How To Pace An Olympic Distance Triathlon

Race faster every time, with these unmissable tips for pacing an Olympic Distance Triathlon.

If you want to race your best-ever Olympic distance triathlon, you need to plan your pacing strategy in advance. It’s not good enough to simply turn up on race day and “go as hard as you can”.

Such a strategy might work well for shorter events, but for an event lasting 2-3 hours, it won’t do you any favours. You’ll be the one who races well in the first half and then dies off.

If you pace your Olympic distance triathlon smartly, you’ll feel strong and fast throughout the entire event. You’ll be the one who overtakes people in the second half, rather than the one being overtaken. Essentially, the idea is to race at an even pace (with a few exceptions) throughout the 1500 swim, 40km ride and 10km run. In other words, you need to identify the best consistent pace you can hold for two or three hours.

Avoid the trap of viewing an Olympic triathlon as being like three separate races, because it isn’t. It’s one big continuous race – and that’s how you need to treat it when it comes to pacing. Forget about setting personal records in the individual disciplines, and simply aim for your best overall result.

Here’s how to approach each discipline and pace it smartly.

How To Pace Olympic Triathlon Swim (1500m)

During the first few minutes of the swim, you can find your place in the group and hopefully get in the draft zone of similar-level (or slightly faster) swimmers. After this ease back down to your target intensity and maintain that right through to the end of the swim. If you’re a nervous swimmer, start off steady and stay out of harm’s way.

There are several ways to pace yourself, including heart rate, pace and Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). However, from a practical point of view, using RPE (feel) works well – it saves you trying to look at your watch.

Check our Triathlon Race Pace Calculator to help guide your pacing strategy.

How To Pace Olympic Triathlon Bike (40km)

The bike section of an Olympic triathlon involves a 25-mile or 40-km cycle time trial. Think of it more like a 50-mile or 80-km time trial and you’ll be in the right ballpark in terms of pace judgement. Let’s be a little more specific about the numbers:

Use a power meter (if you have one) to pace yourself on the bike, with heart rate and RPE (feel) as backup measures. If you don’t have a power meter, just use heart rate and RPE instead.

Check our Triathlon Race Pace Calculator to help guide your pacing strategy. Smart pacing throughout the bike leg will reap rewards on the run. Maintain your energy levels by paying attention to your nutrition.

If you’re not sure what your Threshold Heart Rate or your Functional Threshold Power is, I’ll show you how to test for them below. If possible, use all three in this order of importance: 1. Power Output, 2. Heart Rate, Perceived Exertion.

How To Pace Olympic Triathlon Run (10km)

Given that an Olympic triathlon is a two or three-hour race, don’t expect to set any personal bests for the 10km run. You’ll be pretty tired by the time you even begin. Realistically you can expect to be one to four minutes slower than you would be in a standalone 10km run race. If you pace the swim and bike properly, you increase your chances of running well. Imagine you’re doing a standalone half-marathon, rather than a 10km, and you’ll be nearer the mark in terms of pacing.

Check our Triathlon Race Pace Calculator to help guide your pacing strategy.

Using all three of the methods (RPE (feel), HR and pace) is best as none of them are entirely reliable in isolation. Many variables can affect them, such as wind direction, gradient and cardiac drift (an increase in heart rate due to heat stress). Just remember that the downsides of starting too fast are far greater than the downsides of starting too slow.

If you’re not sure what your Threshold Running Pace or Threshold Heart Rate is, you can find out below.

Fitness Tests

In this blog, we’ve talked about using measures like Threshold Running Pace, Threshold Heart Rate and FTP. What if you don’t know yours? Well, you can do a few basic tests to find out. They are simply measures of fitness that can help you create a pacing strategy:

  1. Test Your Bike Functional Threshold Power and Threshold Heart Rate (via MyProCoach Help Center)
  2. Test Your Threshold Running Pace and Threshold Heart Rate (via MyProCoach Help Center)
Kickstart Your Training Today!
Choose from over 900 plans from 4-48 weeks long in beginner, intermediate, advanced, masters and off-season versions!


Invest the time to test your fitness, so you can get a good idea of your best pacing strategy. It may sound like a drag, but accurate pace judgement is the gift that keeps giving. It’ll help you avoid that infuriating mix of “good races and bad races”. Once you get it right, they’ll all be good races.

For more detailed help (including pace guidance and fitness tests) check out our Olympic Triathlon Training Plans with Coach Email Support

Phil Mosley (Coach & Founder)
Phil Mosley (Coach & Founder)

Phil is a recognised endurance expert who founded MyProCoach in 2010 to offer smart training plans that still leave quality time for your family, friends & career - complete with highly-rated coach support (he has sold over 40,000 so far). Learn more here!

As featured on...

download (1)
220 triathlon

Popular Articles from the Training Tips Blog


Sign up for Phil's email newsletter!

Get expert training advice, the latest news and occasional discounts. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Kickstart Your Training Today!
Choose from over 900 plans from 4-48 weeks long in beginner, intermediate, advanced, masters and off-season versions!
Planning Your Off-Season

You can start our Off-Season (Fitness Maintenance) plans anytime you like.

They’re designed to help you maintain a good level of fitness when you’re not specifically targeting an event, such as, during the off-season, or anytime you’re taking a break from racing.

Planning For Your Event

For the best outcome, input the date for your “A” target race and the tool will default to a plan that will fill that gap nicely. If you want, you can then adjust the plan length to start it on a different day.

Note that you can still work in other, smaller races during your plan too!

The longer plans start easier and progress more gradually. This has a bearing on the difficulty level you choose. For example, a 12-week plan starts off at a higher level than a 36-week plan because with 12 weeks left there’s not as much opportunity to build up slowly.
Short Medium Long
4-12 weeks
14-24 weeks
27+ weeks
Required fitness level
Training phases
Fitness tests
Our Standard and Masters plans are designed to get you ready for your target event, while our Off-Season plans allow you to recover from a tough season but still maintain your well-earned fitness.
Approx. age
Under 40
Over 40
Recovery weeks
Every 4 weeks
Every 3 weeks
Strength sessions
1-2 per week
2 per week
1-2 per week
Likely goal
Train for event
Train for event
Maintain fitness
This table provides a brief overview of which level might be right for you, to help you get the most out of your plan. You should also note your current fitness levels and how many times you have done this event before.
Little to none
1-3 years
3+ years
Time to train
Likely goal
To finish
At least top half
All our plans are available either for sale directly on the TrainingPeaks Store (where you can also see screenshots of sample weeks), or you can subscribe as an Unlimited Athlete to be able to swap freely between all of them, among other benefits outlined below.
$24 to $159 per plan
From $24 per mth
Flexible, structured training
TrainingPeaks training app
Coaching videos, articles & FAQs
Email coach support

During plan only

Swap freely between all 900+ plans
Help setting up your training zones
Coach fortnightly engagement check
Discounted TrainingPeaks Premium (optional)
30-day moneyback guarantee
We're Sorry To See You Go!

Please confirm your cancellation below and one of our team will process it as soon as possible (stopping all future payments). Your subscription will still continue until the end of your current billing cycle (your “next payment date”) and there is nothing else you need to do.

Don’t worry, you will always be able to access your completed workouts and your TrainingPeaks login credentials will stay the same. Also, if any payments happen to come out before we cancel your subscription, we’ll simply refund them.