The Long Course Triathlon Execution Seminar, Lesson #4 — Run Pacing and Mental Strategies

In this lesson we will cover how we recommend you pace your Ironman® run.

The run is the final component of your race day, and is the most important part. The Ironman® run course is where PR hopes and dreams go to die a painful death.

The course is littered with the bodies of very fit people who’ve done something wrong and are now, as a result, slowing down dramatically on the run.

Remember from Lesson One that a good race is defined as simply not slowing down on the run. This is a critical distinction because many athletes think they will need to pro-actively run down other competitors as if it was the local 5k, not a 10+ hour day.

The event itself becomes less a “race” and more an exercise in survival the longer the day goes on. If you can pace properly, you’ll have a solid run passing hundreds of people at the end on your way to the finish…really!

~ Rich & Patrick


Part 1: Know Your Goal Pace

Summary: There are countless ways and tools that people have devised on the interwebs to help you predict your Ironman® run time. Of course, most of these calculators assume that your swim and bike are okay — which is not typically the case. These other resources aren’t actually integrated into a system for racing — like the Four Keys.

In our world, how well you will run on race day is a function of what you have proven you can run in training. There is no miracle speed stick that hits you in T2, giving your the right to run faster than you ever thought possible!

Advice: The best way to determine your goal pace is to review your training. Inside Endurance Nation our athletes train with Pace and Daniels’ vDOT. This means they have tested their run fitness over several 5k events and then trained to that fitness in the build up to their race.

For Pace athletes:

  • Perform a test or race on a known distance, flat course. 5k, 10k, half marathon, etc. This test is the functional expression of your fitness, and is a hard, objective, non-fuzzy data point.
  • Use an online calculator to extract a vDOT, based on your test/race above.
  • Look at the Easy Pace split as your goal time for Ironman® race day. If the calculator says it’s an 8:16, then 3:36 is your best case scenario.

If you aren’t on that system, here’s what you can do:

  • Look at the average paces of your long runs in the final build up to race day; these are the 1:30 to 2:30 runs you have done on tired legs at the end of your long season (like race day!).
  • Do the math to find an average pace across all those runs, taking care not to focus on any one run where you crushed it (or got crushed).
  • Put this average pace into your mental library as a goal pace for race day.

Part 2: Your Run Starts with…Your Swim

Summary: The best run pacing plan in the world won’t help you if you swim and bike like Ricky Racer all day, digging a hole from which running 26.2 miles becomes impossible. Your ability to run well isn’t just a function of your training; your body doesn’t magically “reset” in T2 once you ditch your bike!

Advice: All day long, as you swim and bike and start the run, you need to keep in mind that at some point, The Line is out there and your race will get hard. It might seem easy right now, but even this easy will become hard at some point.

  1. Swim only as fast as your ability to maintain form. When you feel your form go, slow down. Counting strokes is an excellent technique for bringing your mind out of the race and into the Box of maintaining your form.
  2. On the bike, JRA (Just Ride Along) for about 60 to 90 minutes. Then shift from JRA to Easy (5:45+ should split) to Steady (sub 5:45 should split). Gauge how well you’re doing by how well you’re NOT doing what everyone else is doing wrong.

Part 3: Give Us Three Minutes…We’ll Give You A Race!

Summary: If you can pace the swim and bike properly, and you have eaten well while taking in proper fluids, and the conditions aren’t insanely difficult…then you leave T2 with the chance to have a great day.

The cards are stacked against you, however, since your body is disoriented from all that biking, the crowds are cheering and the competition are all running way too fast.

Refer to that “goal pace” or time that you calculated in Step One above. Look at your pace now and that goal pace…are they even in the same zip code??? Chances are, they aren’t and you’ll need to slow down significantly before your poor pacing puts your personal finish line well before the 140.6 miles.

Advice: The best way to handle this is to refer to what you know and remove yourself from the place where you can mess up your day.

  1. Take that Goal Pace per Mile and ADD thirty seconds to it for the first six miles of your day. If your goal is to run 8:16s to a 3:36 marathon, then you run 8:46s for the first six, taking care to eat and drink properly as you enter your run groove.
  2. After those first six miles…you can bump the pace up to “steady” or that goal split.
  3. Run that steady, do-no-harm split until The Line, then use the One Thing to get it done while everyone else is fading. We also encourage you to start counting the other racers going backwards around you as a way to stay mentally engaged and motivated en route to the finish.

First Timers: We Guarantee You Finish!