My greatest interests include geeking out on triathlon science and best practices, always learning more about triathlon coaching and training, and actually doing the training and racing part of it.
Above all of that though comes trying to figure out how to and constantly improve my know-how in solving the puzzle that is getting each individual triathlete to train as optimally for himself or herself as is possible, given their current ability level, goals, time constraints, history in the sport and all other variables that influence how you should train.
For Beginning Runners
Try These 5 Tips to Improve Quickly
Running is difficult. It might sound weird, since intuitively many people would think that it’s all about “improving your endurance”. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
First of all, endurance at an easy pace is different from endurance at high intensity. Many triathletes have the wrong balance of training intensities, and struggle to improve their endurance as a consequence.
But it doesn't stop there. Running is essentially a series of one-legged jumps that requires decent technical skills to perform efficiently. And other factors, such as core strength, can completely ruin your run even if have the endurance and technical skills nailed down.
With that in mind, what follows are 5 tips for beginners and a link to similarly researched tips for advanced triathletes, that you can implement to fast-track your progress when you’re starting out, or use to break through plateaus when you struggle to make any further progress with what your currently doing.
5 tips for beginner triathletes
Many beginners run too fast. As a beginner, your priority should be to build a solid aerobic base, so the majority of your runs should be at an easy pace. You should be able to hold a conversation and complete your sentences without getting out of breath.Slow down your runs.
By running more, you'll increase your base fitness. Not only that, you'll also become a more efficient runner. Better running efficiency means expending less energy at any given pace, and through consistent repetition of the movement patterns of running you’ll see your efficiency increase over time.
Resist the temptation of making large, sudden increases in running volume. Increase your volume by at most 10 % per week, and drop back down a bit every third or fourth week to give your body time to adapt.
Many beginner triathletes overstride. That is, they land with the foot out in front of them instead of directly under their body and center of mass. This causes wasted energy due to braking forces. Because of the increased impact it also greatly increases the risk of injury.
By increasing your cadence (number of steps per minute) to 175-180 you're practically forced to stop overstriding, so you're efficiency increases and risk of injury decreases.
While you should keep the majority of your runs slow, higher-intensity workouts have a definite place in the plan of every triathlete working to improve their running. As a beginner, a harder run once a week is appropriate.
The optimal break-down of these workouts will vary depending on where you are in your season, but you’ll almost never go wrong doing fartlek runs. Avoid running in the grey-zone of moderate intensity.
You’ll get the most bang for your buck when you keep the intensity at a rate-of-perceived exertion (RPE) of at least 8– on a scale from 1 to 10. If you use heart rate, this would correspond to roughly 85% or more of your maximum heart rate.
In fact, in a recent study comparing different training intensity distributions it was shown that highly polarized training was more effective than any other distribution (high-volume low-intensity training HVLIT, threshold training THR, high-intensity interval training HIIT and polarized training POL). The intensity distributions of the four groups are shown in the chart below.
As you can see, the polarized group performed almost exclusively low-intensity training and high-intensity training (above lactate threshold) for 9 weeks. This group also showed the best improvements in VO2max (maximum oxygen consumption), economy (in their respective sports; running, cycling or cross-country skiing), performance in a standardized time-to-exhaustion test and speed/power at different lactate thresholds and at peak values as seen in the following chart.
The most common technical error that beginner triathletes do is to run with a slouched posture. Strive to "run tall" and good posture will follow. Your hips should be above your feet when you land, your upper body should be aligned with your hips, and this alignment should go all the way through your neck and head.
Keep your gaze fixed 10 to 20 meters out in front of you, and not down at your feet. Using these cues you’re running form will improve dramatically, resulting in increased efficiency.
If you are a more advanced runner, read this related article for Five Tips for Advanced Runners.
BONUS TIP that EVERYBODY should do
Core strength and stability. If your core is not strong and stable enough, you could in theory have the best running form in the world, but you wouldn’t be able to keep it up for very long.
In practice, achieving a good running form in the first place is very difficult if not impossible when your core is lacking. For example, you won't be able to run tall if your core is not strong enough. The most important reason to work on your core is to prevent injuries that arise very easily when other muscles start to over-compensate for a functionally deficient core.
Core strength and stability for triathletes is not about doing a thousand crunches and getting ripped. It’s about hips, glutes and deep-lying core muscles, such as the transverse abdominis. Work on core strength and stability at least twice a week in a 15-20 minute well-rounded routine. Doing so will enable you to keep a good and aligned running posture, and to reduce uncontrolled rotation and other energy-wasting, potentially injury-causing movements. If you do nothing else as a result reading this article, at least do this. Start strengthening your core.
Mikael is a triathlete and coach, and founder of Scientific Triathlon. The carefully selected team of coaches at Scientific Triathlon helps triathletes of all abilities to train smarter and achieve their triathlon goals, whether that be finishing their first sprint distance race or qualifying for Kona.
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