Triathlete practicing his pacing
Triathlete practicing his pacing
Training > Beginners

How to pace your first sprint distance triathlon

The key to getting a good result is gauging your effort. We tell you how to keep your foot on the gas from start to finish without blowing up

Your first triathlon is a high-speed puzzle that you’re trying to solve while swimming, biking and running. What you’re trying to figure out is how fast you can go without blowing up before the finish. But if you’re taking on your first sprint-distance event, your perfect pace is an unknown quantity.

The more you race, the more experience you’ll gain and the better you’ll be able to gauge your effort. But when you line up for your first event, the fact of the matter is you need more experience than you possess. However, with a few pointers and some planning you can better equip yourself to manage your effort throughout the race to ensure you go as fast as possible.

Keep your cool 

Always remember that races aren’t conquered in the swim, so don’t get carried away early on. Start conservatively with a pace that allows you to remain efficient and composed. In a pool swim, the start is usually less chaotic. The lane ropes will keep you on track so you can focus on maintaining an equal effort over each of the required lengths. Open-water races are much more hectic and likely to be over distance if you forget to sight and wander off course.

The perceived need to rush through transitions can also get you into trouble. Stay relaxed to ensure you arrive at the right spot and change from one set of kit into the next without getting into a muddle. 

When you start the run, use a shorter than usual stride to help your legs adjust. Gradually increase your stride and then it’s just a matter of increasing your pace until you hit the finish line having given your best effort.

Pacing your race: sprint distance


You’ll get off to a better start if you’re warmed up properly. Go for a short bike and jog to get the heart pumping and do plenty of upper body limbering up for the swim.

Swim start

Set off conservatively and build your effort gradually. Ease off as you approach the end to prepare to switch from working horizontally to vertically for the run to T1.


Focus on finding your bike, getting out of your wetsuit efficiently and staying relaxed.

Bike start 

Keep your effort modest until you’ve adjusted to being on the bike and feel comfortable enough to raise your pace.

Bike main

Ride a controlled manner at the pace you’ve established from your time-trial efforts in training with deep and controlled breathing. 

Bike end

Ease off in the last couple of minutes as you approach T2. 


Concentrate on finding your slot and changing your shoes smoothly.

Run start

Stay relaxed and set off with a reduced stride length to allow your legs to adjust from pedalling. 

Run main

Build your pace gradually, let your breathing get harder as you give your full effort to race to the finish. 


Cross the line, catch your breath, walk around a bit to stay loose, hydrate as required and get changed into warm, dry clothes as soon as possible.

(Main image: Jonny Gawler)

For lots more performance advice head to our Training section


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So it's been more years than there are sports in triathlon since I actually did three sports back to back. But after 9957 days since competing my first triathlon and I'm still putting theory into practice and showing that time crunched training need not be ineffective...


great result, jb, but what on earth were you doing in t2? cup of tea and a scone? turns out it is all about the bike...

i know what you are driving at in the article in terms of building pace, but i suspect (and i have no evidence to support this, other than my own race pacing failures) that often you can go harder earlier and maintain harder efforts for longer than you think is possible.

i think that many people taking part in sprints could try kicking on the run earlier, or building the pace faster. i've been guilty of waiting until the last km to really push hard, when i'm sure i could manage it at a mile...


T2 was explained by two errors:

(1) I left my Rotor Q-Ring 53T on the front despite a 50T option but left it at home - as the Scot Plasma for TT/Sprint Tri it has no inner chain ring - learning from the Mountain bikers who go single ring and a bigger spread on the rear cassette.

(2) I did a recon of the course the night before but caught the man putting out the signs and carried on left (at Rudge for those really that interested). He put out a sign that went right.

The hill that followed error 2 made the gearing in error 1 a tad too hard.

Hit T2. Whack left shoe on. Left quad locks out. Full lock out.
Hilarious stretching, jogging and then I was running.

Sadly no scone. But ran okay.

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