How to Train for an Ironman - Part 4 - Running

author : Tre_bor
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The running aspect of an Ironman triathlon is a marathon. Most people take on a marathon as a single event and the training for this uses up a lot of their time. Here are some tips for the run.

This is part four of a five part series on how to train for an Ironman. In Part 1 I looked at the overall strategy and some preparation tips. In Part 2 I wrote about swim specific advice. Part 3 covered the bike section of the race and in this part I will be looking at run specific details.

Discipline: Running

Distance: 26.2 mile - 42.2km

Avg. Time: 4 hours 30 minutes

% of Total Race Time: 30% 


The running aspect of an Ironman triathlon is a marathon. Most people take on a marathon as a single event and the training for this uses up a lot of their time. There are usually 4-5 training sessions a week, with 3-4 of them being aimed at developing different aspects of your run. You simply cannot fit this amount of training in for the run section of an Ironman if you want to train for the swim and bike, too.

Quick Tip: Take advantage of brick training sessions where you go from a hard cycle to a run. This means running on tired legs and will really prepare your legs for how they will feel on race day. You can run much less distance but get good gains doing this. Even better, do intervals of running and cycling. For example, cycle 5km hard, run 1.5km hard. Take a short rest and then repeat. Keep transition times down to a minimum. 

Most people I know who are new to triathlon see the marathon as just the bit on the end and their time suffers as a result.

1. Build It Slow

When faced with the prospect of running a marathon a lot of people will go out and try to run a long way to see if they can do it. If you start from long enough before race day you don't need to do this and risk injury or a demotivating "I can't run that far" approach when you feel bad at mile 16.

An ideal way with everything triathlon, including running, is to gradually build up from a comfortable distance adding more time and distance each week. This conditions your body to deal with longer runs and results in what was once considered too long just a stroll in the park.

2. Softly Does It

I had a serious issue with my knee when I increased my running. I have a history of knee issues, having had five operations on it in the past 12 years or so which culminated in cartilage removal and an Anterior Cruciate Ligament reconstruction.

I was running on concrete and pavement a lot and this aggravated it so I moved to grass and wood chip styled paths surrounding the parks. This helped a lot and got me to thinking that even if you don't have a bad knee/ankle/hip/foot or whatever, it's a better idea to run on the soft stuff as much as possible because prevention is better than cure.

Using an athletics track is also a really nice idea because the surface is very springy and forgiving on the joints. It's also ideal for interval training because you know exactly how far you are running and the surface is free from ankle turning holes if you are doing sprints. 

3. Brick Close to Race 

A brick run is where you do a cycle ride followed by a run immediately afterwards with as little rest in between as possible. These are great because your legs will become accustomed to working when tired but they take it out of you because they are tough. I'd recommend only doing these closer to a race, such as for 3-4 weeks leading up to it.

At other times in your race calendar I would stick to training the bike section separately to the run, unless you feel like throwing a really tough one in every few weeks to shock your legs a little. If you do them too often you may find that you are over training your legs and that's never a good idea.

4. Run to The Hills

When I said to my friend "we need to do some hill repeats," his response was "I don't like those words said in separate sentences let alone in the same one!" Of course, who really relishes hills and repeats of those hills? Not many. The feeling afterwards might be nice but the actual running up them is tough.

But hills offer a great way to build up leg strength because you are having to push that much harder on every stride. They also help increase cadence (the rate at which your feet hit the ground; your leg turnover speed). By improving both leg strength and cadence and you will become a better runner. The great thing about doing hill repeats is that you are doing intervals so it's a hard effort for a few minutes followed by a slow jog back down the hill. Just take one at a time.

Another benefit is that you don't need to do them every day. Just once a week should do the trick and you'll also be doing some other run training.

5. Look After Your Legs 

Imagine running a car without servicing it. It wouldn't last as long as a fully serviced one or even if it did it definitely wouldn't run as smoothly and reliably. It's the same for your body. Training is good for your body but there are some downsides. Your muscles can become increasingly tight and lose their pliability, making strains more likely and limiting your range of movement.

Massage is a great way to service your muscles. Massaging will help to increase blood flow all around your muscles which results in better oxygen supply and removal of waste products when they are working hard. It will help to take away the stiffness and tension that you are likely to have, especially from long training sessions

A deep tissue or sports massage is what you want, not a relaxing massage. It's not pleasant at the time and can be very painful but it's for the greater good. 1-2 days afterwards you will feel so much more relaxed and able to perform better at your next training session. It should be a compulsory, once a month event when you are training hard. If not more frequently. Look at the pros, most of them have a massage weekly for a reason. 

6. If it Ain't Broke

Most of you will have done some running in the past and probably have a running style. If it's really inefficient then you should get someone to have a look at it but if you don't get any pain from the way that you run and it's not too inefficient stick with it. A lot of people get tempted to change up their running style because of some advice they've seen online or someone has told them, like barefoot running for example. Maybe it is better to run in a specific way but changing something that you have been doing one way for your whole life is not going to be easy and won't happen overnight. 

I tried to change my running style to be more of a forefoot striker than a mid/heel striker. I gave up after a few weeks because it was just killing my calf muscles. I didn't have time to re-learn how to run just a few months before my race. If you want to try it over your off season then by all means give it a go but don't try to change things midway through a training season because you are likely to do more harm than good.

That concludes this section of Ironman run training advice. I hope that some of the pointers have given you something to think about. In the next and final post I will be summing up and offering some general advice about mistakes I made in my first Ironman in the hope that you can learn from them. Until then, have fun training.

Author Bio: Robert Jackson this year became an Ironman! He believes a balanced, yet consistent, approach to training and diet will deliver results. Having started out with a fear of the water, he managed to complete the 3.8km Ironman swim in 1.5 hours just 11 months later, proving that "anything is possible...". Robert has recently created a website to guide those looking for protein powder. Click here to find out more.


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date: April 21, 2014


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