How to pace your first sprint-distance triathlon

The key to getting a good result in your first sprint-distance triathlon is gauging your effort. Here we explain how to keep your foot on the gas from start to finish

Triathlete practicing his pacing

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.

Start conservatively 

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.

How to pace a sprint-distance triathlon 


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.


Top image credit: Jonny Gawler