When a person is fresh their cadence, footstrike and force that drives them forward is often generated differently than when the are tired from the swim and bike, their legs feel like lead and their biomechanics start in a broken down state. But that does not mean you have to run slowly as a triathlete! Here are a three tips to help you with your run.
Tip #1. Form is of utmost important. If you are running fresh, there are a lot of secondary muscles that can makeup for poor running form and keep you going in a pretty straight line without much deviation and body collapse. If you are tired, every small instability and imperfection in your foot strike and overall balance will be magnified.
There are two great drills you can do to develop both proper foot strike and good balance in the micro muscles that will enable you to get on and off your feet quicker with each stride. The foot strike drill is easy. Take your shoes off and run barefoot on a track or grassy flat field. It only takes a minute or two of doing this to get the sensation of a perfect midfoot strike. Feel how without your shoes you land perfectly directly on your midfoot. If you are a heal striker, which slows you down just slightly with every stride, this will correct it. Now put your shoes back on and try to recreate that same midfoot strike feel and the lightness that comes with it. You can do this drill a few times a week initially until you start to get the hang of it.
Take your shoes off again. Stand on one foot with your arms at your side and the leg straight that you are standing on. Now close your eyes. You will likely feel a bit of wobble when you do this. It’s normal at first. This part of the drill (and there are three parts) will teach your body how to accept the weight of your body without any instability.
Next with your eyes closed bend that same knee and lower yourself down just a few inches or centimeters. Again you will likely feel lots of wobble. This develops the part of your run stride where you are loading up your leg with your full body weight and getting ready to push off.
Then the final part of the drill, again keeping your eyes closed, push back up to a straight leg stance on that one leg. Again some wobble? This part develops the stability of the push off the ground so that all your force is directed into a forward direction. Nothing is lost in the wobble. Do this every day for a week one leg then the other then back to the first and so on for about 20-30 seconds in each position on each leg until you start to gain the ability to lock in to a stable position in each part of the run.
Tip #2. The endurance you need to run off the bike is built in your longer rides and bricks. This is especially important to keep in mind for your brick workouts. It is not necessary to ride say 5 hours then run another 2 hours to get ready for an Ironman. The ability to keep running strong in a triathlon is built by doing simple long rides. The ability to run well right away off the bike comes by doing brick workouts where you finish the bike and then run anywhere from 20-50 minutes.
This type of workout teaches your body that the bike ride is not the end of the day, and the run after it develops the patterning to be ready to run right away after the bike. That transition in muscles happens in the first minutes of running. I didn’t figure this out until the year I won Ironman for the first time. Before that I would do a long ride one day, then a long run the next. But when I got to Kona and got off the bike I realized my body was ready for a big meal and a nap, not a run. So in 1989, the first year I was able to win the Ironman in Hawaii, I did a lot of long bike, short run bricks. It was the first year I actually felt good and ready to run the marathon!
Tip #3. A fast triathlon run is only possible if you take care of yourself on the bike in the race. That means pacing and calorie intake. Many people who are strong cyclists try going for it on the bike then hoping for the best on the run. Usually this doesn’t work! Regardless of your swimming and cycling abilities, conserve just a little of your energy for the run. This is especially key in longer races. It is better to bike five-minutes slower to ensure you can run well in the marathon of an Ironman. The difference, as you know, between a good marathon and a bad one at the end of an Ironman can be 30-60 minutes. But usually a good and a bad bike will only be 5-10 minutes different. Conserve on the bike to have a great run.
Then the second part of taking care of yourself for the run means keeping the calories going in so that your tank if full rather than running on fumes by the end of the bike. Generally 300-350 cal/hour will do the trick. But practice in training. Keep track of about how many calories you need during a long bike ride so that when you get off the bike you feel fueled up enough to go for a run rather than feeling the need to have a huge meal.