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Going out hard isn’t the answer, says Phil Graves, it’s all about racing at the fastest pace you can sustain

Phil Graves Ironman Triathlete (Photo: Bob Foy)

Phil is all about maintaining effort rather than blasting power (Photo: Bob Foy)

What’s the best way to race? You want to cross that line having felt like you’ve given everything, but more often than not, I find people focusing on trying to go as hard as possible over the length of the race, not as fast as possible. You may think these two things are exactly the same, but they couldn’t be more different.

Think about doing a swimming set – say, 24x100m. If you start off hard then you’re going to blow your doors off pretty early. It’s best to swim at your best average – your fastest consistent time. When you go hard, technique tends to go out of the window, so you go slower the harder you try – and this isn’t just in training but racing too.

Something I’m guilty of is going too hard in races, when I should be thinking, ‘how can I get from the start line to the finish line as fast as possible?’. So, what’s the best way to get from the swim start to all that lovely Coke and pizza at the finish line?

A lot of people swear by their power meters – it becomes an obsession to such an extent that I want to bash their heads together! I have a friend who aims to ride IMUK at 4w per kg – more than the best Ironman guys do – yet I know I’ll take at least 30 minutes off him on the bike there, so clearly something isn’t right. Trying to compare power data is impossible, since everyone’s power meter is calibrated differently, so don’t go getting ideas of grandeur!

Racing isn’t about numbers on a piece of paper – it’s 100 per cent about suffering. If you think about it, most people could run a lap of a track in 72 seconds (20kph). Yes it might be hard, but you’d get round. Now think, if you could suffer to run that pace for 30 minutes, you’d have a 30-minute flat 10k. And if you could keep that suffering up for two hours and six minutes you’d have a marathon.

Don’t get too hung up on 10k PBs, etc – I was always useless at that sort of thing. British Triathlon had us doing 400m freestyle and 3k track time trials but a fast 3k time means nothing if you can’t race. Put in a triathlon race situation I could beat people who ran 45 seconds faster than me over 3k.

That’s the main reason Ali Brownlee has done so well – he can suffer more than anyone. Look at what happened to him in Hyde Park in 2010 when he collapsed. He ran himself to exhaustion, and I don’t know anyone else who could do this. For sure, Javier Gomez has the faster times for 1,500m freestyle and would probably be able to keep up with Alistair over a 10k race, but when it’s all put together and it comes to suffering off the bike, it’s Big Al who wins by a country mile.

So, suffering aside, what else can you do to make sure you get to the finish line as fast as possible? Wearing a watch on the run can be a good idea, but bear in mind that if things start going wrong, seeing how slow you’re going compared to how fast you wanted to go can be a truly awful thing!

Having several race plans can be a good idea. Over the longer races the weather can make such a difference that you can’t plan to ride the first hour at 40kph as it could be into a howling headwind and you could find that instead you’re only doing 25kph.

The best thing to do is just keep telling yourself, ‘I want to get to the line in the shortest time possible’. That can mean slowing on the bike by 10 minutes to ensure you don’t lose one hour on the run.

It makes perfect sense when you think about it, but if only it were that easy, everyone would be doing Ironman.