Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Great Drafting Debate

This is a debate that is almost as old as the sport of triathlon. It goes on and on and on and . . . . . To get some idea of how long and deep the debate is, I would suggest to readers that they head over to the Slowtwich forum and do a search on "Drafting" and you will find likely hundreds of threads that do go on and on and on . . .

The History

In the early years of triathlon it came about, that there was a gentleman's agreement between athletes that this was to be an individual test of endurance. When you drafted on the bike behind another rider, there was a significant advantage( 30%+) for the trailing rider. It was agreed that we would not do this. That we would not take that advantage and that we would ride on our own for the whole bike leg. In the early years of the sport, this agreement worked wonderfully. It became part of the rules. The reasons that it worked well was the race fields were relatively small and back then their was a lot of differentiation between people's swim, bike and run abilities and fitness. The strong swimmers led the swim the stronger cyclists moved up on the bike and then the strong runners moved up on the run. However, towards the late 80's race field sizes started to grow considerably as the sport of triathlon went through it's first real growth spurt. I first started to see the problem first hand at the U.S. Triathlon Championships at Hilton Head, SC in 1987. Despite wave starts, on a flat an narrow one lane 40K bike course, large packs of riders started to form. For the first time, the gentleman's agreement was not working. There was a considerable amount of arguing and bickering going on during the bike. Two things were clear: 1) At times, their were simply too many people on too little road in too short a period of time. 2) There were people who were not agreeing to the gentleman's agreement!

The Middle Ages

In the late 80's the sport of triathlon really started to break out in the open. Participant numbers started to make a huge jump. The Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii started to really gain prominance as the sport's most important and high profile race. The International Triathlon Union (ITU) formed, as the sports world governing body and in 1989 hosted the first World Championships. For the first time race offcials and referees were appointed to police the bike leg and enforce the n0-drafting rules. This worked for a time, but it was starting to get a bit out of control - particularly at bigger, high profile events such as the ITU World Cup races, The ITU World Championships as well as the Ironman races. It reached a low point, during 1992 when at the ITU World Championships that year, almost 100 men emerged from the water within 30 seconds of one another after the swim and despite a challenging 40K bike, their was still a large group of 50 men still all very close to one another all heading out onto the run. The bike had done nothing to seperate the key contenders.

At several World Cups in '92 and '93, the scene after the races had been one of chaos and confusion. A number of the top 10 finishers ahd been disqualified out-right for drafting on the bike, even in some cases the first person across the finish-line. Post race appeals would be launched by the DQ'ed athletes and there was considerable arguing and bickering amongst athletes, and race officials. The net result of all this was that even an hour or so after the race was over, their was still not known who won the race. Media needed to file stories and the TV folks were now wondering if they had video of who actually won the race! How could they put a TV show together with no or very limited video of who factored in the final results? This is an over simplification, but the ITU in their wisdom said - fine we tried everything, now it's going to be swim/bike/run however you want, and the first across the finish-line wins! It's simple. It's straight-forward. Everyone get's it. They would allow drafting on the bike. This upset many in the sport. To this day, there are many that really don't care at all for the ITU racing. Some going so far as to say it's not triathlon anymore. It did change the dynamics of the racing quite a bit. The importance of the bike was diminished. However, over time, the importance of the swim was heightened considerably and the run, was as it always had been, was still the most important leg, if for no other reason, than it was last!

Meanwhile, the Ironman races were growing in popularity at a significant rate. Race fields for many of the races including Ironman Hawaii were now well over 1000 athletes. Despite the 180k length of the bike, there was considerable traffic and bunching early on in the bike portion. I first started to notice this at Ironman Hawaii in 1993. I swam exactly 1:00 their that year and headed out on the bike ride in a moderately sized group that only grew in size as we made our way along the Queen K Hwy to the half-way point in the town of Hawi. It had the feel of a big bike race, quite frankly. For the first time, the race was using marshals out on the course to try and enforce the no- drafting rules, but it was doing little to break things up. I recall some heated exchanges between athletes and officials as well as athlete to athlete, but for the first 100K it really did nothing to break things up and as far as I know, no penalties were handed out. What the officials could or would not do or the athletes themselves, the length and the winds on the IMH course would eventually do anyway. I recall riding mostly on my own that year from past the 100K mark to the finish of the bike.

As time went on in the '90s and the sport grew larger and larger with more races, the drafting problem in the non-ITU races, particularly the Ironman races and the 1/2 IM races grew. If you stood at the exit from the the first transition after the swim, as athletes were getting on their bikes, it became apparent what one of the key issues was - there were too many athletes on too little road in too little period of time. The no drafting rules by this time had been much more clearly defined and everyone was made aware of them. They were read out and gone over in detail at mandatory pre-race meetings. The rules, were good, but at certain times and places on the bike courses at these big races, now with close to 2,000 people in them, the rules were asking athletes to do something that was almost physically impossible to do!

In my last race in 1997 at Ironman Canada, for the first 50K, there really was no where to go. There were times when it was almost impossible to ride legal. Things in this race did not start to break-up until we started the long 15K climb up the Richter Pass, past 60K. Beyond the summit of Richter, it was fine. I recall riding in a small group, that rode legal. The old gentleman's agreement worked in these situations. We knew and respected one another. There was lots of road and space. There was a give and take, but an understanding that we would each do this on our own. After that last race in '97, I became an observer, but all I can say is that the drafting would become worse and worse. Another contributing factor was that unlike back in the early days, as people improved in the sport and the became true triple sport athletes, there was no longer that differentiation any more. Many were swimming, and cycling in particular, with a similar level of fitness and talent.

As an observer of races now, I realized that people were starting to fall into groups. There were those who were blatantly drafting. Who took every advantage that they could out on the bike. From what I could tell this was a relatively small group. There was another group who would inadvertently get caught up in the drafting - through no fault of their own. They simply became overwhelmed by the physics of it all - too many people, on too little road in too short a period of time. You can't have over 100 people finish the swim, and head out on the bike in less than a minute, and have them all line up nicely single file with a 7m space between each of them. Based on the size of races many in the middle of the field fell into this group. It was a moderately large number of people. It tended to vary based on how challenging the bike course was physically - larger on flatter course like Ironman Florida, less large on more challenging bikes courses like Ironman Wisconsin. Another group was the people that really did not care about the drafting rules in the big IM races. With respect, these tended to be the people towards the back of the pack. They were in this for the challenge. Time/place was irrelevant to them. They were simply going to finish. They trained with a group of friends for this race, so I race day they wanted enjoy or suffer along with others.

For a time, some of the big IM races tried a draconian implementation of the no-drafting rules. It did not work to well as their was considerable upset amongst athletes who had been DQ'd particularly those towards the back of the race who were really going just to finish. Some slightly different rules were tried - on the road time penalties, that would be served on the bike course, in Penalty Tents set up along the course. Get nailed for Drafting and you would be asked to report to the next Penalty Tent and check in, and then wait for 4 minutes. More and more officials were being asked to referee the bike leg. At big IM races there could be 20 officials out on motorcycles patrolling the course. (The picture at the top of the page is of the WTC Head Referee Jimmy Riccitello briefing the Draft Marshals before they head out on the bike course at this years Ironman Hawaii World Championship race) Despite handing out hundreds of penalties per race, the drafting on the bike was still an issue and cause for much debate and discussion after races.


It's still a big problem. There is no easy solution. The obvious ones, are impractical, unpaletable or financially impossible given the way races are funded and financed these days almost completely on race entry fees. Wave starts help, but unless, you carefully think through the wave starts, and have enough of a gap between waves, Wave Starts can make the drafting out on the bike worse! Challenging, bike courses also help - in a big way. It's no surprise that the drafting is at it's worst on very flat bike courses, and considerably less on a bike course that really challenges triathletes. My wife raced at Ironman Lanzarote earlier this year - a race that has perhaps the most challenging bike profile of any of the big IM races, and she saw almost no drafting. Many are proposing complex and complicated monitoring systems with GPS units on each bike to police the no-drafting. Sounds cool, but I worry that an already complicated, complex and expensive sport may get even more complicated, complex and expensive. Sport when it's at it's best, should be simple. It should be the athletes and the competition that settle things, not some complex set of rules that can seem rather bewildering. As I mentioned earlier, it's one of the key reasons the ITU went the direction that it did in the early 90's. At the time, the ITU was wrestling with the drafting issue, they were also lobbying the IOC for inclusion in the Olympic Games. The ITU had been told, that the IOC likes simple sports, and sports that look good on TV. The no-drafting format was somewhat confusing to the lay person, and as previously stated often yielded bizarre results at the finish line where the winner, was not the winner!

The ITU racing is very exciting and the finishes often have a high degree of drama. If anyone witnessed any of the Olympic Triathlon races over the last three Olympic Games, it's hard not to agree with this. Still, there are those that don't believe this is real triathlon racing. I see their point, if you consider the roots of the sport. The overall importance of the bike leg has been diminished, but only in one dimension - that of it being about strong Time Trialing fitness. In actual fact the demands on ITU racers on the bike have increased! It's not just about putting your head down and hammering, you need to be able to think and react like a real road race cyclist. You need to be able to ride in pack, corner and cover moves and breaks. You need to be able to attack on hills and recover quickly. Sometimes things do happen on the bike and a move get's away. Sometimes it does not. There is much more going on than meets the eye. Many still pooh-pooh all this and go as far as saying that ITU triathletes are not strong cyclists. Perhaps, but I note that whenever the very best ITU triathletes jump into a no-drafting race, they are always near the front and, many of the very best athletes at the Ironman distance these days, and the 1/2IM or 70.3 distance are former ITU racing standouts!

At the Ironman races, they have now seperated the Professionals from the rest of the Age-Group athletes by having the Pros start before the Age-Group mass start. This allows race offcials to more carefully monitor the Pro race and make sure that those racing for money are doing it fairly and within the rules. For the most part the Pro Ironman races are fair and even affairs. The Age-Group Ironman races are still marred to a certain degree by drafting - the amount of it depends on the race and the bike course. Offcials do what they can when they can to break things up. They seem to be taking a realistic approach realizing that early on in the bike, in big Ironman and 1/2 IM events, say the first 20K or so, that it's impossible for everyone to ride totally legally, so they back off. Still, it's an issue, that knows no real solution.

I apologize if I have lead you down a path with no real answers or solutions to this issue, but currently, there really is nothing on the table that is going to dramatically change things. My only hope with this post was to give a brief overview of the history of where we have come from with this issue from the early days of the sport, through the middle years, and onto today. As I see it, part of the issue is the philosophy of what the bike leg of a triahtlon really is, and how different athletes see it and approach it, differently. I have some thoughts on this that I will address in a future post. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

My YouTube Video Debut!

We are going back in time a bit. Out of curiosity, doing a quick search of "Nineteen Wetsuits" on YouTube, turned up a series of short videos that one of our customers, shot at the Interbike trade show back in September. There is a total of four, and in them, I very quickly go over the features of each of our Nineteen wetsuit lines - The Pipeline, the Tsunami, the Frequency and the new Frequency SS ( Speed-Skin).I had talked at length about the new Frequency SS in a previous post about product development. Below are the links to all four of the videos on YouTube. A big thanks to's Seton Clegget and Sarah Lienke who shot the videos of, not just Nineteen but, I am sure their many other vendors as well. I was surprised, by the numbers of people that had viewed the Nineteen videos on YouTube already!

And by the way - this is a great example of Long Tail sales and marketing at work. I had reviewed Chris Anderson's book, "The Long Tail" in an earlier post, it's been interesting to see this in action. Again, anyone looking to get a better understanding of current sales and marketing trends and how to make the best use of the current resources of the internet and social networking that is available, should definitely read, "The Long Tail".

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Winter Bike Training

If you live where you get real winter you may have to make some changes to your bike training for the winter season. One option is to keep riding. The picture above is of Cervelo sales Manager Rodney Merchant's RS Road bike on a mid winter ride near Toronto. Few are as hardy as Rodney, but a great attitude and the right apparel can go a long way to riding outdoors in less then ideal conditions. However, let's be realistic - most triathletes will be doing their bike training indoors if that's what they are going to be facing outdoors.

So what to do on the indoor trainer? Personally, I have never been a fan of spending a huge amount of time on the indoor trainer. I know that there are people that grind out, 3, 4 and even 5 hour indoor rides. I would suggest shorter more focused and more intense efforts. Done right these workouts can be very effective.

If you have been off the bike for a while it might be good to put in some time just working up to being able to ride at a good pace for 45 minutes to an hour. Once you can do this, then there are three different kinds of workouts I suggest. They revolve around 1, 2 and 5 minute blocks of time. I set my timer on my watch to the count-down-and-return function so that if I set it at 2 minutes, it will run for 2 minutes and then beep and keep repeating the beep every 2 minutes and so on.

I would start with 2 minutes and after a 10 -15 min. warm-up, start to do 2 minutes at hard effort and then 2 minutes easy spinning. Do 4 - 6 of these and see how you feel. Next time play around with things, Maybe do four minutes hard with 4 minutes rest etc . . . One of the best workouts that you can do with these 2 minute units of time is 4 minutes hard with 2 minutes recovery. If you can do 6 of these at close to max effort and fully recover in the 2 minute easy period - you are doing well. Spin down for 10 - 15 minutes and you are done.

The one minute time period is good for working on your power and your sprint. Set the timer for one minute and then go as hard as you can for one minute - really max out. Then rest of 1, 2 or even 3 minutes and repeat the one hard minute. Repeat this cycle until you can't go all out for the one minute hard. This set can be worked in at the end of the previous 2 minute workout, or on it's own in the middle of an easy recovery ride.

Finally the 5 minute time period is good for building up your longer Time-Trial fitness and learning to work and sustain a moderately hard effort right at the edge, without going over - this is key for triathlon cycling. Start off going for 10 minutes at a moderately hard pace. Then take 5 minutes to recover, then go hard again for another 10 minutes. This should be the type of effort that feels easy at first but by the time you reach the last few minutes of the ten minute hard portion, you feel like you are really working hard. The gold standard of what you want to build up to here is 20 minutes hard with 5 - 10 minute rest and then repeat the 20 minutes hard. If you are doing this right, you should be surfing along right at the edge of your Lactate Threshold and not blowing up and going over it.

The other option for indoor riding is rollers. Many triathletes shy away from rollers, but they are one of the best training tools for developing a smooth and efficient pedal stroke. Typically they don't offer much in the way of resistance, so this is usually not as hard as a workout on the indoor trainer.

I have noticed from observing thousands of triathletes, that many don't have very smooth and efficient pedal strokes. Riding rollers really helps smooth things out. They also make you very confidant on your bike by teaching you what the keys to great bike balance are. You know you have a good aero-postion, are well set up on your bike, and have a smooth and efficient pedal stroke, when you can ride in your aero position on the rollers. Many can't do this - but it is worth striving for. If you look at the best triathletes and bike Time-Trialers they have one thing in common - they are all very quiet, still, smooth and efficient on the bike.

If you do have rollers, what I like to do is alternate roller sessions, with sessions on the trainer - so two rollers sessions a week and two trainer sessions a week. None of these sessions need last longer than 45 minutes to an hour. If you do that through the 3 - 4 months of winter, you will definitely maintain your bike fitness, you may even elevate it!

Hope this helps.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

New Product Developmemt - Frequency SS

New product development is always fun - finding a market is the challenge.

We are currently in the final stages of developing a new product at Nineteen. Pictured above on one of our sponsored athletes, Jeff Keil from Colorado, is our new Frequency SS. The SS stands for Speed-Skin or Swim-Skin. Jeff placed second in his Age Group at the recent Ironman World Championships and swam to a 3 minute personal best swim time in the new Nineteen Frequency SS! This was a new product category that was really opened up by our fellow wetsuit manufacturer, Blue Seventy Wetsuits when they debuted their Point Zero 3 swim skin just over a year ago. Until then in non-wetsuit swims, triathletes had worn regular swim or tri suits. Now they could gain an edge by wearing a garment that made them much more hydro-dynamically sleek in the water.

Blue Seventy pushed the envelope and moved the ball down the court - kudos to them. They even took the ball outside of the triathlon court and potentially opened up a whole new market when they seeked and won FINA approval for the Point Zero 3. Problem is, in the world of pool swimming there is one and only one brand that rules - Speedo. All the talk before after and during the recent Olympic Games was the Speedo Lazer. And to Speedo's credit, they hit the ball out of the court as well, when the Lazer wearing swim stars of the Games, including the mighty Michael Phelps, went on a World Record rampage! Guess what racing swim suit all competitive and masters swimmers are talking about?

Where am I going with this? Well, as I mentioned, new product development is fun and cool, but new market development can be a slow and tedious process and that's what Nineteen as well as any of the tri wetsuit companies are facing with our new swim-skins, when looking into the real swimming pool. I have already started this process and like anything, it's about doing a lot of listening at the out-set and learning as much as you can, as quickly as you can. My sense is that their may be some real potential here, but it's going to take time. One great thing about triathletes, is that they are early adopters of just about everything. Tell a triathlete it will help them, even a bit, and they will buy into it, almost right on the spot! It's a key reason for the success of many smaller companies supplying product and services to the triathlon market. Single sport athletes, for the most part are much more skeptical. So I have my work cut out for me. I'll keep you posted as I go.

Triathlon Coaching

I will be taking on a very limited number of clients for 2009 who are seeking a triathlon coach.

What I offer is a bit different than other similar services out there. The best fit will be the experienced triathlete who knows what they are doing day to day and week to week, but needs high level guidance and advice to keep the program on track and that goals are being met. I will not be handing out individual workouts or spread-sheets of your entire program. If you are looking for that, there are ample other services available, even free down-loadable online training programs. My process and input is more consultative and tailored to your needs and goals, with an assumption you already have a good sense of what to do.

There is a tremendous amount of information out there on triathlon training and I know that many are confused about what to do and how to do it. Ironically, endurance sports training is not that complicated. Often athletes who are striving for personal bests, loose site of this and get lost or disoriented with all the details and the information. I can help simplify it, using the basic fundamentals, of human physiology and endurance sports training. You may even have a coach already or are following an online program and need some higher level advise or guidance to work through it all and get out of it what you want/need.

If you are a triathlete and this sounds of interest to you, I am keen to engage and see what we can do together.

For rates, more information on what I do, and my back ground, please don't hesitate to contact me:

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Tri Business in Troubled Times

The daily business news is grim. Yesterday, I heard a chilling stat. Automobile sales, that had peaked last year at 17 million units sold in the U.S., have dropped abruptly this year and they are expecting only about 10 million new units sold this year. That's a 7 million unit drop in a year! No wonder the automobile manufacturers, in particular the big three US Auto makers are hurting.

What about the triathlon world and business? So far, from what I can tell it's for the most part business as usual. Most of our customers had good to great years this year - not just with Nineteen wetsuit sales, but overall. Despite all the daily bad news, triathletes where still buying, bikes, wetsuits, shoes, clothes and all those other tri gadgets and nick-nacks, mostly at a record pace. The recent Interbike Trade show (Picture of the Nineteen booth above) was very up-beat. Most vendors that I talked to, had good years this year and pre-season orders for 2009 were at or ahead of record levels. The mood amongst many of our retail customers was very good. Some were a bit wary about the dark economic storm clouds that have been gathering all year, but they still were optimistic for 2009.

It's not a surprise really. The triathlon demographic is very good. You need to have a certain level of income - well north of what would be considered "average" to afford all the equipment needed to do the sport. You need sports gear for, three different sports! I think that is one of the key things that keeps it going. This may also be the dark down-side to this as the barrier costs to getting into the sport have been going steadily up, as have race entry fees. I have heard others say that if we see anything over the next year, it will be a slowing down of new people that have been coming into the sport - for that reason. The barrier costs of all the equipment needed and race entry fees getting too high. However, that is a slowdown from an astounding growth rate over the last five years. Record numbers of new people have come into the sport of triathlon and embraced the training and the lifestyle with gusto - and this is where the opportunity may lie. Many of these new people, bought entry level equipment to start out, in the last few years, just to get going - particularly when it comes to bikes and wetsuits. When they come back into the store now, they are not going to want to replace what they have with something similar. They are going to want to take a step up. My sense is even in troubled economic times, we are still going to be seeing people trading up to better equipment. That's why, many bike manufacturers, such as Cervelo, debuted over-the-top new bikes at the top-end of their lines - they know, that in addition to building awareness and the brand, these bikes will sell, because people do want to step up!

Be ready for the step up!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Bicycles & Airline Travel - The Challenges

Below is a response to a series of posts on a message board that I take part in called The subject was traveling with your bike on planes. It's been a subject of endless debate over the years, but has reached fever pitch recently, as almost all the airlines have significantly raised all of the extra fees that they charge people for extra baggage beyond one checked bag. It has become particularly frustrating and expensive for triathletes and cyclists who frequently travel with their bikes to places to train and to races.

My thoughts on Bikes on the Planes:

1. The prices that we are paying for airline travel these days are a bargain. Many would disagree with me on this, but it is the reality. I recently traveled to Ironman Hawaii (IMH). I paid about $900 for my ticket from Toronto to Kona. Nearly 20 years ago in 1989, I went to Kona for the first time. In '89 I paid . . . . . . . about $900. Name me another high cost business with very expensive deliverables, that has stayed the same price for two decades?

2. What the airlines are trying to do is recover some costs because, they are loosing money on many( all) seats in the planes. So they are starting to charge for all those little extra things that previously had been "free". Most of the airlines have totally overhauled their policies when it comes to extra baggage and come up with completely, and mostly much more expensive fees for overweight, extra bags, over- size and special bags( bikes, skis . etc) . . at least this is what they are saying.

3. Now, historically, the airlines have for the most part had a special fee for bikes. The problem was that this was very inconsistently charged and enforced. In the past, by chance and by luck, or by a bit of friendly persuasion at the check-in counter you could travel a lot with a bike and never get charged! No more - now they are starting to play hard-ball with this and the fees in many cases have gone up significantly AND they are cumulative ie if it's a B-I-K-E, you are charged this, if it's your second bag, you are given another fee, if it's oversize( which just about all standard bike cases are) you are levied another fee, and if it's overweight( again which many standard bike cases can be) you are dinged again with yet another fee. As ridiculous as this sounds, I know people that paid more to get their bike to Kona for IMH then they did for themselves sitting in a seat on the plane!!

4. There still seems to be a variation in which airlines charge what and also in the levying of the extra fees. We flew Delta to Kona and only paid $50 outbound for my wife's bike. The check-in agent said that she was only charging us $50 because it was her second piece of luggage. She had asked if it was a bike and we said it was. It says quite clearly in the Delta Web site that, bikes will cost $175 each way + any extra fees for over-size, over-weight etc . . I verified these charges before the trip, with a phone call to Delta Customer service and also an email to same. On the return trip leaving Kona we paid $100, which we were told every bike leaving Kona is charged. It's kinda hard to fake your way off the Island with a bike when over 2,000 bikes are leaving the Island in 2 - 3 days!! So we paid a grand total of $150 which was a relief because we had been mentally prepared to pay $300+ But again - confusion and inconsistency seemed to reign.

5. What to do? First, choose your airline wisely. Many people book via Expedia or other online agents and automatically pick the cheapest ticket. Before you do that check with that airline on their bike policy. There still is a range. For example, West Jet, still does not charge for extra bags and the bike fee is a set $50. It may be worthwhile to take the more expensive airline ticket up front, and know that you will be paying less for your bike. Second - write the airlines. Tell them that, you understand that paying a bit more for safe and secure transport for your bike is OK, but when the price to transport the bike is more than for your seat on the plane, it's an absurd situation. Third - lobby or contact Race Directors for the events that you are going to and inquire about the race's sponsor airline, if they have one, and use that airline. Only go to races that offer that sort of deal. At some point people can and should start to vote with their pocket-books. Fourth - You can as others suggested use another type of bag - Hockey Bag etc to transport the bike by stealth and try and fake it. Given the security measures with airline travel these days, particularly in the U.S., I would be a bit wary, of out-right lying about the contents of my luggage! But that's a personal decision. Also, significantly more work needs to be done to disassemble and re-assemble the bike and may be only applicable to those with advanced bike mechanics skills Finally - use a service such as Tri-Bike-Transport to ship your bike to the event. This is only offered for limited events and to limited geographic areas, but it is an option. I know that Tri-Bike-Transport's business is booming. No surprise, when you consider the hassles and how uncertain and variable the costs of traveling with your bike as checked baggage is.

No easy answers, but hopefully shedding some light on a problem right now for those that do travel with their bikes - Flyer beware!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Marathons & Triathlon

This subject routinely comes up at this time of year on triathlon forms and message boards: Should I run a marathon in the off-season? It seems counter intuitive, but if the desire is improving ones running in a triathlon - any length triathlon, the straight up answer is, "no, don't run a marathon in the off season"

Deeper questions need to be asked though before leaving it there: What is the athletes focus? Is it triathlon or do they have a singular goal of running a marathon, maybe qualifying for the Boston Marathon? How is their running in relation to the other two sports? Do they come from a running back ground? The answers to these questions, will give some guidance as to what direction to go.

If the triathlete has a burning desire to run a marathon. Great! My suggestion to them would be to take 6 months to maybe even a year and really focus on the marathon and do it right. The problem is many triathletes look at running a marathon in too short a period of time, just bolt on a few extra long runs, and hope/pray that running the marathon is going to somehow totally transform and improve their triathlon running. The actual impact on how they run in triathlons is minimal and over the short term, depending on the timing of the marathon and key tri races, can me detrimental to their triathlon running and performance. If they take the time to really train for a marathon and do it right ( and it's not just about all long runs all the time), they will have some very positive long-term impacts on not just their stand-alone running but their triathlon running to.

Now if the focus is overall triathlon improvement with a concurrent desire to improve their triathlon running, then the wise triathlete will eschew the off-season marathon completely. Again, seems counter intuitive, but if you understand what running in a triathlon is you will perhaps see where I am going with this. Tri-running is about running while tired. You start out with tired legs and often with poor running form after the bike. The pace you run has to be that all-day, I can run-this-on-trashed-legs pace. A potent builder of this sort of run fitness is high frequency running - running as many days/week as you can. Get out and run almost every day - for 20 minutes to up to 2 hours. Just get out and run. Don't worry so much about pace, or heart rate. At first just try and build up to running for some bit of time ( 20min minimum is a good place to start) for upwards of 6 or even 7 days/week. Once getting in 6 or 7 days week, then start to increase weekly volume slowly. Do this for 3 - 4 months in the off season and you will really deepen the base running fitness you have and your ability to run while tired. If the triathlete wants to race - do a few 10K or even 1/2 marathon races. These distances push key fitness parameters like lactate threshold, but you can recover quickly and get back to the high frequency program quickly without a lot of down time.

My wife, Paolina Allan (pictured above), has become a very consistent 3:20 marathon runner in Ironman runs. She is not a natural runner and she has never run a stand-alone marathon. She has achieved this standard of triathlon and IM runnning by using a program of high frequency running through the winter months and she races a number of 10K and 1/2 marathons and uses these as training efforts and benchmarks of fitness.

Hope this helps.