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Run faster with this can’t-miss fall training program

Become a runner this fall to nail your 2021 triathlon run splits

overtraining Photo by: Getty Images

Throughout 2020 training plans have been modified in focus and structure several times to work around the cancellation and rescheduling of races. Since endurance fitness is built year over year rather than in a few short months, hopefully you have been using this year to continue preparing for success in 2021.

Fall is a great time to put extra focus on one of the three sports. This leads to overall improvement in triathlon because it’s hard to improve significantly in all three sports at the same time once you have achieved a certain level of fitness. This doesn’t mean dropping the other two, but focussing your key workouts on building fitness in one discipline.

In this case we are talking about building your running capacity and dropping the intensity and volume slightly for swimming and cycling. Be prepared to lose a little bit of fitness in the other two, but that’s okay – you will build that back when you start a more balanced training program.

Related: 7 keys to effective run training for masters triathletes

So, become a runner for the next eight to 12 weeks. Becoming a runner just means backing down on the cycling volume and intensity for two to three training blocks and focussing key workouts on the run. The gains you make will carry forward to next season and ultimately make you a faster runner off the bike.

Here’s how to switch gears, assuming you have been doing your triathlon training (including a properly built up triathlon-based run training plan) throughout the spring and summer, and have a big foundation to build on. (If your training was completely derailed due to the pandemic uncertainty, you need to go into the run focus a little more gently, building more run volume rather than speed and strength right away).

  • Start with a baseline test of your run fitness, strengths and weaknesses. This will give you something to build on and a baseline for comparison a couple months down the road.
Start with a baseline test of your run fitness. Photo: Getty Images

One way to do this a 1-mile time-trial and a 5 km time trial run test. Record your times and average heart rates for each. Compare the two and analyze how many “gears” you have on the run. The objective is to “stretch your elastic” –you want to have a big gap between what your hard, shorter distance pace and heart rate are, and what your 5 km pace and heart rate are. The results of your mile trial and 5km tests will show you where you need to focus your training.

If there is a big gap between your 1-mile and your 5km pace, focus your training on holding those faster paces longer, building endurance and strength, by running progressively longer intervals and tempo runs. If there is very little difference between your 1-mile and 5 km pace, your focus will be on building speed and anaerobic resilience by working on short and fast interval training.

  • Repeat your 5 km time trial after eight to 12 weeks of training to gauge your improvement.
  • Keep up your ride and swim workouts, but decrease the amount of time spent and reduce the intensity. Think of them as cross-training and active recovery for the run. You won’t lose much fitness and will have lots of time to gain it back, and more, once your run focus is over.
  • Remember the 15 to 20 per cent per week rule. The combination of run volume and intensity should not increase more than this on a week to week basis for a safe build to avoid injury.
  • Continue (or start) doing run-specific stability and strength work using TRX or body weight with bands, and include foam rolling to maintain healthy soft tissues as you ramp up your intensity.

Here is an example of what your training week might look like during the run focus:

  • Monday: Leg rest day. This is a good day for core strength, stretching, and/or swimming. Think “active recovery” from your long run over the weekend.
  • Tuesday: Run workout: Intervals. The duration of these intervals will depend on where you need to focus, as determined by your baseline test. If you are trying to find and develop your high-end speed (for example, if you don’t have much of a gap between your 1-mile and your 5 km time trial), you might start with 100 or 200 m intervals with lots of rest to build in that extra speed. If you are trying to take the high-end speed that you already have and translate that into a faster 5 km or longer, you may start with 800 m, 1000 m or even mile repeats with less rest.
  • Wednesday: Cycling, active recovery, zone 1 or 2.  Try some low cadence intervals without increasing the intensity to slow things down and work on increasing muscle fibre activation and efficiency. This day can also include an easy zone 1 or 2 run to add to your run volume.
  • Thursday: Run workout: Tempo or hilly strength run.
  • Friday: Leg rest day.  This is a good day for core strength, stretching, and/or swimming.
  • Saturday: Cycling, active recovery, zone 1 or 2.  You can do a longer ride, but keep it to 60 to 70 per cent of your usual long ride volume. You want to come out of this day feeling great and avoid bringing fatigued legs into tomorrow’s run.
  • Sunday: Long run. The distance/duration of this will depend on what you brought into the run focus and what you are training for. If you are a short-distance athlete, and your race runs are 5 km, you might build up 10 to 15 km. If you are a half-distance athlete and running a half marathon at the end of your triathlon or duathlon event, you might build up to 18 to 24 km. If you are an full-distance athlete, but not racing until the spring, stick with the half distance as well.

Related: Daniel Clark on a run-focused training block

Regardless of your usual triathlon or run racing distance, if you want to get faster this fall, consider racing a couple of 5 km or 10 km events. It’s easy to get “stuck” running at the same paces and efforts all the time. Changing your training to focus on speed and shorter distances will challenge you physically as well as mentally, helping you overcome barriers, so you feel more comfortable holding harder efforts for longer. Your goal is to make that feeling of discomfort more familiar by the end of the training block.

By “stretching the elastic” this fall when it comes to running, you need to get out of the comfort zone, increase the gap between hard and easy, and find some speed that you can bring into 2021. By the time you get to next race season, you could be getting to the finish line faster if your training plan is put together properly.

Dr. Cindy Lewis-Caballero of CL Performance Training is a chiropractor, experienced coach and personal trainer, and former professional full-distance triathlete.