Triathlon Run for Beginners

You’ve completed the swim.

You’ve completed the bike.

Now, it’s time for the run.

Welcome to the easiest and hardest part of your triathlon.

Easy you say? Sure! We have been running since we were toddlers, so learning how to run as an adult takes very little instruction. Plus, it’s the portion of the race that requires the least amount of equipment. Unfortunately, that’s about as far as the easy part goes.

As for the hard part, let me paint you a picture. Imagine, your heart is thumping out of your chest, your core temperature is just below a boil, your mouth completely parched, you feel like someone put lead in your shoes, your feet are barely moving and your legs feel like Jell-o. You look to your right and a 75 year old spandex clad triathlon Rockstar passes you with gusto in a fast walk. You wonder to yourself, “How can this run be so miserable? I trained to run?!”

I would say that most triathletes, particularly early in our career, have had that terrible run experience described above. I know I have, and for me, it usually involves tears, which makes it even harder to breath!

Don’t fret! There’s a lot of things we can do before and during the race to make your triathlon run much more enjoyable and successful! So, let’s jump in to see what it takes. Just remember, the stage for a successful run is always set on the bike!

Training to run in a triathlon is not the same as training to run.

Your training plan includes several types of run workouts; tempo runs, speed workouts and long runs. These are intended to help you build strength, speed and endurance. These sessions are important to all runners.

However, you’ll notice in your training plan that we eventually move away from the speed workouts, and start integrating a new workout called a brick. Brick workouts incorporate a bike ride, immediately followed by a run. These workouts are a must! The brick will allow you to get used to the Jell-o feeling and learn how to run through the heaviness in your legs.

It can be helpful to lighten your gear and increase your cadence (leg speed) on the bike in the last few minutes of your ride. Start your run with that same quick turn over. Keep your stride short and quick as you take off, and it’s totally okay to walk a bit as you prepare to run.

These workouts should be done once a week, particularly in the 4-6 weeks before your race.

Pace yourself on the bike!

I would dare say that the leading cause of a death march run is a really fast, hard bike split.

It’s challenging to hold back on the bike. Going fast is so fun, and you know you could go harder, but instead you pace yourself. That’s riding smart. Keeping your heart rate at a moderate level (zone 2-3) and riding with a quick cadence (90rpm) allows you to transition into the run with your legs feeling less sluggish and some energy to spare.

Hydrate early and often

There is very little that can be done if you enter the run of a sprint triathlon under-hydrated, except suffer. Even mild dehydration takes quite a while to improve, and mild dehydration can quickly escalate in severity. You don’t realize how much you are sweating when you bike because it dries quickly. So it’s rather easy to head into your run under hydrated. We don’t want to treat dehydration during your run, we want to prevent it by consuming enough liquids on the bike!

The bike is the easiest and best place to hydrate. Your body needs to replace 16-32 ounces of fluids per hour of exercise. A standard bike size water bottle is 22 ounces.

Your plan should be to sip some water before the race, in transition and then all throughout the bike ride so when you hit the run, you’ve had at a bare minimum that 16 ounces of water. There’s typically an aid station just outside of transition so be sure to drink there and at all the other aid stations on the course (usually spaced 1 mile apart).

An electrolyte mixture in your water bottle is a great idea to replenish electrolytes that are lost when you sweat. Just make sure to test out these products on your long ride to be sure they sit well with your stomach.

Think of triathlon as just one sport – not three different sports.

With training each of the three disciplines separately, it’s easy to think of a triathlon as three different races. That line of thinking is wrong. A triathlon is one race, and you race strategy should be one where the first two parts to the race (plus transition) support you in having enough fuel in the tank to complete the final part of the race, the run.

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