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Coach Paul Duncan: Year-round tips to help you run better off the bike on race day

One of the biggest challenges for most triathletes is putting together a solid run after getting off of the bike. Many athletes think that their main problem is attributed to pure running, so they just keep focusing on running, and as a result, end of focusing less on what might be a bigger limiting factor. There are many pieces to the running off the bike puzzle. Below are just a few common factors involved. Squaring away some of these things could be what is limiting you from running to your potential in long distance triathlon racing. While in the Northern Hemisphere we’re in the off-season now, the good news is these are tips you can practice year-round:

1) Ride more! 

Typically a big problem that we see with athletes that have trouble running well off the bike, is simply the fact that they don’t ride enough. The athlete usually thinks that the answer is more running, but typically the problem falls more in the realm of lack of bike endurance. Running a fast marathon after a 112 mile ride  is completely different from running a marathon with fresh legs. If an athlete is fried after the bike ride, there is virtually no chance that they will be able to run well. I have seen athletes that run below 3 hours in a stand alone marathon add almost two hours to their run time in a full distance triathlon. Cycling increases durability. The best runner in the world will not run well if their body can’t handle the bike ride.

2) Transition runs (bricks)

I am blown away by the amount of triathletes out there that NEVER do brick workouts. A brick workout is the best way to simulate what you will be doing on race day, which is running off of the bike! Now, there is still a lot of value in doing stand-alone runs separate from the bike ride, however, I believe an athlete training for long distance triathlon gets a huge amount of value by running off the bike, and doing so very often. Even it’s its only a few miles, just to get your body used to that feeling.

For the athletes that I coach, I typically prescribe very little brick running in the early season. As the season progresses, I slowly will start increasing the number of transition runs that athlete sees on a weekly basis. As the athlete’s key race gets closer, the amount of running off of the bike increases, and gets more and more race specific. When an athlete is in their final phase of training, it isn’t abnormal for them to see up to three transition runs per week, depending on the athlete and their limiters.

My favorite transition run:

After a key bike ride, the athlete runs the first mile at race intensity. After the first mile, the athlete then recovers down to a prescribed heart rate, then continues the rest of the duration of the run at as a progression run. The goal here is to apply stress to the athlete for a short amount of time, then see how fast the athlete’s heart rate recovers and how efficiently the athlete can build the pace back up. As the season progresses, and the athlete gets fitter, the recovery time after that first mile will become a smaller and smaller window from the pace of the first mile.

3) Execute your fuelling/hydration   

I wrote an article previously on this topic, so be sure to check that out.

This is very important, specifically in longer distance racing. Make sure you have a fuelling and hydration plan. If you get to the run in a dehydrated and under-fuelled state, your run will be affected. Have a plan well before you race and practice your race fuelling every single workout. Get your body used to what it is going to need on race day. One of the biggest mistakes we see athletes make is having no plan, or having not practiced their fuelling and hydration plan.

We recommend using a simple approach to fuelling. Use a sport drink that fulfills your sodium, calorie, and fluid needs all in one drink, and supplement with gels or something very easy to carry. Front load your fuelling needs early in the bike ride, because when you get to the run, the fluids and calories will be harder to take down as your stomach is under more stress.

Be sure that you are drinking enough. In hot races, I recommend that you get the majority of your calories from your sport drink. A good rule of thumb is to make sure you pee on the bike (once in a half distance triathlon, and twice in a full). If you aren’t peeing on the bike in a warm race, we can almost guarantee you won’t be able to run to your full potential!

4) Regulate your temperature: 

This applies to warm and hot weather races. Never underestimate how much heat can effect the later part of your run after a hard bike ride. The body overheating will dramatically effect the pace you can sustain for your run, especially longer distance events.

Something I tell every athlete in their pre-race talk: If you are not COLD on the bike, you should be getting ahead of your cooling early on. That means every aid station on the bike, you should be dumping water over your head. If you aren’t cold on the bike with wind blowing in your face, that means that you are going to be HOT once you start the run. If you aren’t staying ahead of the game on the bike, you will pay for it on the run.

Once you get to the run, make sure you are doing everything you can to cool off at every aid station. That means water on your head, and ice down your pants if possible!

You can practice heat simulation riding indoors in a small room with your trainer. If you’re training over the winter for a warm weather race, this is a great tactic to get you adjusted to race day conditions.

5) Hire a coach

Having someone looking over your training that understands how to progress an athlete’s running off the bike can be crucial. Triathlon training is all about balancing stress in the right way. Athletes only have so much time in the day to commit to training, it’s very important to have someone that can subjectively assess where the athlete’s limiters are, and work on them in an effective manner.

As mentioned above, there are many pieces to this puzzle, but nailing a few of the above should dramatically help your triathlon specific running. If you have any questions or would like more advice. Please feel free to contact me at paul@qt2systems.com, or message me directly on Instagram, @paulduncanjr.

Thanks for reading. Have something you want me to cover in my next article? Shoot me a message!

About the author:

Paul is a United States Army Veteran,  USAT Certified Coach, QT2 Systems Level 1 Coach, and OutRival Racing Level 3 coach.

Paul also competes in triathlon and running events in his spare time.

  • 70.3 PR (4:24:26)
    140.6 PR – (9:51:53
  • Half Marathon – (1:21:44)
  • Marathon – (2:57:27
To learn more about Paul, go to www.qt2systems.com/coach-paul-duncan/