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A Triathlon Pace Calculator to Nail Your Perfect Race

by Taren Gesell

Blog ▸ A Triathlon Pace Calculator to Nail Your Perfect Race

A pace calculator to help you determine your best triathlon pace. This tool will help you achieve your perfect race

We’ve created the triathlon pace calculators below to help you nail down your ideal triathlon race pace. Let’s face it, you can train the house down, but if you show up on race day and pace yourself too slow, you’ll underperform, go too fast, and you’ll blow up. The calculators and triathlon pacing strategy outlined below will get you to race day ready to show off your hard work.

This article will help you with all the distances in triathlon. It will even help with your performance in other endurance events, from a half marathon to other distances in running, cycling, and duathlon events.

STEP 1: Use the Triathlon Pace Calculators to get your target pace ranges

Use the free triathlon calculator below to get the running pace, and cycling power ranges you’ll use in training. 

To get your running race pace targets: enter a race time you’ve done in the last four months. If you don’t have a recent race time, you can perform a 3-kilometer max effort run test during any rest week and enter that time.

To get your cycling power targets: enter your FTP (functional threshold power) in the triathlon calculator. If you don’t know your FTP number check out this article which will help you figure it out.

Triathlon Calculator Caveat:

This calculator will create guidelines for any multisport race distance you want. However, to get the best performance and be in the best form possible, the remaining steps will nail down your ideal finish time.

STEP 2: Incorporate “Race Pace” efforts into your Triathlon Training Plan

Many coaches will stop at Step 1, using a percentage of a max effort test to determine race paces. Unfortunately, this leads to underperformances because race day conditions differ significantly from those tests. We can use those tests from Step 1 as a starting point to nail down your exact best possible race paces.

Bike smart, not hard.

Once you’ve got your race pace targets calculated from Step 1, it’s time to start dialing in what race pace feels like for you. During the final three months before your race, you should have one race-specific workout in your weekly training plan. Don’t have a training plan? Check out ours here.

During these race-specific workouts, you should perform longer and longer bike intervals at and slightly above the race pace. After this long race-specific bike, you should perform a brick run at and above the race pace.

Example race-specific brick workout for a half-Ironman 70.3 training plan:

  • 30mins easy ride warm up
  • 4x20mins at 5% above target race power with 10mins easy spin between
  • 10mins easy cooldown spin
  • 30mins brick run with the first 15mins slightly above target running race pace

STEP 3: Dial in Your Ideal Triathlon Race Pace

Here’s where you’ll pinpoint your best possible triathlon race pace. As you’re performing your workouts in Step 2, week by week, you’ll want to reflect on how your speeds feel and adjust accordingly.

Triathlon Brick Run

Did your brick run after the bike feel hard? Maybe you need to lower your target bike power next week. Did your run feel easy? Next week try pushing a little harder on the bike or increasing the run pace a little. Did your run start feeling good but end in a suffer fest? Maybe you need to back off your target run pace a little.

Use the pace guidelines from our calculator as a starting point, but let your perceived effort tell you what the right effort that you’ll be able to hold on race day is. Once this sensation is nailed down, review the power, pace, and heart rates you were holding during your race effort intervals.

Now you’ve got the feeling of your race effort nailed down and the pace, power, and heart rate metrics that relate to your ideal race pace.

STEP 4: Execute Your Triathlon

On race day, it’s time to show off all your hard work and dedication. But it’s not as simple as following the pace and power targets you’ve established in your training. Many variables will require you to adjust your race targets.

If you’ve nailed your triathlon training plan, taper your pace, and power targets might feel too easy on race day. You may be able to increase your race pace targets.

On the other hand, this study found that ideal race conditions occurred when temperatures were between 7.5-15 degrees Celsius (45.5-59 degrees Fahrenheit). For every degree Celsius away from these perfect temperatures, performances would suffer an average of 0.3%–0.4%. So if you trained in cooler temperatures and race day is hot, you may have to lower your race pace targets.

Here’s how to execute your best possible race given the unpredictable nature of race day:

Swim by Rate of Perceived Exertion

Treat the swim as a warm-up for the race. You won’t win the race in the swim, but if you work too hard and burn yourself out, you could lose the race in the swim. Age group triathletes also tend not to be efficient swimmers, so working harder in open water doesn’t result in much faster swimming. It’s best to hold back in the swim.

  • Sprint: 7-8/10 rate of perceived exertion
  • Olympic: 7-8/10 rate of perceived exertion
  • Half-Ironman 70.3: 6-7/10 rate of perceived exertion
  • Ironman: 5-6/10 rate of perceived exertion

When in doubt, hold back in the swim. Way back!

Bike by Power, Then RPE, The HR

When you first start the bike portion of the triathlon, gradually build up to your target race power. While building power, pay close attention to how your target power feels.

While you’re feeling out target power, check in with heart rate and see how it relates to the target heart rate you determined in Step 3. If your target power feels easy and your heart rate is low, then you can push the power up a little. If your target power feels hard and your heart rate is high, then back off the power a little bit.

Use rate of perceived exertion, heart rate, and power to feel out what power you’re going to be able to execute on race day. Make sure you’re pacing yourself to get off the bike the way you felt during your good training days.

Run by Pace, Then RPE, Then HR

Execute the run leg of the tri the same way you performed the bike leg. Start the run slowly, building up to your target race pace; while you’re doing this, make sure to check in on how it feels.

If you’re running at your target pace and it feels hard, and your heart rate is high, you need to back off to avoid blowing up. If the pace feels very heavy and your heart rate is low, you can try to push the pace just slightly.

STEP 5 BONUS: The Quarters Pacing Strategy

The key to a successful triathlon isn’t who goes the fastest; it’s who slows down the least. Contrary to popular belief, the best races aren’t achieved with a negative split where the first half of the race is performed faster than the second half. This study found that a level pacing strategy achieved the best race performances.

The Quarters Pacing Strategy ensures that you’ll race conservatively, saving your best stuff for the end of the race so you can dig deep and keep up your target pace. Here’s how you do it:

Break the race into quarters, placing more importance on performing well in the final two quarters:

  1. First quarter: swim much easier than you are capable of to save energy
  2. Second quarter: treat the first half of the bike as just building up to a solid intensity
  3. Third quarter: treat the second half of the bike and the first half of the run as holding good intensity
  4. Fourth quarter: if you’ve held back at the start of the race, you should have the energy to fight and dig deep to maintain your pace in this final quarter of the race

You can also break the bike and run into quarters:

  1. First quarter: build up gradually to target pace and power
  2. Second quarter: bike and run at target pace and power feeling how the effort feels
  3. Third quarter: execute at or slightly above the pace or power you think you’ll be able to achieve on the day
  4. Bike Fourth quarter: you should dial it back somewhat in the final quarter of the bike to set yourself up for an excellent run
  5. Run Fourth Quarter: dig deep and give it everything you’ve got!

CONCLUSION

With this Triathlon Pace Calculator and the related Triathlon Pacing Strategy, you’ll be able to nail down your triathlon race pace for any distance race you want.

Whether you’re pushing the red line in a sprint triathlon or chugging along at a slow and steady Ironman pace, you’ll now be ready for success on race day!

Taren Gesell

"Triathlon Taren" Gesell is founder of MōTTIV and one of the world's top experts on helping adults become endurance athletes later in life. Best known for his YouTube channel and podcast Taren is the author of the Triathlon Foundations series of books and has been published featured in endurance publications around the world.