Home > Feature

What to expect as a runner-turned-triathlete

a male african american runner wearing black shorts and shirt is running in profile to the camera

Are you a runner thinking about trying your first triathlon? Many triathletes start out as runners first. Runners have several advantages in triathlon. The greatest is that when everyone else is getting tired towards the end of the race, you have your favourite leg to look forward to. Years of cardiovascular endurance gained in running has huge pay-offs when it comes to starting swimming and cycling. But runners moving to triathlon will also face some challenges. Here are some tips to consider when becoming a runner-turned-triathlete.


1) Recover from injury — Swimming and cycling are excellent forms of cross-training when injury arises and you want to take some time to recover while still maintaining your fitness as a runner. Practicing three sports instead of just pounding pavement means that you’ll be lightening the impact on your joints while keeping up a high cardiovascular system. As you begin to work on your swimming and cycling you won’t lose your running ability, especially if you’re still running a few times each week. Working different muscles gives your body a chance to get strong in other areas and recover from any nagging running injuries.

Women running on athletic track

2)  Preparation for different types of training — As a runner, you’ve likely dabbled in short and long distance running. Practicing sprints and interval training are a great way to get faster in the water and on the bike too. If you have experience with this type of training in running, you’ll know how to push yourself for different distances to build your anaerobic capacity. The same can be said for long distance training. Knowing how to slow down and pace yourself can be crucial for the long rides you’ll need to do as a long course triathlete.

3) Finish strong — For those with swimming and cycling backgrounds, it can be difficult to mentally prepare for your weakest leg of the race as your final leg. As a runner, even if you aren’t at the front of the pack during the swim and bike, you always have a final chance to gain an edge during the run. For you, triathlon saves the best for last!


1) Learning to swim — The swim often provides the most anxiety for new triathletes. Even if you already swim, a running background poses some challenges to your swimming mechanics. Runners’ tight ankles and feet make kicking difficult. Improve your ankle flexibility by stretching and investing in some fins to work on an efficient kick.

2) The Brick — You may be a strong runner, but running on its own is different from running after you’ve already done two workouts. Learning to run well off the bike helps you maximize your potential in triathlon. Instead of practicing all three sports separately, incorporate different types of brick workouts into your weekly training. A cycle-emphasis brick (long ride with short run) and a run-emphasis brick (hour-long ride with long run) are two different workouts that help you get kilometres in on the bike and force you to practice run pacing when tired. ThinkstockPhotos-103584574

3) Arm strength —
Strong arms translate into a more efficient stoke. Triathletes focus on their stroke rather than their kick in open-water swimming to save their legs for the other two disciplines. As a runner, incorporate some strength-building arm workouts into your weekly training to become a better swimmer. This doesn’t have to mean weight-lifting — one of the best ways to build a better stroke is through face-down sculling in the water. With shoulders relaxed and elbows by your side, use your hands as paddles and pull yourself forward with the figure-eight sculling motion.