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5 tips to improve your 5K and 10K run times off the bike

— by Kirsten Sweetland

Running fast off the bike is a tough skill to master. If you haven’t experienced it, imagine running a road race after someone poured concrete inside your legs. It’s a tricky thing to master. Here are a few tips to help things run a little more smoothly (pardon the pun):

1) The most important thing is leg turnover. It’s natural to have a slow turnover with bike-fatigued legs. If you focus on quick steps you will move quicker and each stride will be less taxing. I had a coach (who coached multiple short-course world champions) who believed we should run at a cadence of 180 to 200 steps/minute. We even used little tempo beepers to help guide us until we got the feel for it.

Karsten Madsen running at the Runner’s Den Pancake 5K in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Related: How to train yourself to run faster off the bike

2) Another trick is to practice running off the bike at least once a week. It might not be possible to make the strange feeling of running off the bike go away, but you will definitely get used to the feeling, which is pretty much as good. I usually do 10 to 20 minutes at race pace after a hard bike ride. If possible I try and finish an interval on the bike immediately before running to make it as realistic as possible.

Sweetland racing at the 2016 ITU Montreal World Cup.

3) Another way to improve your triathlon run time is to become a faster runner. I use fartlek sessions to help develop my speed as race season approaches. A short-course specific workout is one done by legendary Australian runner Steve Moneghetti. After a good warm up you do 20 minutes of hard running that is broken down like this:

  • 2 x (90 seconds at 5-km pace, 90 seconds at 10-km pace)
  • 4 x (1 minute at 5-km pace, 1 minute at 10-km pace)
  • 4 x (30 seconds at 5-km pace, 30 seconds at 10-km pace)
  • 4 x (15 seconds at 5-km pace, 15 seconds at 10-km pace).

This is a killer workout if done properly. You can try to go faster than 5-km pace if you are really serious. (I’ve literally made myself sick doing the set that way.)

Related: 5 workouts to help you run a faster 5K

4) Another great session is short-rest 1-km repeats on a track. The track helps you get used to pacing and the short rest forces you to work anaerobically, which is similar to what you’ll do in a race. I’d suggest 5 to 8 x 1 km at goal race pace with 30 to 60 seconds rest. These key sessions don’t need to be done often, just done optimally to achieve some great results.

Related: Two key run workouts for a 10K

5) Lastly, I believe having the correct mindset is one of the biggest keys to a successful triathlon run. Accepting the discomfort, but not focusing on it, is the name of the game. Focus on your breath, count your steps and think about driving your arms. Any cue that works for you is great, as long as you are in a positive frame of mind. Embrace the pain.

Whistler’s Kirsten Sweetland represented Canada at the 2016 Olympic Games.