Introducing the training plan that will change the way you approach your triathlon run
If you want to be a triathlete who relishes the run leg rather than survives it, consider these five training strategies:
1. Work on technique, daily
Running economy is a measure of how much (or little) oxygen a runner uses for a given, sub-maximal speed. Two runners can have the same maximal capacity for oxygen use or VO2 max. The one who is more economical will run faster.
Review your stride length and cadence. If you are overstriding, a great deal of energy is lost in braking because your foot heel strikes the ground in front of your center of gravity. Eighty-five to 90 strides per minute (counting one leg) is good for taller men when running at 10-kilometer run pace. Ninety to 100 strides per minute is efficient for smaller athletes. I have observed small (under 5’2”) world-class female triathletes racing 10 kilometers off the bike at over 110 strides per minute.
You should find that increasing cadence will either increase run speed or shorten stride length. With practice and observation of heart rate versus speed, you will find your optimal cadence and stride length.
Don’t waste energy with excessive bouncing up and down and unnecessary vertical braking forces. Many run watches measure vertical oscillation. Imagine running under a low ceiling. If you bounce too high, you will bang your head. Posture should be tall. Imagine falling forward from the ankle joints rather than from the hips. The recovery phase following toe-off should float forward with light heels.
Arms play an important role in providing some rotational stability, but the movement must not be excessive. Elbows are bent at approximately 90 degrees and arm swing should not cross the vertical center line of your torso. Get on a treadmill with a mirror and start working on cadence, posture, and technique.
2. Hit the hills
Triathlon running has a strength component. Building durability in your quads, glutes, and hamstrings will provide a foundation that lets your cardio fitness shine on race day rather than being hindered by muscle fatigue.
A weekly hill interval set that progresses first in volume and then intensity can help develop power and muscle elasticity, improve stride frequency and length; this also encourages the proper use of arm action while driving up the hill to develop control and stabilization as well as improved speed (downhill running), strength endurance, and improved lactate tolerance. Build from one minute to five minute hills over time.
Complement your hill intervals with a weekly, hilly aerobic base run of one to two hours. Hit the trails if they are available.
3. Your training week prioritizes running
As you work towards triathlon season, your training program has a good balance of swimming, cycling, and running. Consider changing the flow of your week to emphasize your running. While simply running a little more will likely make you a better runner, building your week schedule to emphasize key runs and making sure you hit your main run sessions rested will also allow you to make further gains in your run program.
Insert meaningful biking and swimming throughout the week in places that don’t impede key run sets. For instance, you may want to recover the day prior to running intervals and then swim in the afternoon after your run interval set.
4. Run off the bike, often
Running frequently off the bike teaches the body to be efficient and transition from bike legs to run legs quickly. During a run-focused phase, perform your key run sessions fresh while adding short “frequency runs” off the bike. This works on run efficiency without adding a lot of load or fatigue into your overall program. Incorporate one to two short (15- to 30-minute) runs off the bike per week. After a few weeks, the initial 10 to 15 minutes of those brick runs can be faster running. You can run off a bike trainer session or off your weekend base ride. Most triathletes run off the bike at least once or twice a week.
5. Run races!
You will always run faster in a race than in training, which results in a bigger boost to your threshold fitness. Finding your best 10K or marathon pace gives you a frame of reference for your triathlon run. How can you run your fastest triathlon split if you don’t know what your fastest pure running efforts are? You can mimic the pace and rhythm of your run races as closely as possible on the triathlon race course.
Running races will give you different competitive experiences and you may even learn a few tricks from your single-sport compatriots to add to your triathlon racing tool kit. Meaningful running races give motivation, purpose, and a training target.
Set some goals, retool your program, and create meaning and purpose in your training regimen. Find a great coach to plan out the month-to-month, and week-to-week progression. A well thought-out run training progression will pay big dividends on the triathlon race course next season.