It has always seemed to me that out of the three activities we attempt to master as triathletes, running holds the most dubious position. It's the safest of the three disciplines; if you stop swimming you may sink, if you stop pedaling you'll fall over but if you stop running - it just becomes a walk. It's also the discipline we have been practicing the longest; most of us have been running since we were three years old and have developed deeply ingrained habits and a certain style of running. There is a chance that you may have never been in the water or on a bike but, no matter what, we have all run at some point in time. Because of all of this, running may be the simplest of our three sports, but it is by no means the easiest. The impact of running brings more frequent injuries, heart rates are generally highest on the run, and often times - because of familiarity of running - it is the most challenging to change technically. I bring this up because I believe that the run is the most important part of a triathlon.
Almost every triathlon in the world concludes with a run. The run can also be the most time critical event of a race. If a swim specialist who is also very strong on the bike enters an Ironman he may gain 15 minutes on the swim, and maybe even 45 minutes on the bike over a strong runner. But that hour lead can quickly melt away if that swim specialist is running 8:30 miles. To compound the importance, the end of the race usually brings the hottest temperatures of the day, when the body is at its greatest risk of fatigue, when it is usually suffering from dehydration and malnourishment. This is the time when a comfortable, efficient run is critical. To make your run the best consider including the following in your training program:
Frequency over duration: Run often without letting your body have too many days away from the motion. You are better off conditioning your body with four 3 mile runs per week than one 12 miler.
180 steps per minute: Small stride length can result in faster times and fewer injuries. The easiest way to measure this is to note your watch and count every foot strike for 30 seconds. Try to get the result around 90 steps for that 30 second period. Check back periodically throughout the run and especially on descents. Try to remember what if "feels" like to run at that pace and hold it for the entire run. Foot strike under the hip: This goes hand in hand with 180 steps per minute. If your stride is long that generally means that the foot is connecting with the ground in front of the hip. This will result in braking that will slow your run times and create more strain than necessary on all of the lower joints, muscles and connective tissues.
Run at different speeds: Too many triathletes and runners have one run speed. Play with speed while you run - you may surprise yourself by running faster than you thought you could, or by finding a "go all day" comfort zone that is only a hair slower than your normal pace. These gears can come in handy during a race. Slower speeds can be used at aid stations and feed zones or to get you through a tough time. Faster speeds can allow you to gain some ground in the last miles of a race.
Get on the track once a week: The track is a controlled environment where focus can be taken off traffic, lights, and surfaces and be put straight into pace and technique. Start with a 6-10 minute warm up either off the track or in the opposite direction. For a simple track workout, start longer with "mile repeats" (4 laps) and note your time. Then reduce the distance to a 1/2 mile (2 laps) and take the mile average and cut it in half and subtract 5 or 10 seconds to get your goal for the 1/4 mile segments. Conclude with some "quarters" (1 lap) where again the time goal is half of the half-mile time, less 5 seconds. Between every effort include a one lap jog for recovery. If you have never run on the track before, START SLOWLY and create a workout that, in the early stages, is a total of 3 to 4 miles long.
Include a "long run" in your weekly program: Once a week you should have an aerobic run that is long. If your racing Sprint, Olympic or even Half Ironman distance races, let the long run build slowly over several weeks until they are "over distance" - longer than the race run by a few miles. If you are racing an Ironman distance race then the long runs can peak out at around 18 -20- 22 miles.
Odds and ends: Replace your running shoes often. Practice eating and drinking while you run. Brick workouts are essential to get you familiar with the feeling of running right off the bike. If you're injury prone, invest in a flotation belt (around $40) and run in the pool once a week to keep up the motion without the impact. Lay out some run courses that emulate the terrain of your next race. Read John Douillardâ€™s â€œBody, Mind and Sportâ€ and learn, among other things, how to get "the runners high".
The run leg of a triathlon is where most races are won or lost, so place some extra focus on your run training to really make the most of your racing. ?