Oceanside California Ironman 70.3 Pacing Tips

I can’t believe Oceanside is almost here!  For me Oceanside marks the point in the season where I start “training to race” as opposed to “training to train” in my IMCdA training.   We have several TriForcers as well as some Googlers I coach who will be racing: me, Rob “an Ironman per Day” Gray, Guillaume “Road Grit” DeZwirek, Jake “The Majestic Horse” Bailey, Greg “G Funk”,  Mike “Hacking” Coughlan, and of course Sian “the After Burner” Turner.   Most of us are using the race as “B race” tuneup for upcoming Ironman races.

The following tips can get a bit geeky at times—if you don’t have a power meter then ignore all the FTP and power sections.

Executive Summary:

Don’t go crazy at the swim start.  Hold back on the first (fast) 24 miles of the bike course (focus fueling and on easing off & staying aero when going fast).  The last 30 miles of the bike is challenging (hills followed by likely headwinds)– stay below your threshold when climbing.  If there are headwinds focus on getting small and aero– not pushing much harder.    Hold back a little for the first few miles of the run, then use your judgment to settle into a sustainable pace.  If you fueled well & paced yourself well on the bike then you should be able to hold your marathon pace (or about 20-30 seconds slower than an open half marathon race pace).


  •  Warm Up the Best You Can (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced).  Like many races, you can’t get into the water until a couple minutes before your wave starts.  Be sure to jump around & do arm circles, etc. (without hitting those around you) as you’re waiting in the long line to get started.  When you do get your chance to warm up for a couple of minutes take advantage of it!
  • Don’t Go Crazy at the Start (Beginner, Intermediate, Most Advanced)!  Unless you’re fighting for a top AG spot and you’re a strong swimmer trying to stay with the lead pack, it’s foolish to push too hard at the start.   With your adrenaline pumping you are quite likely to go out above your threshold pace for the first 200– don’t!   Monitor your breathing– if you need to breathe every 2nd stroke as opposed to every 3rd, then you’re swimming much too hard.  (Note that some athletes might legitimately choose to breathe every 2nd stroke because that’s most efficient for them, but if you have to breathe every 2nd to get enough oxygen, then you’re pushing much too hard!).  
  • How hard to swim?  A half IM swim is about 2100 yards and our swim training zones are typically about 4 seconds / 100 apart.  The best most of us could hope to hold is our tempo pace (CSS pace + 4 seconds / 100).   If you slow down 4 more seconds per 100 from your tempo pace to swim in your steady zone it will feel MUCH easier, and you’ll only be losing 1:25 total– this is recommended for intermediate athletes who aren’t super fit in the swim.  Advanced athletes (sub 5) who are strong swimmers can aim to hold their tempo pace with occasional surges to stay on a good set of feet.  Beginners (and the Majestic Horse) should swim fairly easy & focus on swimming straight.   Don’t sprint to the finish– remember that triathlon isn’t 3 separate races, it’s one long race!
  • Drafting.  If you are following a good set of feet (or a good hip) and it doesn’t feel ridiculously easy then stay there!  Chances are the person you’re following is going at least as fast as you’d be going alone.  It’s tough to find a good draft in a wave start HIM race, so if you’re lucky enough to be in someone’s draft stay there.  


Half Ironman Bike Pacing with Power or Heart Rate.   Advanced athletes who know they can run well off of a hard bike might be able average an effort near the top of their tempo zone (a challenging effort that’s just below where you start to notice any lactate burn).  For many athletes this is somewhere in the area of 85% of your FTP / upper zone 3 HR.  (So if your FTP is 300, you can average 255 watts if you are a very strong athlete.).  On the hills try to never exceed your FTP (or preferably 95% of your FTP).   Intermediate athletes can consider an upper steady / lower tempo bike (upper zone 2 HR, 75-80% of FTP).  Most beginners should aim for a steady ride (lower zone 2 HR, 70% of FTP).    Both should avoid feeling any lactate burn at all on the climbs (keep power under 88% of FTP).

Oceanside Miles 1-24 “Save It For the Back Part of the Course”.  This part of the course (travelling north parallel to the Ocean) is typically FAST.  You’re going to be tempted to scream out “I am a Golden God!” and try to hold a 25 mph average at this point.    Control yourself!  Ease off your power a bit (or let your HR come down a bit) when your speed is above average and concentrate on fueling and being aerodynamic (head low). Try to bank watts and heart beats for the tough last 32 miles of the course.   Take advantage of the slightly lower intensity to focus on fueling & hydration.

Beginners & Intermediate racers should consider averaging a steady (zone 2) effort here while some more advanced athletes might consider going a bit easier than what they think they’ll average over the course (maybe a lower tempo / zone 3 effort average).   Don’t crush the early climbs and be smooth with your shifting.  Any time you lose here can be easily gotten back on the second half of the bike and on the run.

Miles 24-42 “Climbs.”  If you held back some during the first 24 miles then you’ll  have energy for the climbs on this part of the course.  If you don’t have a nice selection of easier gears on your bike you might consider getting some for the steeper section at the top of the big climb that starts at mile 32.   As I mentioned above, beginner & intermediate athletes should try to climb at a tempo effort below where they feel any lactate burn.  More advanced athletes can try to maintain a threshold effort.  I recommend that you don’t exceed your threshold, especially if you haven’t proven you can run fast off of a very hard bike ride. I’ve tested my power vs. speed on a similar climb and every extra watt got me about 1 second / mile.  So if I rode 315 watts instead of 300 watts (my FTP) on the 4 mile climb from mile 32 to mile 36 I might gain about 1 minute (nothing to sneeze at, but gained at a pretty substantial cost since time spent over threshold is quite costly.)

Miles 43-56 “Downhill then Possible Headwinds.”  You get a nice descent then the last 10 miles are relatively flat.  If you paced yourself poorly and/ or fueled poorly then you’re going to suffer your way in.  If there are headwinds, then your suffering will be magnified.    If you were smart for the first 46 miles and you’re feeling good then you can hold a nice solid effort on this part.  When headwinds come don’t push harder, but focus on getting small and aerodynamic.  Again, don’t push extra hard to the finish as if you’re finishing a bike race– keep up your goal effort to the end.


 There’s nothing too tricky about pacing a half IM run.  Be a little conservative for the first 2-4 miles.  After that, you’ll probably have a very good sense of what you can sustain for the last 10 miles.  If you paced well, fueled and followed all my directions above then you should be able to hold your open marathon pace (or about :20 to :30 seconds per mile slower than your open half marathon pace).  Definitely don’t go any faster than these paces for the first few miles!  For intermediate & advanced athletes this should be a solid tempo effort.  If you paced poorly then you won’t need to worry– you won’t have too much choice about how fast you’ll run 😉

The Oceanside run course is nice & fast.  It’s fairly flat but it has just enough slope on some roads to let you change up your muscle recruitment.

You go out & back twice.  If you pace properly it should feel like this: OUT: holding back a little, legs feel weird for a bit as you adjust to running; BACK: settle into a rhythm- slightly uncomfortable; OUT: uncomfortable, but you think you can sustain your pace; BACK: discomfort increasing exponentially with each mile as you hold onto the same pace.  Almost unbearable for the last couple miles but you use mental toughness to hold your pace.  The finish line is a mercy.

My next blog post will be about your Oceanside / Half Ironman nutrition.

About Coady

Lucky to be coaching some really awesome & fun people!
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