One of the topics I get asked frequently is about executing a pace strategy for endurance and ultra endurance events. Properly pacing your race will help you place higher and feel stronger at the end of the race. Whether you are using a power meter, heart rate monitor or perceived exception rate you can use these tips to improve your race by setting a pace you can handle.
First make sure you warm up prior to your race start. This will help excert some nervous race energy and prime your heart and legs. Your warm up may be 15-30 min depending on your race lenght. Spin easy at zone 2 to warm up. Then you want to include 2-3 intervals of 1 min at zone 4/5 and 1-2 intervals of 3-4 min at zone 4. You want to get to the start line a little sweaty and a moderate breathing rate.
The start of the race is where you can lose the race. If you excert to much energy at once and you will be crawling home. Don’t go too hard at the start. Zone 4 is good for must amateur racers, pros will hit zone 5 for much of the start. For amateur racers, try not to go into zone 5 for more then a couple of minutes. After the start you’ll see zone 5, but try to stay out of that as much as possible. Sure you’ll probably see that on some hills and jumping into it is fine for a few of seconds, but if you find yourself there more then that, back off or make an easier gear.
After the first 20 to 30 min you are going to want to find the pace you can sustain until the the 1/2 to 3/4 mark. For amateur racers this may be in zone 3 or hovering between zone 3-4. Pros will be in zone 4 for a majority of the race. People new to racing may be riding in zone 2-3 and less in zone 4.
This is the last half or quarter of the race. If you have done your training, paced and fueled correctly, you should have some energy left for the final push. Your effort can go into zone 4 and 5. You’ll be sore and tired, but you should be able to push through it. Stay focused and steady. If you find you can’t push harder then find a pace you can hold to the end. Use the people in front of you as carrots and chase them down. If you are caught by someone, try to stay with them. Use their pace to motivate you to go harder.
Pushing hard in the last 1/2 or 3/4 race will take some practice. Use this technique in your C and B races and be ready to use it in your A race.
Fueling and Hydrating Plan
Before each race develop a plan to make sure you will stay fueled and hydrated. Will you need bottle or a hydration pack? Where are the aid stations, and how will you use them.? For lap races that are less then 2-2.5hrs I like to use bottles (with fuel) and have a cooler waiting for me at the end of the lap with fresh bottles waiting to go. For laps longer then 2.5 hrs I carry a 70oz hydration pack (with fuel). Find whats best for you and your races. You can save time if you have people helping you at the end of the lap to provide you with fresh bottles or mechanical help.
Critical to your race success is to say hydrated and fueled during the event. If you fall behind on either or both your performance will suffer. You will want to have 20-25oz of water per hour and about 300 cal an hour for races over 3 hrs. The longer the race the more cals per hour you want. I recommend putting your fuel in your water. There are many sport drinks out there. I recommend Infinit Nutrtion, you can get everything you need for your race without having to supplement with gels, pills or bars. I suggest taking a gulp every 15 min. Use your elapsed timer or the alarm on your Garmin to remind you. It takes 10-15min for the fuel to hit your system, stay head of the fueling and hydrating to avoid low energy levels. If you are seeing your HR low, zone 1 or zone 2 but seem to be working hard, for more then a few min you could be dehydrated or lacking fuel. Take in 100-200 extra calories with 8oz water. You energy should start coming back within 10-15 min.
The times and zones mentioned may vary depending on your fitness and race distance. As your fitness increases you’ll be able to ride harder for longer distances. If you are new to racing or attempting a new race distance e.g. trying a 100 mile MTB race when you are used to racing 2hr cross country races. It’s important to know your limits and not exceed them so yo can finish. So may people will start a race and go way to hard at the beginning and are unable able to finish the race. If you are unsure of your fitness or ability start the race conservatively and pick up the base as your confidence grows.