Run Strong Off the Bike-Train Like a Triathlete

by Amanda Russell, Endurance Coaching

The hardest part of triathlon is the run.  You’re tired, your legs hurt, the temperature has risen and you start to fade. We’ve most all been there.  You get slower and slower and slower, maybe even walk, sometimes cramp.   While several factors can play into fatigue at this point in the race such as nutrition, hydration, bike pacing, and heat, you can find yourself running strong all the way if you train yourself to run like a triathlete.

I’m not talking the funny gait that runners make fun of us for.  I’m talking running straight on to that finish line faster and stronger than the runner because you are trained to run better than them…off the bike!

Here’s a few training tips to cross that finish line faster than you crossed the transition mat. This is the “formula” I used several years ago that had me running negative splits and holding 10k pace in the later miles of 70.3’s.  I’ve since gone back to it and use it with athletes.

1) Run off the bike…a lot!  I recommend 3-5 times a week – preferably the greater end of that number for advanced athletes.

2) Run immediately.  In races, your legs don’t get a break.  Have your shoes ready to go for a quick change and GO!  Make it second nature.

3) Get into it mentally!  Don’t dread it. Don’t get off the bike and futz around, procrastinate, check your email, raid the fridge, change your clothes… Have your shoes ready, turn everything else off in your brain and get excited about it.  Your ride’s not done until you’ve run.  Imagine yourself running well in you race and think about how in awe of you your neighbors are, running after you just rode (even though they’re probably not even noticing…pretend)!  Use it as motivation. (It works!) Think you’re the shit…’cause you are. Enjoy the hurt, the fatigue, and the reward of the satisfaction that comes with pushing through and take pride in your hard work.

4) Plan your nutrition to work with your gut.  How much and when do you eat/drink before you stop riding. And how much and when do you eat/drink after you start running.  Consider this for your long transition run – it can be practice for race day.

5) Vary the intensity (advanced athletes). After frequency, I think this is the most important.  This goes for distances of 70.3 and shorter.  This doesn’t hold as much value for Ultra distance (Ironman) training, however, competitive athletes can do 1/2 marathon effort once a week.

The purpose of the variety is to

1)     Practice goal race pace off the bike

2)     Practice faster than race pace, which will help automate your leg turnover in the early stages of the run

3)     Put in time at easier efforts getting those suckers to move after riding.  You want to teach your brain and your legs that the end of the bike does not mean you’re done.

So why not bike after every swim?  Well…if your training conditions allow for it, go for it!  But typically it’s not as difficult to get your legs into the game from swim to bike, and you’re still fairly fresh at that point in the race.

Varied brick example: If a competitive 70.3 athlete does 4 bricks/week, they can do 2 shorter (10-20 min) transition runs, one of which is relaxed pace after their longest ride, the other at goal race pace after a hard bike session (preferably one that includes threshold or pace intervals); one long run up to 2/3 race distance (occasionally this would be the pace run); and one hard run at 5k-10k effort for 2-4 miles after a high intensity (VO2Max) or threshold interval bike session.

Simply put:

1 short and easy

1 short @ goal race pace

1 long @ easy or goal race pace

1 short @ faster than race pace

Of course, you need to balance this with your other run training.  Advanced athletes should be able to work in a minimum 2 miles hard off the bike easily in addition to other hard run training, with proper plan structuring. Throwing a few Sprint and Olympic distance races into your build up go a long way as well.

For Ironman, frequency and duration are more important.

6) What can you do race day?  The most important thing (well, next to nutrition/hydration) is to pace your bike.  This is a whole other topic for another time, but proper pacing on the bike makes all the difference in performance on the run.

Amanda Russell

Endurance Coaching

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