How to Improve Your Triathlon Run

How to Improve Your Triathlon Run

Triathletes come into their sport from various backgrounds. Some were first cyclists. Others were first swimmers. Others were first runners. And of course, there are the folks who come straight from the couch. If you are an experienced runner with a solid history of 5K and 10K races behind you, you are probably focusing on how to improve your cycling and swimming. If you come from any of these other backgrounds, though, you are probably looking for a way to improve your running time.



Improve Triathlon Run

It may seem like you have a long way to go, but combined with your training regime for cycling and swimming, you can considerably improve your triathlon run and see real results over the course of just a few weeks.

Change Your Mindset

If you approach running with the attitude that it is a chore and a burden, you most likely will not improve much, and you will never become a competitive triathlete. So if you are looking to improve, this is where to start.

Something that you need to realize is that humans are made to run. A human running a long-distance race is a human in his or her natural element. Humans are, in fact, the best distance runners in the animal kingdom. Many animals such as dogs, horses, and cheetahs are faster sprinters, but none of them can handle a 26.2-mile run like a fit human can. 

Accept your heritage as a member of the human race. Your ancestors hunted antelope by running them to exhaustion. There is no physical challenge for which you are more prepared than distance running. You can do it.

Run Like Crazy

Now that you have changed your mindset, it is time to get to work.

The key to doing it is to just do it.

This means running like crazy. Put on those running shoes and hit the road! If you are just starting out with your running training, you should probably begin with a 40-minute run and work your way up from there. 

You will not be running every day, as you will need to continue training for swimming and cycling and you do need some rest days. However, you do need to commit to at least two runs per week in addition to your other training.

As your fitness begins to improve, gradually increase your total running time to over an hour per run.

There is some disagreement among experts about how long you should be running and whether you should measure that based on time or distance. For example, some experts say that running workouts should be time-based, while others say that distance-based is better because it helps to ensure that runners are able to handle the length of a marathon or Ironman. 

Regardless, what remains true is that, if you want to improve your running times, you need to run like crazy. Whether this means 90-minute runs or 10-mile runs is up to you.

Improve Your Form

Correct running form is essential to competitive distance running. Imagine how driving on a flat tire or having a dirty air intake would affect the gas mileage on your car. Poor running form can slow you down in the same way. Studies have actually shown that the difference between proper form and improper form can amount to a difference in 2 to 4% in running economy. 

In order to take your running to the next level, you need to learn proper form and apply it.

Techniques/Tips for Improving Your Running Form

Running form is a real thing, and you can employ certain measures to improve it.

Relax Your Shoulders

Some runners have the tendency of tensing up their shoulders when they run. This usually happens subconsciously, and it is not good. Not only does this look funny, but it wastes a lot of energy. Every time you constrict a muscle, you are using energy, and you need to make sure that all of your energy is being used to actually move your body forward, which this is not. Also, over time, this can cause cramps and even injuries, as that is what can happen with any muscle when you keep it tense in a single position for a prolonged period.

Minimize Head Movement

Your head should not sway from side to side when you run. This is another example of wasted energy. Keep your eyes focused on the path before you. Relaxing your shoulders will help with this.

Square Your Elbows

The natural thing to do when you are running is to swing your arms. This is good, as it helps you to maintain balance. It also helps in inflating and deflating your lungs. However, if your arm swing is erratic or off-center, it can actually waste energy by creating unneeded sideways motion in your body. To avoid this, keep your elbows bent at a square angle and swing your arms at your sides.

As your arms swing back, your hands should come back to the top of the hip. As they swing forward, they should go straight in the direction of your body’s movement. They should not cross over the center of your body.

Close Your Fists

Hands that are too loose can waste energy by creating unnecessary movement. Conversely, hands that are clenched in tight fists waste energy from the unnecessary muscle strain involved in that. Keep your fists closed when you run, but do not clench them tightly.

Maintain a Comfortable Stride

Those with a background in sprinting may feel inclined toward a stride that is extended forward. This is not advisable for distance running, however. A stride that extends too far forward can put too much strain on the knees. It also wastes energy because it necessitates the use of additional muscles for stabilization. When your foot lands, it should land under your knee. This helps to ensure that your lower leg is providing the proper support and contributing to the forward movement of your body in an optimized manner.

Minimize Vertical Motion

Your steps should be smooth, and your feet should move horizontally rather than vertically as much as possible. Some runners have a tendency of stomping their feet when they run, especially when going uphill. This is a waste of energy because you are trying to forward, not up and down. Stomping for a prolonged period can also cause injury as a result of the repeated impacts.

Keep Your Hips Level

Some people – especially women – tend to drop the hip on the standing leg while the other leg is moving forward. This is fine when walking for short distances, but for running, it is not advisable. As with the other items in this list, failure to keep your hips level can result in wasted energy and even injury.

Maintain Good Posture Going Uphill

When you are on Mile 15 of your run and you come to a hill, you may naturally feel inclined to slouch over and look down at the ground right in front of you. Do not do this. Instead, keep your head and chest up and your shoulders back.

You may also feel inclined to take very short steps when going uphill, even scuffing your feet. This wastes energy and can injure your knees. Instead, you should attack the hill. Push up and into it, and try to maintain the same stride length you had on flat ground. You will actually consume less energy this way because you will get to the top sooner, which means that gravity will not be working against you for as long.

Maintain Good Posture Going Downhill

When you start going downhill, you may feel inclined (no pun intended...okay, maybe a little) to fight the incline by slapping your feet and taking abnormally short steps. Do not do this. It is tough on your joints, and it wastes energy.

Do not fight gravity. You want to go down the hill, and gravity wants to take you down the hill. Instead of fighting, keep a natural stride and let gravity help you. In doing this, keep your torso upright and think of what you are doing as controlled falling. 

Optimize Your Cadence

Your cadence is the number of strides you take per minute. Optimizing your cadence is important because it helps to ensure that you are running as fast as you can. It is also tied to other possible problems with your form. For example, someone with a low cadence is probably taking strides that are too long. Generally speaking, serious runners tend to take between 160 and 180 strides per minute, with the best gravitating to the high end of that.

To optimize your cadence, use a treadmill, as that will give you a constant speed. Count your strides per minute as you run on the treadmill. Once you get an idea of where you are, this can help you to figure out what you need to do to improve your cadence. Set specific goals and gradually increase your strides per minute.

Studies have found that gradual cadence increases like this can help to reduce strain on the hip and knee joints. 

Maintain Proper Foot Striking

When people talk about “striking” in running, they are talking about the way your foot contacts the ground. There are three main types of striking: heel, midfoot, and forefoot. These terms refer to the part of your foot that contacts the ground first.

Running experts typically frown upon heel striking. This is because it tends to involve greater shock to the shins, knees, and hips, causing injuries over time. Heel striking is also often indicative of other problems, such as overstriding. Generally, you should try not to use this striking method. However, there may be moments when it is necessary, especially when you are going downhill.

Forefoot striking is commonly seen among sprinters. This is because it allows for them to accelerate as quickly as possible with minimal pushback from the ground. However, over long distances, forefoot striking is just not practical, as it expends more energy, especially increasing the strain on the muscles of the lower leg. That being the case, it is not ideal for triathletes.

The best foot striking technique for triathletes is generally midfoot striking. This gives the safety, comfort, and stability that you need without expending undue amounts of energy. 

How NOT to Burn Out Your Legs on Race Day

One big problem that many triathletes have is that they simply lose strength in their legs and find it difficult to finish the running portion of the race. Here are some tips on how to avoid that problem.

Train for Cycling First

The cycling portion of an Ironman race accounts for roughly half of the total race time. That being the case, one of the main causes of leg fatigue is the cycling portion of the race. Often, racers pour so much effort into cycling that they get to the running portion of the race and find that their legs feel like jelly.

To keep this from happening, prioritize getting into “bike shape.” Go cycling three to four times per week, and this will accelerate your improvement for cycling fitness. When you have reached a competitive level of cycling fitness, this will help to ensure that the cycling portion of the race does not burn you out

Pace Yourself

Whether in the swimming, cycling, or running stage of the race, pacing is vital to ensuring that you do not burn out your legs. If you have a very high kick rate in the swim, try to push it hard in the cycling stage to make up for lost time, or bolt out of the start of the running stage as if it were an 800m race, you may be making your body write checks that it cannot cash.

In all stages of the race, maintain a steady pace. The best way of doing this is by focusing on your pace during training. You will get to where you know whether or not your pace is sustainable. And if you get to the last few miles of the running stage and find that you still have fuel to burn, then, by all means, kick it into higher gear and start passing people. Until then, though, just be patient and stay on target to ensure that you are able to finish strong

Maintain Proper Cycling Posture

Another way to make sure that you are not wasting energy in the cycling stage is by making sure that you have proper form when you ride. The simplest way of doing this is by just keeping your upper body still as you pedal. Your torso is not powering your bike: your legs are.

If your torso is moving all over the place, that is wasted energy that will mean less energy for your legs later. Also, you want to make sure that your posture is not excessively hunched. You can build this ability by just paying attention to your posture as you ride as well as by doing workouts that improve the strength of your core. 

Do Not Overtrain: Alternate Strength and Endurance Training

Another thing to bear in mind in order to avoid leg burnout is how bad overtraining can be. This means sometimes doing strength training instead of just endurance training. Too often, triathletes think that triathlons are all about endurance, so they should focus only on endurance. The problem with this is that the strength of your muscles actually contributes to endurance.

To build up strength in your legs, do heavy-weight workouts for your legs like dumbbell lunges and squats. You do not need to do heavy weights all the time, but you should alternate to them periodically in order to build up the strength you need.

Avoiding Injury in Triathlon Running

The whole point of becoming a triathlete is to be healthier, stronger, and more at peace with your body. That being the case, it does not make sense to do anything in your training or racing that could put your body at risk. As mentioned previously, one way to avoid injury is by maintaining proper form. Here are some other injury avoidance tips.

Increase Distance Gradually

The main thing you need to know when it comes to avoiding injury in triathlon running is that you need to reduce shock as much as possible. If you go out in your first day of training and try to run a full marathon, this will be a shock to your body. Instead of doing this, ease into your distance runs. Gradually increase your time or mileage according to a realistic schedule.

One way of safely increasing your distance is by toggling between short-long run weeks and long-long run weeks. For example, in Week 1, you may go on a five-mile run. This is your short-long run. On Week 2, you may go on a seven-mile run. On Week 3, drop back down to a five-mile run. On Week 4, go on an eight-mile run. Continue to alternate your long-run days in this way, running five miles one week and then a distance that gradually increases by one mile each time on the next week. This will help to ensure that you can increase your mileage without burning out completely. 

Choose the Right Route

Race administrators usually choose triathlon routes that are either intrinsically safe or that they can make safe. However, this does not apply to your training routes. In picking a training route, make sure that safety is your highest priority.

One of the leading causes of injury for distance runners is terrain. Trails that are rocky, loose, winding, and uneven may be fun, but try not to frequently run on paths that are so technical or complicated. Running on surfaces like this can significantly increase the likelihood that you will get injuries such as ankle sprains, sticks punctures, etc. You may feel inclined to challenge yourself with a difficult route, but do not go crazy. A 20-mile run is going to be difficult no matter what the terrain is.

In addition to terrain, another important thing to consider in your choice of routes is traffic. There have been too many incidents over the years in which hapless runners on the side of busy roads have been struck by hapless drivers. If you can, try to choose a route without any motor traffic at all. If this is not possible, choose one with minimal motor traffic, and make sure to always run against the traffic.

Another thing to consider is difficulty. The nature of your route should be analogous to the route of your triathlon. This will help you to adequately prepare for your race. A training route that is too difficult will burn you out, and a route that is not difficult enough will not adequately prepare you, leading to poor performance and possibly injury on race day.

Finally, consider pollution. If you live in a large city, this can be a significant issue. Repeatedly running 20 miles in air that is full of car exhaust will take a toll on your lungs and may cause you to develop long-term health problems. 

Stay Hydrated and Full of Electrolytes

Triathlons and marathons have been known to result in hospitalization or even fatality at times. This sometimes happens due to dehydration or heat stroke. Runners can avoid this by staying hydrated and cool. One way of staying cool is by keeping a wet rag on hand.

In trying to stay hydrated, though, runners sometimes inadvertently fall victim to another condition called hyponatremia, or the loss of electrolytes in the body. When runners sweat a lot and drink a lot of water, this flushes the electrolytes out of their bodies. It is important to replace these by drinking sports drinks. 

Stretch

It almost goes without saying. For any strenuous athletic activity, you should make sure to stretch properly before beginning. Since triathlons involve the prolonged use of many muscles throughout the body, it is important to get a good full-body stretch before your race. Failure to do so will become particularly problematic during the final running phase, resulting in painful muscle injuries that could end your race early. 

One good stretch you can do is a cat stretch. It targets the muscles of the lower back. To perform this stretch, find a place with a lot of room, preferably in front of a mirror so you can see yourself. Get down on your hands and knees, with your hands directly beneath your shoulders and your knees directly beneath your hips.

Breathe deeply. As you exhale, suck in your stomach and arch your back toward the ceiling. Pull your head down toward the ground and look at your navel. You may want to alternate this with the cow stretch, which is the opposite: as you inhale, arch your back downward toward the floor and raise your head to look at the ceiling. 

Another good stretch for the muscles of the lower back is the standing back extension. To perform this stretch, stand straight and tall, with your feet shoulder-width apart, and place your hands on the small of your back. Now, lean back, keeping your chin in a neutral position relative to your body. This will cause you to look upward slightly. Repeat as needed. 

The sitting hamstring stretch is another stretch that can benefit triathletes a lot. As the name implies, it stretches the hamstring. To do this stretch, sit down on the floor and extend one leg straight out in front of you. Bring the foot of the other leg in tightly toward your groin.

Now reach forward and try to grab the extended foot with your hands. In doing this, do not arch your back downward. Instead, keep your head up, looking out straight in front of you. If you cannot grab your foot, that is okay. Grab your calf instead. Hold for about 30 seconds and repeat multiple times on both legs. 

About the Author James

Hey there, my name is James and I am the creator and editor of this site. I have been doing Triathlons for a while now and am competing in 70.3 Ironman's as well come this year. I created this site to help those new to the sport and to share my journey with other athletes.

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