan that sets a pace both a realistic yet obtainable effort.  Often times athletes get caught up in the excitement of the race or get passed by another athlete and abandon their original plan and ride at a pace that can’t be maintained for the whole race.


We have all heard the old adage “The race can’t be won on the swim, but it can be lost on the swim.”  Based on training pace try to seed yourself in a realistic position for the start.  It is not a good idea to be at the beginning of the pack if you know that you are going to finish in the middle as faster swimmers will swim over your back.  Once the gun sounds don’t panic and sprint, start the first 500 yards at moderate pace.  An athlete that starts out a moderate pace and builds intensity will have a much faster, and more comfortable, swim than someone that starts out fast and fades.

Concentrate on long smooth strokes with a small kick and most importantly find a good person to draft as this can save some effort for the bike and run.  Drafting is a skill that should be practiced with some friends during training as it does take a bit of practice to master.  For the last 200 to 300 yards start to think about what you will need to do in transition and increase the kick effort to help warm up the legs for the bike.


            Just like the swim it is imperative to maintain an even pace or better yet have a slightly increased effort for the second half of the leg.  Perceived exertion, power meters, and heart rate monitors are all excellent tools for helping monitor pace throughout the bike.  A power meter will give accurate, real time feedback of your exertion and is the best method of establishing a realistic attainable pace. Typically speed is not the most effective method for monitoring intensity as factors such as wind and terrain can greatly influence effort and not give a realistic view of exertion throughout the ride.

Segmenting the bike into thirds can help break up the ride into manageable chunks.  Rather than looking at the ride as 56 miles, thinking of three equal segments can help maintain focus.  Try to stay in the aerobars as much as possible and get out of the saddle briefly every 30 minutes to stretch back and leg muscles.

First Third

Resist the temptation to start hammering right out of T1.  Get settled in and start out easy to give the stomach a chance to settle down from the swim and after 10 to 15 minutes begin your nutrition and hydration plan.  Establish a good relaxed breathing pattern and don’t worry about what other riders are doing, most athletes ride this first segment way too hard.

                          Perceived Exertion | Heart Rate Zone | Bike Critical Power
                           (Scale of 1 to 10)
Musselman                      4                      Zone 2             75% of CP30

Middle Third

Often times the middle of the bike is where many athletes lose focus and crucial time.  Increase intensity just a bit as compared to the first third of the bike segment.  It is good to get out of the saddle on short climbs, but don’t try to muscle up every climb, spin and use the bike’s gears.  Continue to maintain the nutritional plan and resist the urge to push the pace.

                         Perceived Exertion | Heart Rate Zone | Bike Critical Power
                          (Scale of 1 to 10)
Musselman                     5                     Zone 3                80% of CP30


Last Third

In general, attempt to maintain the same zones as the second section of the bike.  Maintain intensity through this last section as you will be looking forward to getting off the bike.  At the beginning of this section do an assessment of how you are feeling and adjust your pace a bit.  If you are starting to feeling fatigued back off slightly, but if you are feeling good try to lift your pace a bit.  For the last few miles stand occasionally to stretch muscles and mentally prepare for T2 and the run.


            If pacing during the bike was good the first few miles of the run should feel smooth and relatively easy.  Often times heart rate will be elevated for the first mile or two, it is important to recover from the bike during these opening miles.  Hold back more than you think during the first half of the run as later on you will need this energy later in the race.

One strategy that can help during the run is to focus on running from aid station to aid station and don’t think of running the whole distance.  Focusing on running the next mile is much more manageable than thinking about running 6 or 8 more.  For the majority of the run use the following guidelines for exertion, but during the last few miles you will have to dig deep and tap that little bit of effort you saved earlier in the day.

                                  Perceived Exertion | Heart Rate Zone
                                    (Scale of 1 to 10)
Musselman                             5                     Zone 3

The last few miles of Musselman will be tough no matter how well pace was managed throughout the day.   Practicing patience and constantly monitoring your effort can ensure that your day ends in the best possible manner.

Doug Bushis head coach and owner of Endurancefactor.  He is an exercise physiologist with articles published in Inside Triathlon, Velo News, American Triathlete, and Ultra Runner Magazines. More about Doug may be found at

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