I often have athletes coming to me because they want to improve their run off the bike. Often times the first response is the athlete thinks they need to run more. Sometimes this is the case but often it’s not. Running for a 1500 m track event and running off of a 90 km or 180 km bike are two completely different things. I’ve seen athletes hiring a run coach to improve their running, then see their 400m times improve, but still fall short when it comes to having a good run off the bike. Here are my 10 tips to helping you have a better run off the bike in triathlon:
1. Get off your toes
I’m not sure when the forefoot running first came out but I’m almost certain it wasn’t discovered in triathlon! Teaching athletes to strike from the front of the foot leads to nothing but low leg injuries and for most is not sustainable, especially for a 42 km run off the bike. This style of running takes the key muscles out of the equation (glutes) and puts way too much pressure on the lower leg and calf. When an athlete is tired and completely depleted it makes no sense in my opinion to keep loading up the smaller muscle groups. Now there is still the odd runner out there who can sustain an Ironman marathon on their toes, but it’s more than likely that they’ve been running a high volume for most of their lives and can get away with it. Even Haile Gebrselassie, a former marathon world record holder, when asked what he changed to improve his marathon times, said he needed to move to more of a heel strike.
2. Work on high run cadence
In general, increasing run turnover will help an athlete run faster. In the second half of the run when the body is out of “spring”, a long stretched out stride just takes too much energy out of the athlete. We aim for a cadence of 90 strides per minute for most people. For people with shorter legs it is often higher at around 95-100.
3. Improve run efficiency
One of the most important factors for a good Ironman marathon is being as efficient as possible. The best ways I have found to improve run efficiency is to increase your turnover (as mentioned above), staying upright (not leaning forward), reducing your vertical oscillation (the amount you bounce up and down every step), keeping your arms up closer to your chest, and keeping your legs low (reducing the amount of hamstring kick at the back of your stride). It’s important to always focus on holding a good technique as you get more fatigued at the end of your sessions. We call this TUF (technique under fatigue). If you ever notice the best runners in the back half of a race, you will almost always notice a similar thing, they still look good even though they may be hurting because they are efficient!
4. Get on the treadmill
If your main problem is either needing to get your cadence up or you struggle from running injuries, then my suggestion is get on the treadmill. It’s helps with turnover as it’s almost impossible to over stride. The surface also helps lessen the impact on the body. Also, when athletes are trying to improve their bike, treadmill running works well as they are able to recover faster from a treadmill run so they can hit the bike hard enough on the non-running days.
5. Get your bike stronger
When I won my age group at Ironman Australia in 2015 with the fastest female run split, I did not do more running that year, in fact it was the opposite (it was 65 km/week max). I actually did less running and just worked on my bike strength with a tonne of big gear work on the bike. I recently had an athlete run a 2:57 marathon (a 12 min marathon PB) after a PB bike this year. The main thing we worked on was proper fuelling and more big gear training on the bike, NOT more running.
6. Run more hills
This is fairly obvious, but long distance triathlon is very much a strength sport where strength endurance is the key component to a successful race. Running hills, just like pushing big gears on the bike, will help you run faster on the flat. It also helps prevent running injuries. At Trisutto we generally like to run hills every 3rd run or so.
7. Build mileage slowly
You can only get better if you’re not injured. One of the best ways to reduce the chances of injury is to build up the mileage slowly. I recommend increasing run volume by no more than 10% per week. At Trisutto we say “hurry slowly”. For most females it’s best to only run every second day, in order to rest the bones on the non-run days.
8. Double or triple run days
Double or triple run days is a great way to get mileage up instead of just a really long run on the weekend. This also helps keep the run quality up and generally less risk for injury as opposed to just going long and slow every weekend.
9. Make most of your runs progressive
There are a few reasons for doing this. The first is there is less chance of injury when you start your runs slower. If the muscles are tired from training load, they often need more time to warm up and get all the big muscles firing. If you step out the front door and go straight into a hard run (which needs the large muscle groups) you increase the risk of pulling something. Also, I’ve never seen it work in a race to start too fast. You will almost always finish a race/session better if you start easier and finish fast. It seems to work ok for the Kenyans.
10. Stay fuelled
Staying well fuelled in my opinion is the key factor for staying injury free. Any injuries I’ve seen have almost 100% of the time happened from under fueling or losing weight too quickly. It’s a tough subject because the main thought is “if I lose weight I will run faster”. Yes this can be true, but if you are injured from losing weight and can’t run, you obviously won’t improve. Do some athletes need to stay bigger to improve? Yes. Could some athletes lose weight to improve? Yes. It all depends on the size of the engine and frame of the athlete. If you are an athlete who may have a little bit too much extra weight, my advice is to try and lose it slowly and more in the off season when the training intensity/load isn’t too high.
Michelle Barnes is a 13 time Ironman Finisher and 7 time Kona Qualifier with over 30 AG podiums in all distances. She was recently the 35-39 AG Champion at Ironman Australia, where she had the fastest overall female marathon, including the pros. Michelle understands the challenge of training at a competitive level and need for balance while holding down a full time job.
Join Michelle in Vernon, British Columbia for two training camps in July.
‘Coach, what about racing in other sports?’
The Northern Hemisphere season has kicked off and one of the most asked questions is ‘Coach, I’ve got time before I do my main race. Can I do a race in another sport?’
My answer changes depending on the sport, the amount of time before the main race, and the possibility that doing that race could cause injury that will impact on the main goal of the season.
Let’s start with an open water swim race. The answer is nearly always a yes, great idea. Any time we get to practice open water in a real race scenerio is a big positive for me. If it is not the day before the race I’m more than happy to give it the big thumbs up.
Let’s move to the run race scenario. Again, I like this as a training aid to a better triathlon run. In saying that, we break it up into two categories:-
- To help improve speed, choose a race that is much shorter than race distance. If one is racing Sprint or Olympic distance triathlon, then a 3 to 5 km road race is a great stimulus for future.
- To help improve race pace for long course / Ironman athletes, then races from 10 to 21 km are ideal. My favorite is around 15 km, as I have found it gives a great stimulus of both above race pace and endurance, but without flattening the athlete, or interrupting too much their training due to needing a longer time to recover. When attempting this style of race we insist it must be done negative split, or as a build run. This ensures we don’t build up a lot of unnecessary lactate during what is a glorified training session.
I left the bike to last, as when an athlete tells me they would like to join a cycle race, I ask if they would like a broken collarbone before their main event of the year?
In a perfect world I’d love to say yes, but rarely does this occur. Safety must be the ultimate decider of bike racing, and I just don’t see pack riding being beneficial to an Ironman racer. If they ask can I do a time trial race, I’m the first to say ‘what a great idea’.
Let me be clear, if someone asked me to pick between a 1 hour criterium or a 1 hour time trial on a turbo, I would say there is no comparison. (I have only seen one, no two athletes fall off a turbo – but that is for another story!)
Racing other sports I find to be a great benefit if you put them in context with your long term goals, and can help you enjoy your fitness without breaking the bank – financially, or physically.
Get out there and give them a go!
I’ve often been asked what are the two things that make a great triathlete? I always say consistency and effort in training. Of course, possessing a great physiology and mental toughness is an advantage as well, but when it comes to training principles, it is my opinion that Specificity and Progressive Overload are the two that are most important.
What is Specificity and Progressive Overload in training?
Specificity in not only the type of training, that is swimming, cycling and running, but also in the intensity of effort. Progressive Overload, is gradually increasing workload volume, intensity, or frequency of training over time.
You probably realise by now that at Trisutto we don’t spend much time on what is not specific to triathlon. Our training routines rotate around those activities that we use when racing, that is lots of swimming, biking and running. Lots of “switching” and “bricks”. Not much stretching, weights, or yoga.
The same could be said for the intensities that we train. While there is the bulk of training at intensities lower than race pace, there is also a prescribed amount at race pace and a smaller amount just above race pace. Rarely do we need to train at maximum intensities.
A good example of this is one of our regular run sessions. I remember discussing with Brett Sutton over 20 year ago, about how he learnt to become a triathlon coach from being a swim coach. His reply was that ‘he knew nothing about biking and running, but just applied the same principles as he had learnt in swimming’. Therefore, his run sets were designed like swim sets, i.e. longer, less intense running with a short recovery. I was taught with running, being a higher intensity activity, the work to rest ratio should be 1:3. Brett just turned that around (3:1) and it soon convinced me that he was on to something that has been a great weapon for coaches who are willing to treat triathlon as one sport and not three separate sports.
Specificity and Progressive Overload Training in Action
As an example, lets consider a running workout on the athletics track.
4 x 200m leaving on 1 minute.
Initially doing 4 repeats of this 4 x 200m, and an additional 30 seconds rest between each of these 4 sets. We can add an additional repeat each week, building up to 8 repeats of 4 x 200m. Your 200m pace should be approximately race pace for a 5km running race. Over the weeks, we progressively overload through increasing the volume, while maintaining the same rest periods.
Once this is achieved, we can move from 8 sets of 4 x 200m, to 4 sets of 8 x 200m while still maintaining the 60 second send off for each 200m, and still keeping an additional 30 seconds rest between each of the sets. We do the same number of 200m intervals (32), but have fewer of the 30 seconds rest periods as we are doing them broken into 4 sets, not 8 sets.
From here we could move to 4 sets of 10 x 200m (3.2km total), 2 sets of 25 x 200m, and finally to 1 set of 50 x 200m (10km total) still maintaining the same send off of 1 minute for each 200m.
You will notice in this example that the time base has remained the same (1 minute), however the specific overload has increased. The number of 200m intervals has increased from 32 to 50. There has been a reduction in the amount of rest in the workout as we moved from 8 repeats with 30 seconds additional rest between each, then to 4 repeats, then to 2 repeats and finally to 50 x 200m without any additional rest periods.
Yes this is a tough workout, but you are progressively overloading as you become fitter. You are also resting after every 200m (the time between finishing one 200m and starting the next one), you are working your cardiovascular system, but not completely exhausting your muscular system, as you would do if you ran the same distance (10km) at that same speed continuously. This allows holding better form, with less injury risk, while being able to train the neuromuscular system at ‘race pace’ in a planned and progressive approach throughout the whole year.
The same principles can be achieved running 400s or even 800s. It is all about being Specific and Overload.
Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.
As we move into February, most athletes are back into their training routines. For those who earned a good off season and are just starting back up, they may be feeling somewhat out of shape. They may have also gained a few kilos enjoying their holidays or simply from training less – which I think is a good idea for most. This is also the time that I see a lot of athletes wanting to rush into getting their fitness back straight away and wanting to see the “old” paces from before their big builds to key races or their “old” numbers on the scale.
Hurrying anything in triathlon in my opinion leads to nothing but burn out, injury and a short life in the sport! I have personally spent five years studying sports science at University, ten years working in the fitness industry helping people get fit and lose weight, six years treating clients as a Massage Therapist and I’ve been coaching since 2009. So, I have LOADS of personal experience learning the best ways to prevent injuries and burn out before they start!
I’m also someone who spent my first two years in Triathlon with several injuries and a stress fracture by not doing things right with my eating and recovery methods. I’ve learnt a lot since then and now as a coach I have built a reputation of helping people come back from injury and burn out. So here are my top 10 tips for preventing injuries before they start:
1. Listen to your body
We’ve all had times when our body gives us little niggles, which are often ignored resulting in a full-blown injury. I’m not saying worry about every little tightness, but if something is causing you to run differently or doesn’t work itself out after 15 min of running or cycling then don’t ignore it! Get a proper diagnosis from a professional and talk to your coach about what should be done.
2. Proper Fueling
It’s important to be well fueled (this includes carbs!) especially during and after intense workouts.
I see this all the time. It’s no coincidence that most injuries occur when weight is dropped too quickly. I see it all the time- muscles can’t fully fire properly without enough fuel, especially for more intense intervals. If you want to go faster, your body needs carbs, your brain works on carbs and you will not only limit your performance but limit recovery as well without them. It’s doesn’t mean we are jamming down massive calories for a 45 min morning jog but for anything over 90 min you should be fueling. There are always exceptions, but I can say that most females under fuel, which is why they seem to be more prone to things like stress fractures etc.
3. Adequate Warm up
Don’t skip your warm up, especially when running intervals.
If you are pressed for time and can’t get your whole workout in, you are better off skipping the cool down rather than the warm up. This is especially critical if you are doing running intervals or some sort of fartlek workout. I’ve seen many running injuries occur with people who hop straight onto the treadmill for their fast 30 sec intervals with zero warm up. Fartlek and faster running needs ALL the big muscles working and they take longer to warm up. The more training you are doing, the longer the warm up. I won’t advise any running intervals without at least a 15 min warm up, unless it’s straight off the bike, in which case the bike is the warm up.
As a side note, for harder run sessions I often prefer my athletes to walk or hop on the bike for a cool-down, as this this is often safer than trying to force a slow run when fatigued.
4. Run Frequency
If you are a female and prone to injuries, I recommend running every second day and mixing it up with the treadmill. Now I say females just because their bones don’t usually have the same strength as males, but this can apply to both. If you are prone to injuries, run every other day and incorporate lots of treadmill sessions. You will recover better and give your bones a rest on the days off.
I have a rule that if you are doing decent run mileage, keep at least 50% on a soft surface, so either track or treadmill. I use to give this advice to my massage clients all the time, then one year I broke the rule myself and ended up with a stress response in my sacrum. For the males or stronger females, we go one day hard, one day easy and one day off running.
This is your best recovery aid on the market hands down. This is when your body repairs, this is when your natural Growth Hormone (GH) is at its best, which is critical for recovery. Pre-midnight hours are your best bang for your buck- so 8 hours from 9-5 is going to be way better quality than 8 hours from 12-8. The more training you do, the more sleep you will often need. It’s no coincidence that you will hear about a lot of the pros saying they need 9-10 hours of sleep every night! Not all age group athletes have that luxury which is why weekend naps or a little extra sleep in on the weekend will massively benefit your recovery and performance.
6. Regular Massage
Get a regular massage. Now this is not me being bias because I’m a Remedial Massage Therapist, but I believe me if you find a good one it makes a huge difference. Especially if you find one who can actually check that all the muscles groups are firing properly (most importantly the glutes!) and potentially stop an issue before it starts. Also, any method that’s moving blood around the body will certainly speed up recovery and help bring nutrients to all the tissues..
7. Bike Position
A poor bike position can lead to many issues. If you are one of those athletes that will stop at nothing to get as aero as absolute possible, but you can barely touch your knees when you bend over; 1) You probably won’t have your full power while being super aggressive, 2) You likely won’t stay in aero for the whole 180 km because it will be too uncomfortable/painful.
Now we are all about being aero, but it needs to work with your own personal biomechanics and the type of riding you do. At Trisutto we do heaps of big gear work, this doesn’t fit with a more cyclist type position and a saddle that’s too high. It will stop you from being able to use the glutes and push the heal down to mash the pedals. Most hamstring issues I see coming from the bike are almost always when saddle height is too high. How do you know? Well your hips rock when you ride, if your saddle is too high and when you push the pace you will likely feel your hamstrings. We like to save the hamstrings for the run, so I advise to lean towards a lower seat rather than a higher one.
8. Run Technique
Pay attention to run form. At Trisutto we pay very close attention to swim, bike and run form. Some may call our methods unconventional, but they work. For running we get off our toes, stand more upright and pick up our cadence to get faster. I have a great athlete from the UK, big fellow, big engine, that came to me last year with calf injuries. I asked him to send me a run video and I could see right away, his 90 kg body was running very much on his forefoot. This same athlete had his saddle to high on the bike as well, so every run and ride he was doing was way over using his calves. We fixed this straight away and he hasn’t had an injury ever since, while having his best runs off the bike ever last season.
Change shoes often, but don’t swap between different shoes. This is especially important if you wear a very protective shoe, such as something with a lot of cushioning or motion control, like the Hoka. Shoes wear down, like anything, and any small change in biomechanics can cause issues. For example, any extra wear down to the outside of your shoe can be just enough to put extra strain on certain muscles.
If I have an athlete saying their shins or peroneal muscles are getting tight (anything lower leg), and they have changed nothing in their training, the first thing I ask is how old are their shoes? Almost always they are completely trashed and a new shoe in the same make and model fixes the issue straight away. Another note is that we like to race in what we train in. I see so many have one shoe for training and a different shoe for racing which I think is insane. We race in what we train in- I made this mistake once and got an injury during a race that stopped me from running for a few weeks after.
10. Slow Down!
Never train through pain, go at a pace where you have no pain. This is critical. I’ve seen so many athletes with issues who won’t slow down and wonder why their niggles won’t go away. If you have an injury and can train easy with no pain then this is the best rehab. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, water run. It keeps the muscles from wasting, keeps the neuromuscular system active and is a great way to keep bringing oxygen and blood flow to the area to speed up healing. I’ll never forget my friend, Phil Buchli, who came to a camp in St Moritz. Phil had an Achilles injury and he was fine just jogging all the track sessions and faster running sets. He had no issue putting his ego aside and running 6:30 min/km, when everyone was going faster. I followed him on Strava up until Ironman Switzerland and he just kept it up and slowly got quicker. It was obvious that his Achilles fixed its self- he ended up running a 3:12 marathon off the bike! I know in the past Brett has had some of his pros with injuries, put on a backpack and go for a long hike instead of running if they were injured.
The one thing you should take away from all of this, is to listen to your body and train smart. Nothing in triathlon happens quickly, slowly build your fitness and speed leading into the season.
Michelle Barnes is a Canadian Trisutto.com coach.
Join Michelle in Scottsdale, Arizona for her 6 day Triathlon Camps.
Limited camps slots available March 6 – 11.
Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.
Every year I experiment with training for one or two athletes in my squad – in swim, bike and run. If I find value in the outcomes, I then incorporate this into our athlete training methodologies, and pass this information on to our Trisutto coaches.
This experimentation also includes Nicola Spirig, who through trial and error I found responds very well to running only every second day, and very importantly stays injury free with this approach.
Nicola’s favourite run day is the Kenyan run day – a run day with at least two running workouts. I also usually schedule a light loosen up swim, or an easy short spin on the bike – depending on the weather, and her mood.
With this approach of multiple runs on the one day, always followed by a day without any running, I have found a huge decrease in injury. This allows tendons, ligaments and bones to rest up to 48 hours before the next running day, and recover from the load that running puts on these.
On a running day our first run we try to recruit the fast twitch muscles fibers, using speed work, fartlek or hill repeats. This tires the legs in the first workout. We then back this up with a non-stop run later in the day. The athlete starts slowly and runs out the speed / hill reps done earlier in the day. If they build the pace of this run, they do so at their normal build run pace.
This Kenyan technique I observed and incorporated into our training, where the last run of the day is always a non stop run.
Kenyan runners have the luxury of being able to train three times in the same day. The additional third run is a ‘wake up’ run – an easy slow run / jog as the first run of the day. It may include some pickups if one wishes. This would then look like:
- Early morning – A 40 minute slow easy run / jog. Pick ups optional
- Mid morning – A speed workout, hill repeats or Fartlek workout
** I may alternate between these on different weeks, choose the workout the athlete enjoys most, or simply choose based on the terrain available!
- PM – A non stop run, usually of 1 hour, starting slowly and very easily – but building to finish at race intensity.
I still believe in the long run, which for Olympic distance athletes does not need to be more than 75 – 90 minutes, and done 1 to 2 times per week.
For age group athletes who do not have the luxury of a midday workout, we may use either the two runs in a day Kenyan Day, or include a Kenyan Day structure within the one workout, like this:
- First part – warm up, with easy pick ups
- Second part – main set with speed work
- Third part – warm down with a build run of around 4 km.
The build in the warm down clears lactate created by the speed work, when it is run at a moderate to medium pace.
* Nicola will also do this run workout during a typical training week. For her, the warm down will be 10 laps of the athletics track, at 15 seconds per lap slower than the speed she ran the fast intervals.
The above applies to both short course and long distance athletes. The overall weekly mix is a little different with long course athletes, but they still do a Kenyan Day once every 10 days. I believe this is why our long course athletes keep their run speed – they do not train it out of themselves with a diet of run training of all long slow distance work. I also believe that hill reps develop speed, so we do not use hill repeats or track work, or Fartlek on the same day. There are few exceptions to this, but we always use hill repeats first in those exceptions.
It’s been my experience that when I structure runs in this manner that we see a huge decrease in injuries. Many years ago, I used to follow a one run a day training structure for my athletes, and run every day with track workouts on Tuesday and Friday at 5pm in the evening. The results were very good, but we had 50% more injuries than using the above approach. We also achieve a higher rate of consistency in our program, maintain speed of the athlete, while incorporating the volume required in an aerobic based sport.
For those asking, yes treadmill is fabulous for build runs, especially for the last workout of a Kenyan Day – but that’s another blog.
Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.
Trisutto recently received the following inquiry about running with injury: How do you deal with run injury? Do you keep ‘running through it’ or is it best to stop all together?
Depending on what the injury is will determine the extent and type of training that can be carried out.
Is it either bone, tendon or muscle injury?
Training with an injury should still be carried out but it will be dependent on protecting the athlete from further injury or re-injury. The aim being to maintain fitness, while promoting healing.
The methods of exercise, depending on the injury can be either:
- Walking / slow shuffle
- Shallow water running
- Deep water running
Walking and slow shuffle replaces the longer non stop runs. If the injury is not too severe then this can take the form of long hikes and to add resistance, the use of a weight jacket. This type of walking could have a duration of four hours. Chrissie Wellington when training for Ironman Frankfurt completed all her runs as hikes and finished the race just a few seconds off the World Record.
Track sessions are replaced with the injured athlete running in the outside lane at a slow run shuffle. Speed component must be kept to below any pain discomfort. It is building mental strength by self control while also inclusiveness of the athletes with the rest of the non- injured training group. The injured athlete keeps “shuffling” until everyone has completed the session. This type of training has been adapted from Kenyan runners training methodologies.
For many Kenyan groups it is not even a debatable point on whether to ‘push on’ in continuing with the group track work. Injured athletes will often shuffle on the outside lane till their compatriots have finished. Very few carry the Western propensity to push on or hard when injured. The pace instead dictated by the ‘no pain level’. I’ve seen sub 13 minute 5km runners slowing down to 6 minute 400m pace, while their colleagues belt out 55s on the inside lane. That is discipline.
Shallow water running is carried out in waist deep water. This exercise builds strength while still keeping in touch with the ground. The run mechanics change, as this form of running forces the athlete onto the ball of the foot but the big advantage is the athlete can get back run form very quickly.
By varying the depth of the water can assist with the rehabilitation of various injuries until transitioning back to normal running.
Deep water running. While this type of rehabilitation is recommended by many, it is not one that Trisutto.com fully endorses but can be used if all else fails. It should be practiced with a run belt and a stretch cord, so the athlete moves slowly up the pool. Interval work can be achieved in this session.
So firstly evaluate the injury and then prescribe a rehabilitation program. It could be either of the above mentioned regimes or a combination of all three. It is important to keep the athlete moving and motivated. Active rehabilitation keeps oxygen and blood flow to the injury and aids in a faster recovery.
Of course, increasing the cycle or swim volume is another method but not one that we recommend. Cycling can also increase leg stress as does swim when pushing off the wall in turning and kicking.
As a coach you have to make the decisions that best suit your athletes return from injury. Keeping fit with a run injury is possible depending on the injury, it’s your job to make the judgement calls that will best suit full recovery with all the information and practical tools at your disposal.
Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.