“To run is to be free,” said the hippie who had never done a triathlon.
The third leg of any triathlon is often dreaded for succinct albeit legitimate reasons. This is the moment upon whence we fully grasp the notion that gravity is not a habit easily broken. For potentially hours you had been relying on either water or a bicycle to mitigate the weight of your own body, but now no longer. This moment allows for no breaststroke, no coasting, and no excuses. It’s you versus the road.
This is why the triathlon run is not to be trifled with. It is not uncommon for one to experience a dramatic sense of mental fatigue and forsakenness upon entering T2. Why had this turmoil never presented itself during the typical scheduled training run? The easy answer is poor training. But we all know said reaction is too generic. Thus we must then consider a few simple insights into the logistics of proper triathlon running.
1. Smart Cycling Equates to Strong Running
“Brick” work is always key to triathlon run preparedness. However, be aware that brick training as an unguided practice is more or less a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, it’s not as simple as just doing bricks in order to run better off the bike. Your repeated performance in training is reflected in your outcome at race time. (If running off the bike always feels slow and cumbersome in training then it will feel even worse during a race). Hence, how you brick means everything.
In general, this implies that you learn how to pace on the bike. If you’re using a power meter, I can’t think of a better tool to assist in this process. And if not, a heart rate monitor is still an integral asset to your education. By using these tools to learn your current functional threshold, you’ll have an introductory insight into what kind of exertion is ideal for the planned distance/duration.
And if you’re using a TriDot training plan, you’ll have the most advanced prediction of your training and racing zones immediately upon functional threshold calculation. This means you’ll know exactly what power and heart rate to sustain during workouts and during a race in order to most effectively run off the bike.
2. Speed Training is Key
If we’re being honest, the single best way to get better at running (triathlon or not) is to run more. Of course, don’t take that comment in a vacuum. I say this considering my audience. In college, most of my peers were running anywhere from 70 to 110 miles a week. That may sound pretty insane to the average triathlete (and I’m not denying its lack of sanity), but it’s what’s necessary to compete on such an elite level.
For the experienced runner, such high volume makes sense. For the majority of triathletes, on the other hand, not only is this impossible, but it would be detrimental. After all, we’re training to be triathletes, not runners. Consequently, balancing three sports is just that – a balancing act.
Proportionally, cycling gets the most attention volume-wise, and rightfully so. The saddle is where you’ll be spending most of your time on race day. Therefore, in terms of training, we need to allocate our workload intelligently. Most of us are not professionals with 30 hours a week of training time at our disposal nor do we have the stamina of professionals even if such a luxury presented itself. Thus in the wake of cycling training time there are only so many hours leftover for running and swimming. Obviously they need to be taken advantage of.
Overall triathlon training will already be providing you with plenty of aerobics. And much of that, as I already said, is rightfully spent on the bike. Therefore, speed training in the run is wholly necessary. This is how you’re going to develop an increased running functional threshold, improved form, and increased strength. You don’t have the time and one-sport commitment to promote these developments on your own terms like a pure runner would.
Again with a TriDot training plan you’ll have perfectly placed running workouts with speed intervals expertly congruent to your functional threshold. Resultantly, we’re working within your schedule and your physical limitations to increase that threshold and improve technique and strength under the least amount of hours necessary.
3. Strength Training Matters
Lastly, this third insight piggybacks off the previous one. However before discussing the importance of traditional resistance training please understand that speed work is in fact strength training as well. Running faster exerts greater force on your muscles, breaking down the tissue you rely on. With recovery you rebuild the muscular tissue that had been utilized and become stronger for next time.
The problem is when we fatigue during speed training we often unwillingly compensate a weak muscle group for another. This compensation is what diminishes proper running technique and actually exacerbates the fatigue problem.
For instance, your core is what allows you to run tall, making the most out of each stride. However the core isn’t something that is primarily strengthened by running alone. Therefore, when it experiences fatigue you’re more likely to compensate by the simple fact that your core isn’t strong enough to maintain the challenge of standing upright. As a result, the triathlete with a weak core fades faster.
With strength training you’re taking preemptive measures to combat this issue. The fatigue problem is solved in the gym. By strengthening the muscle groups that directly affect running technique, you’ll have the constitution to maintain a superior gait longer into the race.
The triathlon run is best executed when one is prepared. Learning how to bike like a triathlete, practicing speed work, and strength training is the groundwork to accomplishing this goal.
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JARED MILAM is a professional triathlete, TriDot coach, and member of the Tri4Him Pro Team. He has 16 years of competitive running experience and 11 years of competitive triathlon experience with a half Iron PR of 3:59 and a full Iron PR of 8:30. Coaching under the TriDot system since 2011, Jared loves working with aspiring triathletes of all ages and performance levels.