Triathlon run training is just the same as any run training program, right? Well, yes… and no.
All run training whether it’s for your next 5K race or your upcoming sprint distance triathlon shares the same three basic elements, or what I call the Holy Trinity of Training: base building, strength, and speed.
- Endurance/Aerobic Base: Aerobic zone heart rate training to develop your aerobic/cardiovascular system so you can resist fatigue (run the 5K) and teach your body to efficiently burn fat for fuel. This will make up the bulk of your run training…at least 80%.
- Strength/Force/Power: Both general (weight lifting) and sport specific (running hill repeats) strength training help you overcome resistance, such as running up hills during your race with less muscular fatigue. Triathletes should limit run specific strength to once a week… remember, you have two other sports to build for.
- Speed Skills: Speed skills contain both technique drills (kick butt drills, cadence drills, etc.) and speed work (short sprints to longer lactate threshold sets). Both make you a faster runner because you become more efficient (run faster with the same energy output) and you teach your neuromuscular system to fire faster. Build technique drills and short speed (5-10 second bursts) into every run. Once again, if you are training for triathlon limit your speed-focused run sessions to once a week and for best results do your speed work on rested legs.
And that, my friends, is where the similarity ends.
What a Difference a Tri Makes
The unique twist in triathlon is that your run begins on tired legs. And unlike someone focused strictly on 5Ks, you have less time available for run training because you require time to train for two other sports. To step up to the challenge of three sports, and to be able to run strong off the bike incorporate these three additional advanced tactics into your triathlon training schedule.
Bike, Run, Repeat
To build the confidence to jump off your bike and run you need to train for mental toughness. Here are a couple of ideas:
- Sprint distance triathlon or Olympic distance triathlon: Do one session three weeks before and a second session two weeks before your key race: After a good warm up, do 3 to 4 repetitions of 8-12 minutes at slightly above race pace on a bike trainer followed immediately by a 5-8 minute run slightly above race pace. In between each repetition spin for a minute or two on the trainer to get your legs ready for the next set.
- Half Ironman triathlon or Ironman distance triathlon: Do one session three weeks before and a second session two weeks before your key race: After a good warm up, do 3 to 4 repetitions of 12-20 minutes at slightly above race pace on a bike trainer followed immediately by a 8-12 minute run slightly above race pace. In between each repetition spin for a minute or two on the trainer to get your legs ready for the next set.
These routines build triathlon specific fitness along with the mental fortitude, too.
Be a Pace-keeper
All of us overestimate our abilities at one time or another. If it happens in training it’s not a big deal but on race day that can spell big trouble. The reason is simple: no matter who you are you can’t out race your training. That’s why it’s vitally important to manage your pace throughout the day, particularly on the bike and the first half of the run, so you build momentum to a fast, strong run finish. Here’s how to do it:
- Back off on the bike: One of the best ways to avoid a death march on the run is to go one gear easier than you think you can comfortably handle for the bike leg, especially the first half of it. This is particularly important in half Ironman and Ironman distance races. Remember, when you’re passing all those folks during the second half of the run leg (you know, the ones that were killing it on the bike) it’s not because you’re running faster…it’s because you saved your legs and don’t have to slow down as much.
- Monitor your breathing: Build the habit of using your breathing to keep you in touch with your body. During training rides and runs practice taking a few deep breaths to get you present and then take mental inventory on how you’re feeling: Stay aware! That way you can adjust your pace up or down as needed all the way to the finish line.
Keep Playing Those Mind Games
The bike to run transition crushes more people than any other part of the race. That’s because they burn tons of mental energy fretting about how far they have to go instead of staying in the moment and focusing on getting themselves quickly into their running rhythm.
One strategy here is to practice counting from 1 to 4 or repeat the word quick over and over as you start off on a run to get your mind focused on leg turnover and form. Good form combined with a quick cadence will win out every time.
And finally, one of my favorites is lying to myself. These days when I head out for a transition run I tell myself it’s a reward (instead of punishment) and smile. It sounds crazy but it works and it builds mental confidence like you wouldn’t believe.
Build these tactics into your training program before your next event and they will pay huge dividends come race day!
That’s it for this week. Until next time train safe, stay healthy, and hope to see you at the races.