Q. What intensity zones should I expect to be in while racing my triathlon?
The intensity at which you are able to race can vary depending upon your experience level. In general, more experienced athletes are able to maintain a higher intensity throughout races. This is not only because they have a stronger aerobic foundation that allows them to engage in higher intensity training in preparation for the race, but with experience also comes the ability to learn “to be comfortable being uncomfortable” at faster racing intensities.
Take, for example, the ability of athletes to maintain their pace at lactate threshold. In general, endurance athletes are able to hold that pace for about an hour. But that duration can be as little as five minutes for untrained individuals new to endurance training. On the other end of the experience spectrum, world-class athletes can hold their pace at lactate threshold for closer to 90 minutes.
The intensity at which you are able to race also varies by the distance you are racing. The longer the race, the more energy you derive from aerobic energy production versus anaerobic energy production. And aerobic metabolism—which requires the presence of oxygen—means lower intensity. The table below illustrates this by showing the relative energy system requirements for typical running events.
With these two factors in mind—experience and distance of the event—the table below outlines the intensity zones you should expect to encounter in your triathlon racing.
Sprint Distance Triathlon = 500 meter swim, 12 mile bike, 5k run
Olympic Distance Triathlon = 1.5k swim, 40k bike, 10k run
Ironman Triathlon = 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run