Psychology of racing (head to head)

In September, a friend and I have agreed to a head to head race at a local 70.3 triathlon (Hever Castle in Kent, UK). It’ll only be for bragging rights, though there is talk of buying a winner’s trophy, but it has already proved a HUGE motivator for training.

My expectation is that we’ll be even on the swim, I’ll put some time into him on the bike, then the real race is whether he can chase me down on the run. Numbers wise he is the stronger runner, but it is going to be v close for whether he can make up the time lost on the bike.

My worry is that this gives him a psychological advantage, it feels much better to be the hunter rather than the hunted! I expect I’ll constantly be looking over my shoulder for him and this will be detrimental to my performance, whilst a great motivator for him.

Does anyone have any tips for how I can keep my head in this situation? Anything that can help me beat the b*stard is welcome! :joy:

As an aside, I’d strongly encourage anyone struggling for a bit of motivation to get a friendly competition going. Best decision I’ve made for my fitness since joining Trainerroad!

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Don’t. Run your race based on you, not based on how he’s doing. It’s hard to race individuals head-to-head in any triathlon, but especially a 70.3 or longer where efficiency and plan execution matter so much. If you get wrapped around the axle of trying to put more time into him on the bike, or pushing harder on the run to keep your lead, you may blow up completely. I’d recommend running your race plan focusing solely on that plan, and then when mile 10 or 11 comes on the run, you can start worrying about head-to-head stuff if he’s close.

Have a plan. Execute the plan. Don’t worry about racing until very late.

#protip: take advantage of “free time” by dialing in your transitions. In a situation where you expect to be within a minute or two of someone, transitions can be the difference. Many longer course athletes don’t worry about transitions, so if your buddy is one of those guys, put some time into him in T1 and T2.

I wrote out my long-winded transition tips for sprint tris here.

For longer events, I do the same things, but obviously nutrition is different. I usually take a gel in T1 in a 70.3, usually a caffeinated one. I also usually have a bottle of water there to wash it down with a quick swig… That said, the gel is open (or in a bottle) and the whole thing takes about 5 seconds. I also wear socks in 70.3 and longer. The socks are rolled to halfway down the foot so literally all I have to do is get my toes into the ends and flip the socks over my heel. (helps to practice).

If you get T1 and T2 dialed in, that can gain you seconds or even minutes on him for no more effort.

Now, if it comes down to head to head on the run, you’ve got to try to break him one way or the other… for most people it’s easier to sit on his shoulder and make him dictate the pace while you just hang on until he dies or you make the decisive move on your own timeline. That said, odds are he’s going to sit on your shoulder since he’ll come from behind, or just try to blow past you.

If he tries to blow past you, get on his hip and stay there. He may exhaust himself trying to drop you, and if he does drop you, odds are, it’s over unless he blows up anyway. So stay there as long as you can and make your move late.

If he sits on your shoulder, you’re in the other situation: you have to try to plant that seed of doubt in his mind by pushing your own pace. Get him to the point where he’s questioning if he can maintain the pace, and you may find that he drops off. If you can gap him again after he catches you, you can probably beat him.

Again, both of those are reserved for late race. You can’t go trying to blow someone up at the 5 mile mark of the run because odds are you’re going to blow yourself up with plenty of time left for them to catch you.

Good luck!


I’m just going to quote this as it’s all you think about regarding the psychology part.

Have you raced at Hever before? I raced there a couple of years ago and it’s a really hilly race on both the bike and the run. If the advice is above is right then it’s especially so on a course like Hever. If you’re worried about being caught and push just a little hard too early you’ll pay for it hugely at the end, much more so than you would on a flatter course.

Most of the run is on trails and grass with plenty of narrow twists and turns. If you’re ahead going into the run you’ll be out of sight and out of mind for a long time. Two large loops means there won’t be any sections where your chaser will be able to gauge any gaps to you which may well be psychologically difficult for them to deal with as well.


Super helpful advice, thanks both.

I hadn’t thought about the specifics of the run course @JulianM, but you’re right that if I have any kind of gap off the bike then he won’t be able to see me (and more importantly I won’t be able to see him!).

I’ve not raced Hever before but have cycled a lot in the general area and plan to do a handful of recces. I think that my focus on w/kgs will help me in the hills as my friend (or, rather, my arch nemesis) has been solely training on flat Zwift courses. So this is a little bit of a TR vs Zwift situation too!

Thanks for the transition tips @kurt.braeckel. This is my first Tri season so will be making full use of these!

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If this is true, then that head-to-head stuff probably won’t come into play. Run your race, worry about it if it happens, but you won’t be much of a carrot dangling out there in front of him as you would be if this was an open course with laps on the run, as has largely been my 70.3 experience.

Tips to discourage him - tell him your FTP, all the time, like every time you say hi. Always mention how strong and fresh you feel and that you feel light when you are running now. Ask him why the training seems so easy, even after adding extra sessions. Do at least one RUN each week on your bike at a quick pace to post to strava.

All kidding aside, I did a similar thing over a few races and I always ran my friend down. I had better transitions and raced my race. I was always thinking about him, but never changed my race. He blew up trying to get as big of a bike lead as possible. Turtle me won.

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just ignore him and DO YOU. You know you’ll be ahead, and really crush that bike so that you have plenty of time to get the W. I wouldn’t even look over your shoulder; it’ll only mess you up if you see him. Run hard, but smart