Monday, December 1, 2008
Run and Done
The truly interesting thing about the run leg in triathlons is that regardless of the format of the race or the length of the race, many big, highly competitive triathlon races are always sorted out on the run. It's been this way since the early days of the sport. The run leg has always had a high importance, if for no other reason than, that it's last!
What I have noticed over the past few years is that in general, run performance in triathlon races is dropping or at the least is not getting any faster. This to me represents a great opportunity for the triathlete who is serious about increasing their place performance - in particular those looking to place on the podium in their age-group or score a qualifying spot for the IM World Championships or the 70.3 Championships. Run performance in triathlon is a complicated thing. However, the bottom line is that, however you improve your run performance, it's almost guaranteed that if you run faster, you will place higher and finish faster!
The three biggest influencers on race day, run performance are, bike fitness, appropriate bike pacing and then overall run fitness. I am going to address this last point here. Many people start out in triathlon and get a nice balanced training program from their coach or work out a nice weekly routine that works for them. Typically, this involves 2 - 3 run workouts per week. This is a great way to get things rolling and many athletes will go a long way with this sort of a program. However, often it's the run leg that is letting them down. Assuming, decent bike fitness, and appropriate race day pacing - it very well may be, overall run fitness that is holding them back.
What to do? For athletes like this, in particular those with a chronic weak run leg, those in the sport for less than 3 years, an off-season run focus can really help ramp up the fun fitness and tri-race, run leg performance. The good news is that it's a remarkably straight-forward program. The bad news is that . . . . . well, their really is no bad news other than it's going to take a few months to get some solid returns.
How to do this? Start thinking like a runner. Runners only run! That should be a clue as to where I am going here. The first thing you need to do is start running more days/week. If only running 2 or 3 days, you need to start working up 5 to 6 or even 7 days/week of running. Set a minimum, that you will call a "run" - 20 minutes is a good minimum. If you are having motivation problems, seek out friends or a running club, that will help get you out the door to get this done. There is a group over on the Slowtwitch forum working on 100 run days in a row! Once you have become comfortable running 5 - 7 days/week, then start to increase overall weekly volume - 10% week has become the standard and is a good safe target to shoot for.
Too many, worry too much about what these run workouts should be like - what pace, what heart rate, how long, how hard . . etc . A rule of thumb is that you should be not so stiff and sore so that you can't repeat that run workout the next day. A little bit of stiffness is OK. If it goes away in the first 5 - 6 minutes of running - that is about right. Just get out and run - some days you'll run faster, other days will be slower. It's not the day to day running that's important here, nor what you do week to week - it's putting together a block of time ( I would suggest a minimum of 3 months) where running is your focus. It's the total amount of running over a longer period of time that is key.
In a previous post, I talked a bit about triathletes running marathons. My suggestion would be to resist the temptation to do this - do the training for the marathon, but don't race the marathon! If you have a burning desire to do some running races, the better distances to race at would be 5K or 10K. This will allow you to run hard/fast and then allow you to get back to your run focus quickly with minimal down time.
Now, some are likly wondering what to do about swimming and cycling during this time. After all, this is the sport of triathlon we are talking about. A remarkable amount of fitness can be maintained over a long period of time with 1 or 2 very focused swim or bike workouts each week. Make them really count! For many that have to deal with a real winter( cold weather and snow etc . .), this is the perfect time of the year to do this as cycling time is going to be compromised anyway.
This is very general advice, but I almost gaurantee you, that if you do this for a minium of 3 months, and then after you get back to a more balanced three sport training program, for a period of time, that your run leg performance and indeed your overall triathlon performance will have been improved significantly.
The picture above is of my wife Paolina Allan, when she finished 2nd at Ironman Canada a few years ago. She left T2 over 20 minutes down on the lead and in 7th place. She was able to run her way all the way to second place and within 3 minutes of winning the whole race!It was a focused block of running done earlier that year that had lifted her triathlon running to a much higher level.
Best wishes. Let me know how it goes.