June 2, 2011

Triathlon Training: It Always Comes Down to a Run

A while back I was standing in the registration line for Ironman Arizona.  There were three women behind me that were competing in their first Ironman (IM) and all of them were looking a little nervous.  One woman in particular began asking others in line for advice on racing an IM.  The fellow behind her quickly jumped in and began explaining how they should concentrate on getting through the swim and bike legs because they could always walk the marathon.  She then turned to me and asked what I thought.  All I could think to say was what I believe to be true:  That it’s a race and no matter what, it always comes down to a run.

The old adage “begin with the end in mind” definitely applies to triathlon training and racing.  While you can always walk the run this should be a last resort since when it comes to long course racing it can make for a very long day.  A better strategy is one that has you ready to run the running leg so you get to the finish line faster and, besides, it’s simply a lot more fun passing other people, particularly those folks that sped past you on the bike.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

1.      Pace yourself: The swim, and particularly the bike, set up the run.  The goal is to make sure you pace yourself properly during the first two legs.  This will usually mean you need to back off from an all-out pace by 10-20% but it will deliver you to the final portion ready to run.

2.      Practice transitions:  The only real way to learn the proper bike pace for delivering a solid run is to practice going from one to the other, over and over.   Not only does this dress rehearsal bring confidence, it allows your body to quickly adapt to the physiological changes necessary to effectively transition from riding to running.

3.      Go negative: Practice running faster in the second half of the run regularly, i.e. negative split.  Use the first half a of any training or transition run to focus on form and turnover.  Then pick it up a bit in the second half.  Practice this early and often in training and you’ll find yourself picking off competitors one by one as you head into the finish line!


The Hardest Part of your Race

Ironically, pushing hard isn’t the hard part of racing… it’s backing off that’s the tougher nut to crack.  That said, the running leg is the only part of the race where you should leave it all on the course.  Even in the first 60-70% of the run your focus should still be on energy management and pace.  Once you get to the 8 mile/13k point in a 70.3 or the 16 mile/25k point in the marathon then it’s time to see what you have left.  Whether you feel capable of increasing your pace or you can simply keep from slowing down, reserving energy for the last 30-40% of your race, combined with the adrenaline rush that comes with finishing, can provide that extra kick you need to finish your triathlon with confidence and optimal speed.

That’s it for this week.  Train safe, stay healthy, and I hope to see you at the races.

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