As we head into the ‘off season’ many of you are going through a block to try and improve one of the single sports. Running is the one that is easiest to do, especially if we aren’t injury prone. It takes the least amount of time, is the easiest to do with mixed weather and there are lots of races about to keep you motivated and test where you are at. This is a little insight into my last 8-9 months of running……
‘Evolve or die’ was a saying I used to hear frequently by a previous coach. It was absolutely true as the competition of triathlon grew stronger and stronger each year with the numbers of athletes growing, good athletes being attracted from single sport, and as training plans and coaching became more sophisticated.
But it’s in the last 12 months more so than ever I have to had to evolve to be able to compete in the Pro Division. Yes my swim and bike had to move on, but I recognised early that it was the run that really had to move on. This is often where the races are won, and it was just a very different dynamic of being able to run fast off the bike at over 95% of your half marathon pace.
At this time, I was mainly running about 1:20’s off the bike. Once I snuck a 1:18, the rest were around that 1:19-1:21 mark and realistically I had to try and get as close to 1:15 as I could. Now it’s not as if I am new to the sport so the progression may not happen quickly, and age isn’t on my side either so had to be cautious to not risk injury. So how did we approach it? Here is my approach but a lot of it can be applied to you throught the winter months, even if it is the bike or the swim you are heavily focused on.
There were 4 key things we had to try and achieve:
- Build resilience – we needed to be strong at the end of the run leg and not be fading. This is generally where you lose the most amount of time.
- Build speed endurance – improve 5k time so that I wasn’t running as close to max, or have the ability to move up all zones / levels up.
- Improve nutrition strategy on the bike – try and take on more so that I wasn’t so reliant on carbohydrate on the run leg where its more difficult to take on.
- Find a shoe that didn’t give me blisters when socks got wet which is generally a problem in triathlon from either racing in hot conditions and having to take on fluids on the move.
As you can see some are run specific, one was equipment choice and one was something related to the bike which would ultimately effect my run ability.
Running more sounds simple, but with the injury risk higher than the other 2 sports it needs to be done in a careful manner. I also had to make sure I was fresh for the fast work which is hard when juggling the run mileage with swim & bike as well. So yes I did run more, but I actually slowed down my easy and endurance runs. Yes you heard it right, I slowed down to go faster! I see a lot of athletes running just too fast for what they claim to be an easy run….so I’ll put it into some context based on some recent run race results:
5k – 15:54. 5:04/mile
10k – Predicted. 5:17/mile
Half Marathon – 71:43. 5:27/mile
70.3 Race Pace – 76:00. 5:45/mile
Most of my running is done at between 7:00-7:45/mile, which is around 40-50% slower than race pace over 5k or your 20 min best pace. Why? It’s mainly done to build economy and efficiency. Yes I could go run at 6:15-6:30 mile, but ultimately this would leave me too fatigued when it was time to run hard. The other thing to bear in mind is that running at this pace is not really going to help me at race pace as its still 1:00min/mile slower than most of my race paces, so its not going to make me faster. Ultimately the only thing that is going to do this, is to run intervals at circa 5:00-5:20/mile (dependent on length of interval) or gaining efficiency at tempo pace (half marathon – 70.3 race pace). I guarantee if you carry too much fatigue into these key sessions, then neither of these paces will happen. I effectively avoid running anywhere between 6:15 and 7:00 per mile.
To limit the risk of injury I went for frequency of running, so often I would try and run twice in a day to get the miles in, rather than running long. So in typical format I would have a bike day then a run day, but on the run days I would mainly run twice getting 12-15 miles each time. The key session may be 8-10 miles with warm up and warm down, and then I would run easy later in the day to shake out that run session. I find this is definitely easier on the body than doing one key session of that length, where the injury risk comes laster on at the 11-15 mile mark as form breaks down.
BUILDING SPEED ENDURANCE:
To run a fast 10k or half marathon you need to have the ability to be able to run fast over say something like 400m, and then have the ability to be able to hold a sustained effort for between 30-75 mins. This starts to get a bit complicated, but in the main there are a few key sessions that we should try and target:
- 30 – 90 secs. Speed. Something such as 12-16 x 400m with 60-75 secs recovery. Pace faster than 5k race pace.
- 3 mins – 6 mins. VO2. Session such as 5-6 x 1k with 75-90 secs recovery. Pace @5k race pace.
- 8 mins – 12 mins. Threshold. Session such as 3 x 10 mins with 2 mins recovery Pace @ 10k race pace.
- 15 mins – 30 mins. Tempo. Session such as 2 x 15 mins, with 3 mins recovery. Pace @ 1/2 marathon to 70.3 Race Pace.
Getting a good mix of all these types of sessions will help build speed and then your ability to hold it over extended periods of time.
IMPROVING NUTRITION STRATEGY ON THE BIKE:
The key thing is triathlon is to reduce the amount you slow down, and inevitably this will nearly always come on the run. It doesn’t always mean your run is the problem. Then there are 2 things at play: your resilience and training done to complete the distance and then the amount of nutrition you have taken on vs your effort. 70.3 racing is hard at the top end, you are literally on your limit for 4 hours which is burning carbs like no tomorrow. Yes you can be more efficient at burning fat and this helps, but sometimes you have to recognise you need to train yourself to be able to take more on.
I approached this in 2 ways. I tried to become a bit more fat adapted by doing my 1st session early in the morning without breakfast, although I never obsessed about it as I’m not doing ironman. If I woke up really hungry and I thought it was going to impact my session, then I would fuel first. Then I worked on taking more in, during the race, working to 4-5 calories per kg per hour. This meant for me taking another pack and a half of Clif Shots. Thats quite a bit extra, but I was keen to try and mainly fuel as much as I could on the bike and then really just be topping up on the run with coke and water. I recognised its hard taking on much more at 5:45/miles and that I would likely be in duals on the run where I couldn’t afford to slow down and be dropped at aid stations. These extra calories, stopped the slow down and in fact gave me confidence to run much closer to my limit.
FINDING THE RIGHT SHOE:
I’ve always been susceptible to getting blisters, and found myself most at risk during triathlons with the amount of water you tend to pour over your head, plus the drink sloshing around in cups whilst trying to at least get some down your throat. Trainer after trainer did the same thing to me, especially the underside of my foot. If you start to run a bit funny to take the pressure off, it generally leads to more fatigue and things tighten up quicker especially in those last miles. Since moving to the Vaporfly 4% (which isn’t for everybody btw) then I have eradicated this problem. Which is equally pleasing because I believe this shoe is fast (for me anyway who runs the way I do) It sometimes takes a lot of trial and error to get to the right solution, but its worth it. I used to always be playing around with the trainers I wore, but now I know what works and stick to the same pair every time.
At the end of the season, you really have to take a long hard look at yourself and work out where the most amount of gain is to be had. Quite often you can get this far, but never put into action the things you need to do over an extended period of time to make them happen. This project of mine has made a big impact on where I end up in races in the pro Field having now gone on to run 1:16 off the bike. I still believe there is more to come, so the project remains until at least the new year where I’m going to attack my run PBs from 5k to half marathon. 2 weeks ago Phil & I went in the lab to test and define my training zones a lot more precisely. Some interesting results come out so I’ll do another post on how we use these to get the most out of yourself and really work on those weaknesses.