Many runners often transfer to triathlon racing thinking they are going to do well on the run. However, a great runner can often be beaten by a not-so great runner when it comes to running off the bike. The great runner may lack the overall strength that an all around triathlete may have.
Coach William's 10 Best Tips for a Faster Run Off the Bike
I come from a running back ground before I started racing triathlons and I've had really good runs and extremely bad runs off the bike. I have learned the most from my mistakes than my successes. In doing so, I've come up with my best ten run tips to help you run faster off the bike.
Coach William's 10 Best Tips for a Faster Run Off the Bike
1. Strength Train. Through researching many articles there is advice on strength training to improve your run or bike. I couldn't find articles directly related to running off the bike. Regardless, these are interrelated and I put strength training at the top of the list for running well off the bike. This would include a variety of exercises with high endurance 20-25 reps to real heavy weight of 4-6 reps. The main thing strength training helps you is to stay strong and maintain good form into the late miles of the race after a tough a swim and bike. I know many triathletes only do strength training in the off season and back off when racing season comes around losing a ton of strength by seasons end. I prefer a more year-round program for most of my athletes.
2. Quick Turnover. It's best to start the run in quick fast steps because of the oxygen rich blood that is in your cycling legs that create the heavy dead leg feeling you have coming off the bike. By focusing on a quick turnover in the early miles of the run it will help delay the fatigue in your legs.
3. Pacing the bike. Many triathletes push the bike way too hard for a few reasons. They are all about the bike and get too excited and over push leading to a disastrous run or they are actually racing with surges and power spikes, which is another topic on it's own. Ideally, you want to keep your pace (watts) and effort even throughout the bike and limit any power spikes, especially if you looking to finish or PR. Your cadence should be the same through the whole bike leg. Athletes that are in race mode where there are power surges to drop their competitors are super fit and understand there are consequences and benefits to doing so. A good coach can help you plan a successful race strategy for both the age grouper who needs to keep their efforts even or an elite who is racing to win.
4. Build into the run. The most common mistake for triathletes is starting the run too fast. With cheering spectators hanging around the transition area it's easy to get wrapped up in the excitement. Blitzing those first few miles early on will have you walking much of the second half. Stay in control of your emotions and build into the first few miles of the run. You will be able to keep running once the spectators are out of sight. Save the excitement for when you come through the finish line chute. You will have a better second half race by doing so.
5. Form. As the race goes on so does your form because of physical and mental fatigue. You can follow my best run form tips from, "How to PR by Run Technique" here. In addition to form technique, see number 1. Strength training will strengthen you to hold better form for longer.
6. Short Cranks. This is often a hot topic of debate. The benefits of short cranks for running well off the bike is that it can increase your cadence on the bike about 5%. This is to closely match your run cadence by making it feel easier to start running off the bike. Short cranks open up the hip angle more allowing you to feel fresher coming off the bike compared to standard (172mm) cranks. Short cranks are usually anywhere from 145-165 mm. You should talk to your local and experienced bike fitter that you trust to figure out what size cranks would be best for you. If you switch to short cranks a new bike fit should be in order.
7. Nutrition. It's extremely important for events that take you longer than 2 hours to have a solid nutrition strategy. Either over-fueling and under-fueling can lead to a less than par run, a trip to medical tent, or even worse, a DNF. Talk to your triathlon coach and/or nutritionist for a strategy that will set you up best for success.
8. Frequency. This isn't for everyone, but it doesn't hurt to stay acquainted regularly brick training. There are several methods your coach can implement in your bike to run training, such as, easy short "transition" runs, "goal" pace or different heart rate efforts off the bike. Some triathletes will run up to 3-5 times a week off the bike. It just depends on each athlete. When you practice "brick-runs" in training, have your run shoes and nutrition ready to go. Keep in mind there are no breaks in triathlon racing and you should practice how your race. The clock keeps going - so don't dilly dally in training. Keep your cell phone out of sight in the back of your jersey pocket. I know it seems everyone is taking a "selfie" or a picture of their gear every time they ride a bike. You do not need to. If you must take a selfie or a picture of your gear wait until you finish the run. Transition times are essential and you should practice how you race.
9. Bike Focus. You won't find too much of this tip on the triathlon internet. If your are a great stand-alone runner but struggle to your capabilities to run off the bike then a bike focus could be what you need. For a strong runner who struggles to run off the bike it maybe because they over-biked or lack necessary bike strength. A month or two of a bike focus in the off-season can really help you have a better run off the bike.
10. Stay positive. In triathlon training and racing there will sure be some dark moments when you think you can't go on anymore. Running off the bike for any distance is physically and mentally tough! Right as the time starts to get rough you need start adding mental tricks. It's good idea to have some positive self-talk but something you can actively focus on will help you in a race as well. Some good mental tricks to battle your brain fighting against you is to start counting your strides, breaths, or telephone poles - Instead of thinking how far you need to run, breaking it up segments by phone poles, mailboxes, or trees will make running more doable and you'll probably come out faster because of it.
In addition to knowing about these tips there ton of benefits to having a great Coach to help you progress, like knowing when you need hold back and when to let it rip. I have limited availability open for new passionate athletes from beginners to elites. There is no goal too small or too big. I'm currently coaching a group of athletes with different goals (Ex. Finishing first 70.3 or Ironman, Boston qualify, Podium finish). If you are interested in details or have questions, please email me to schedule an interview at firstname.lastname@example.org.