Craig Alexander’s Guide on Training for Your Target Race Pace

A composite image showcasing a runner's legs in motion, with a focus on the black and red compression socks and blue running shoes, against a blurry natural backdrop

When preparing for an important triathlon, it’s vital that your run training speeds are realistically calibrated to your target race pace.  Dialing into the proper running pace can be tricky and sometimes frustrating.  This article will help.

When I was prepping for my major events, everything was based off my then-current threshold pace (remember, threshold pace will change throughout the year as your fitness ebbs and flows).

Begin with LT

Threshold pace reflects your lactate threshold (LT).  LT is the tipping point where your body can no longer sustain the effort through aerobic metabolism alone and starts producing energy without oxygen (i.e., anaerobically).  One of the byproducts of anaerobic respiration is an excess of lactic acid.  If your running intensity goes above your LT, you’ll no longer be able to “clear the lactate” and — to use a scientific term — you crash and burn!  

But, if you know what pace you can sustain that comes right up to – but does not exceed – your LT, then we can calculate the optimal target racing speed for your longer events.  

While most accurately determined in a sports science lab, there are other practical ways to estimate lactate threshold in the real world.  It turns out that your threshold pace is very close to the fastest pace you can hold for one hour.  For most of us, that can be gleaned from a recent 10km or 15km road race or time trial.      

Estimate Your Race Target Pace

If my next event was an important IRONMAN 70.3, then I’d plan for my race pace to be 10% slower than my LT pace.  For most age group triathletes, I recommend that you begin with a target pace that’s 15% slower than your threshold speed.

Similarly if I was preparing for a full-distance IRONMAN, then my estimated race pace would be approximately 20% slower than my LT speed.  For most of you, aim to hit a race pace that’s 20-25% slower than your LT.

Now that we’ve approximated our target race pace, let’s look at how we use these numbers to optimize our training.   

Training to Improve LT and Race Pace

Once your target race pace is in hand, we can integrate it into your training.  

We all want faster run splits.  To do so, we should work to sustain our target race pace for the entirety of the run.  If we fortify our aerobic endurance, then it’s more likely we can prevent a decay in speed during the latter portion of the run and finish strong.

To achieve this objective, my go-to run workouts were threshold interval sessions.  These workouts always worked for me, and are foundational for the athletes who train with us in the Sansego Tri Club.

We aim for 20-30 minutes of total accrued time at 85-90% of LT speed, chunked into a handful of intervals. 

Depending on your energy level on the day, your main set could be 5x 5 min, 8x 3 min, or 6x 4 min. In all cases the rest interval is a “float” segment run at 70% of target race pace.  

Your goal is always to run each interval evenly, smoothly and at as close to the same speed as possible.  

Here’s an example of an actual session from our training group:

  1. Warm-up: 15 min build to Zone 2
  2. Main Set: Repeat 5x: 5 min at 90% of Lactate Threshold Pace (LT), and 2.5 min Float (F) which is 70% of Race Pace (RP)
  3. Cool Down: 15 min easy

This 65-minute session offers many benefits.  With an intensity of slightly less than LT,  the risk of injury is reduced, recovery is shortened and the training adaptations needed for a great race are still being delivered.  

Perform one of these threshold interval workouts once a week during the 8 weeks prior to your “A” race, and you’ll be delighted with the result!

Managing Intensity

The key to successfully executing these workouts – and reaping their benefits — is to diligently maintain the prescribed speeds throughout each interval. 

I usually trained according to RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion).   For me, “running by feel” provided great insight into my body’s signals on pacing and effort.  Admittedly, RPE might not be the best method for everyone.

Today there are many excellent tools available to you for managing speed, like GPS watches.  By using them you can be precise in your pacing from the very first session.  

Post-Workout Recovery with CURAD

Race pace interval workouts like these are demanding.    

It’s paramount for triathletes at all levels to never miss days of training, so be sure to pay careful attention to your nutrition, hydration and sleep.  When I occasionally overdo it, I find that using a hot/cold analgesic – like ActivICE – can help relieve Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).  

If the pain persists, I’ll back off from running for a day or two and treat the area with IRONMAN Far-Infrared Kinesiology Tape.  I find that it’s effective for increasing plasma flow to the inflamed area and accelerates healing. 

For More on Run Training

If you’ve found this useful, then you might like my free Guide to a Foolproof Pre-Race Taper.  It outlines my commonsense strategy for arriving at the starting line sharp and ready to race!

Craig “Crowie” Alexander is a 5x IRONMAN World Champion, former Kona course record holder and 12x Australian champion. Since founding the Sansego Triathlon Club in 2014, he has guided over 7,100 athletes to faster performances.