Run Training for Intermediate Triathletes
Are you an intermediate? If you think you are a beginner then take a look at the run guidance for beginners page. If you are from a running background and run your 5 or 10 km races at less than 6 min/mile or equivalent, then you will already have the running talent or understand enough to coach yourself through a triathlon. However, you will probably find you have to run less than you are used to in order to fit everything else in.
As an intermediate, you will get around a triathlon, but unless you really sort out your running, it is unlikely you will nail the run and finish very strong and high up the field in a race. If running really is a weakness and you find yourself being overtaken in the run by a lot of triathletes you overtook earlier, then spending a period of time sorting out your running should pay dividends in terms of improving results.
As with all training you have to decide how much time you have available to run. If you can spend between 7 and 10 hours a week training, then the good news is, it should be possible to focus your run training with targeted sessions. However, before you decide how many sessions and how far and fast to run in them, you need to establish your base level. A simple way to determine this is to undertake a time-trial on a relatively flat surface. If you like to run races outside of triathlon you probably already know how long you are likely to take for a standard distance given your current level of fitness. The time taken in minutes and seconds in a race or time-trial can yield training paces and speeds for all distances. One of the tried and tested methods to improve your running on this basis is to use VDot tables of paces, as proposed by Jack Daniels (one of the foremost exercise physiologists to work on endurance running) and his VDot values (arbitrary units) are easy to apply. Basically the concept of VDot values is designed so that the higher your number is, the faster runner you are. To give you a idea of how good you have to be for particular VDot values, if you can run 5km in 24 minutes, you will have a VDot of 40, whereas if you can run it in 18 min, you will have a VDot of 56.
Whilst Daniels designed the VDot with pure runners in mind, they are very applicable to triathletes as long as you don’t try to run like a pure runner and train hard for the other disciplines at the same time. Injury or burnout will be the most probable outcome if you do.
Daniels’ VDot tables are easily found on the web and downloaded as spreadsheets. One that is very clear is http://www.runbayou.com/jackd.
Typical sessions for someone running three times a week could include one based on Intervals or Threshold pace and two based based on endurance at a slower pace. As a triathlete, you might find that working on your running for a few months or mesocycles (e.g. two or three weeks of progression followed by a recovery week) can yield great dividends.
One of the common pitfalls that a lot of triathletes fall into is to undertake hard sessions too frequently. As a general rule, less than about 20% of your total distance should come from your fast-paced Intervals and Threshold workouts combined e.g. <10% each. Most (around 80%) of your total distance or run time should actually be conducted at slower paces. These are also worked out for you in the VDot calculator. Pacing is key and if you are inexperienced, learn to use the technology now available, such as a stopwatch, or alternatively, a running GPS with its many functions. Ensure you run at the paces given and not faster.
Interval sessions are based on a number of short fast runs with plenty of rest in between. You can opt to do your Interval sessions at a local 400 metre track where distances are easily known. Set a pace for a distance, typically 400 metres up to 1600 metres or 1 mile maximum and work out around 5 km race pace with an easy jog for about the same amount of time to recover as you take to cover the interval. An alternative to the track is to find a straight flat trail or cycle path and set up the laps as a particular distance on your GPS or other speed and distance device to record your time e.g. stopwatch, for the Interval. As a track example, a triathlete who has recently run an accurate 5 km in 24 minutes exactly has a VDot of 40 and should aim to run a 400 m Interval in 1 min 52 seconds (pace of 7 min 28 seconds per 1600 metres or mile). The total session distance for Intervals run at this pace should be from 2 to 3 miles, or 3200 to 4800 metres, not including warm up, cool down or recovery between Intervals. Remember if you are running up and down hills these paces do not apply. Other important aspects that you should include in your Interval sessions are a dynamic warm-up and some drills to improve your leg speed and body posture.
Threshold sessions are usually continuous efforts of 20 minutes or longer run at a pace that is at least 25 sec per mile slower than your Interval pace. There should then be enough recovery after this effort to bring your breathing and heart rates back to that of easy paced running. If your Threshold efforts are longer than 20 min, then slow your pace by a few seconds per mile. Again as an example, a triathlete with a VDot of 40 should aim to cover a flat 2.5 miles at a Threshold pace of 8 min 12 seconds per mile, a total of 20 min and 30 seconds, not faster.
Most of your other sessions should be run at much easier paces as longer, continuous runs. The paces are defined as Easy pace and Marathon race pace. The slower of these is Easy pace, which for the example VDot 40 triathlete is 10 min 11 seconds per mile, whereas Marathon race pace is 8 min 46 seconds per mile. Running most of your miles between these paces will help your aerobic system develop and also allow your body to recover.
To reiterate, around 80% of your time or distance should be run at a sustainable pace that feels relatively easy. All of your longer sessions should be run between the Easy and Marathon race paces and the 80% guidance on the time or distance spent at these paces does not change whether you are a pure runner or triathlete.
By Ed Morgan