One of the biggest challenges for any triathlete is having a solid run performance. Many factors come into play – training, pacing, and nutrition, to name a few. The run portion of a triathlon is the last leg of the race and is crucial to having a strong performance.
Triathlon Long Distance Running
Running in a triathlon is very different from running in a simple running race. The key distinguishing feature of running in a triathlon is that it occurs after you have already participated in two other disciplines (swimming and cycling) for an extended period of time, so many muscles are already tired. Your legs may still feel heavy from the riding you have just done and your arms may still feel like led from the swim.
With two disciplines down and one to go, you are in the home stretch, but you may be wondering: How do you get from Transition 2 to the finish line as quickly as possible? It is important to remember that whatever your distance for the triathlon, the run will seem a lot longer than it actually is. Your training needs to reflect this if you want to improve your time or increase your running speed.
Training for Your First Triathlon Run: Running Basics and Training Tips
Remember, triathlon is one sport – not three combined – so make sure that your training reflects this! Triathlon running is about being able to compete as close to your straight best time, even when you are tired from the swim and cycling legs of the race.
The very best triathlon runners manage to run within seconds of their best times for the run distance, even after the first 2 segments of the race. This is because they train to run fast off of the bike, not just to increase running speed for the distance of the run. So, your running training program must integrate your swim and bike program to get the best performance on race day, and it must make you a better triathlon runner overall.
Running Basics. Some triathletes dread T2, and know that they will be watching their times slip through the whole run. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a professional runner to make the most of this leg.
To help you prepare for triathlon long distance running, here are some running basics you should keep in mind:
- Equipment. All you need for this segment of the race is a pair of high-quality running shoes and comfortable running clothes. Also, during a sprint race, there will likely be a couple of aid stations along the way that offer water and/or electrolyte drinks, so make sure to take advantage of those stops to stay hydrated.
- Training Schedule. Include 2 – 3 runs each week, with one run immediately following your longest bike ride. To build endurance and speed, including speed workouts on a track, but make sure that you can complete at least 3 miles (or 30 minutes) consecutively before adding in this type of higher intensity running into your training program. You can also do short bursts on a measured track – by doing so, you can improve speed and also learn about pacing yourself to help you achieve your race goals.
- Technique. Stride cadence is very important when doing endurance running. To help you improve your stride cadence, here’s something you can try. Learn forward slightly through your chest, relax your hands, and allow your arms to spring forward and back from your shoulders, while keeping your elbows bent at 90 degrees. Then, as each foot hits the ground, think of ‘hot lava’ and quickly lift your foot to move on to the next step. Aim to have a pace of 150 – 180 beats per minutes (or around 75 – 90 foot strikes per minute per foot).
Training Tips to Run Faster Off the Bike. Running comes immediately after the cycling leg of the triathlon. If you are looking to run faster off the bike, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Bricks. Running off the bike during training can help you become more efficient. Do short, 20-mite bouts every week and see the difference! These runs don’t have to be long or fast – add these to your weekly training one to two times each week.
- Do hip workouts. Having excellent glute strength and hip mobility is crucial for running and injury prevention. Before runs, incorporate some one-leg squats, hip bridges, side lunges, and single-leg deadlifts. Post-run, make sure to stretch out your hip flexors to keep mobility.
- Stay consistent. During training, make sure that you stay consistent – remember, small runs do add up. A 20 to 30-minute run can add some mileage to your legs without beating you up. It’s the additive run mileage that can help you in the latter stages of a triathlon race. Remember, resiliency is key!
- Nutrition is key. Use the cycling portion of the race to set you up for the run. Make sure that you take in sufficient carbohydrates and that you hydrate. You can practice this in training.
- Speed off of the bike. Closer to the racing day, have at least one brick run where you start your first kilometer or two off the bike at race pace, then, settle back down to aerobic speed. These little bouts can help your body adapt to the quick speed and cadence necessary in a race.
- Pace the bike. The key to any triathlon is to NOT race the bike. Find a pace that you can sustain with consistent power. Too many spikes in a race can have damaging effects in the run.
Running Tips for Beginner Triathletes. You don’t have to be a professional runner to make the most of the running leg of a triathlon. Here are some tips to help you get fitter and run more efficiently.
- Run more. By running more, you will slowly but surely increase your fitness and endurance, and you will become more efficient as a runner. However, don’t just suddenly increase your running volume. Instead, increase your running volume by at least 10% each week, and drop back down a bit every third or fourth week. Also, practice running on tired legs! Remember, the running segment comes immediately after the cycling portion, and your legs may still feel heavy from the riding you have just done.
- Slow down your runs. Many beginners run way too fast on most of their runs – don’t make this mistake! Majority of your runs should be at a steady, easy pace. You should be able to hold a conversation and complete sentences without getting out of breath. Why? This is because you need to improve your base fitness, and that is best achieved by training consistently at low intensity.
- Add some intensity. In connection to the abovementioned point, many runners run too fast on most of their runs; however, they don’t run fast enough on the few runs that they should actually run fast! Once a week, do a high-intensity session with intervals where you really run at a high-intensity, not just a moderately difficult one.
- Increase your cadence. Another common problem is that many beginner runners over stride. This is an inefficient way of running. Why? Every time you land with your feet out in front of you – instead of directly under your body – you will automatically have braking forces slow you down. This also greatly increases your risk of injury. By increasing your cadence (number of steps per minute) to about 180, you are almost forced to stop over striding. As a result, your running efficiency increases.
Running Tips for Advanced Triathletes. Even as an experienced triathlete, there’s always room for improvement! Here are some running tips to consider.
- Do a mobility check. If you have restrictions in your range of motion, your running will suffer as a result. For triathletes, some of the most common problem areas are the hamstrings and the hip flexors. You can do a mobility check yourself or you can see a physio and ask them to do it for you. If possible, work with a physio who is a runner or triathlete themselves, or work with runners most of the time. If it turns out that you do have mobility issues, make sure to prioritize having them resolved!
- Add core strength. If your core isn’t strong enough, you can have an excellent running form, but you won’t be able to keep it up very long. Core strength for runners and triathletes doesn’t mean that you have to get super ripped or do dozens of crunches. Core strength means having strong, durable hips, glutes, and deep-lying core muscles that will keep your running posture good and will reduce uncontrolled, unnecessary rotation and other movements.
- Do fast-finish long runs. For triathletes focusing on long distance running, fast-finish long runs are great. Simply put, they give your endurance a massive boost by getting you used to run at a high-intensity when you are already exhausted. You don’t have to do them every week, since they are very exhausting, but every other week in your competitive season should be alright. An example of how to do it would be a 1.5 to 2-hour run, with the first hour at an easy pace, then run the next 40 minutes at a moderate pace, then finish off with 15 minutes at close to your lactate threshold pace. Finally, the final 5 minutes are for cool down.
The Bottom Line
Many triathletes find the running leg of a triathlon a big challenge. Whether you’re a beginner or a more experienced triathlete, we hope that these tips can help you become a better triathlon runner. Good luck!