Training for a triathlon is a complex puzzle. Most of us think that just adding some swimming, cycling and running workouts to the mix will help us train for a triathlon. We tend to forget the fact that Triathlon is one sport, not three sports combined. Hence, you need to make sure your training reflects this point, especially when it comes to running training for triathlon.
The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare.— Juma Ikangaa
Running is a high impact sport and if done improperly, coupled with swimming and cycling sessions, you’ll be prone to injuries. For that reason, running training for triathlon is different to training for just running on its own.
How well do you run off the bike?
How much faster do you want to run?
These are the questions you should ask when you add running training for triathlon.
You’ll notice that difference once you start your running leg in a triathlon as opposed to running fresh. At that point, you have already completed around 70% of your race duration and the hardest of three disciplines is still remaining. With improper training, your progress can come to a halt at that point.
Till now I have discussed why it’s different for running training in triathlon. Now let’s discuss how we should go about it and steps that I follow to prepare myself for any triathlon.
Reduce running days
I know you want to go fast and the general consensus is running more will make you faster. It’s true if you are only a runner but for a triathlete, it’s only going to make you slower. In disagreement? Or are you curious why I have said that? let’s discuss why running training for triathlon is different.
The fact is too much running can leave you too sore to complete all other required sessions. I have already mentioned, triathlon is one sport, not a sum of three disciplines. You have to structure your training in such a way that all of your training work in harmony. There’s a thin line between being able to train in a fatigued state and overtraining.
The biggest advantage of endurance training is the crossover effect. It means your fitness gets transferred from different disciplines. If you are a good cyclist, that fitness will carry over to your running and vice versa.
That means if you’re from running background and then start your triathlon journey, don’t think you need to run 5-6 days per week to maintain your fitness. In fact, you don’t need to run more than 2-3 times per week as long as you keep performing your cycling and swimming sessions on a constant basis.
Reduce the long run
This is another mistake I see too often. If you attempt an Ironman, it doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon. In fact, when you train for a triathlon, your optimum long run duration should be around 1.5-2 hours. At max, you can run up to 2.5 hours. Anything beyond that is unnecessary and actually declines your performance.
I’m a big proponent of running by duration over time and this is another reason. Your body doesn’t react the same every day. So, on a good day, you may cover more distance and you might struggle some other day.
It certainly has a big repercussion. For example, you have set yourself a goal of running 25 km on your long run. On the run, you suddenly realize that it’s a bad day for you and you’re struggling. Now if you try to be macho and complete the distance albeit going over the recommended duration, you’ll only increase your stress and your performance will decline.
The best course of action should be to improve your long run pace slowly over a duration and increase the distance in the process. For example, if you can cover 20 km in 2 hours, slowly keep improving the pace.
Your next aim should be to run 21 km in 2 hours, then 22 km and so on. By keeping the duration constant but improving the speed, you’ll reap more performance benefits.
Run on fatigued legs
If you were to the only train for a marathon or some other running distance, running on fresh legs would have been paramount for your key sessions. That isn’t the case with triathlon training. Running is at the very end of triathlon and you start running immediately after hopping off the bike. By this time, your legs are very tired indeed.
To cope with this situation, you need to incorporate running on tired legs. Since you have three disciplines to juggle with, you’ll rarely get the chance to recover but that is what you need. If you had a long or a hard interval cycling session, you need to go out the next day and run as smoothly as possible even though you might suffer from heavy legs.
Training is all about specificity and if you want to be a triathlete, you need to simulate running training for triathlon accordingly. You’ll certainly notice that it’s mentally hard to run when your legs are in a fatigued state, so it builds your mental state too.
Brick runs are important in terms of running training for triathlon
Brick training is becoming popular and it has physiological benefits. Usually, you are in the aero position, hunched over the bars for an extended period of time in your cycling leg. Once you start your running from cycling, your body goes through a shock and it redirects the blood flow to the running muscles.
That’s why you’ll face difficulty for the first 10-15 minutes into the run. You’ll notice a jelly-like feeling in your legs and your leg turnover will be pretty slow.
To combat such feeling, you need to incorporate brick training at least once weekly. After a cycling session, go out for a short run immediately. The length of the sessions should be around 10-30 minutes long, no more and within comfortable pace. No more than 2 brick runs should be scheduled in a week.
Add treadmill into the mix
Running indoors can sometimes be boring but properly used, it can be the most important training tool. The treadmill has a soft landing and hence it’s kinder on your knees and other joints. So, it’s very beneficial to perform your intervals or tempo runs on the treadmill.
I tend to schedule all my intervals sessions in the indoor. You can control the speed and the incline without thinking or looking at your watch constantly like on the road. Also, you can’t really back out. Once an interval starts, you can’t cheat and more often than not, you’re forced to gut out and finish your training.
You reap benefits from your training only when you can add proper recovery. Training for a triathlon can sometimes be brutal. Now, if you add more running to the mix and don’t recover for other sessions, you’re only moving backward. The sweetspot is the point where you stay fatigued but still can complete your key sessions.
And don’t try to mimic what pros do. They have a whole day to sleep and recover but as an age group triathlete, it’s seldom the case. There are lots of training plans or bits of advice you’ll find online from the pros but in rare cases, they work. I tried a few of them, only digging myself a hole and suffering badly in the process.
Be smart, train smart. Sometimes more isn’t the merrier, especially when it comes to running.
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