4 ways to get your run up to race speed

Nik Cook explains how to sharpen your run fitness so you can finish the run leg of a triathlon with a bang


It’s time to fine-tune your run and need to make sure all your run-based sessions have a definite goal and address a specific area of your fitness. Here are four ways to guarantee intensity, variety and results from your workouts…



Hit the trails for some mud plugging to develop your speed, strength and power. Soft, slippery and unstable surfaces force propulsive muscles to work harder and stabilising muscles to engage. The gradient extremes and a rapidly changing terrain will constantly break your rhythm and make running tougher. After a few sessions, running on tarmac will feel effortless.

The last thing you want this close to race season are any niggles; running off-road helps guard against them. Softer surfaces are more joint-friendly and varied surfaces make every foot strike different, so you’ll be less prone to overuse problems.


Hill reps are one of the toughest workouts you can do, physically and mentally. Do them and rather than fearing hills in races, you’ll come to relish them, seeing them as a chance to pick up places. As well as improving your ability on hilly courses, the strength and power you gain will also increase your speed on the flat.

Running coaches describe hill training as “speed work in disguise”. When running uphill, it’s easier to achieve high intensities than on the flat and then, as long as you have the fitness and willpower, maintain it for the duration of the rep. So hills are perfect for above-threshold intensity training and pre-season sharpening.


Many triathletes incorporate run-specific strength work into off-season training but ditch it when the season looms. Keeping to one or two short weekly sessions will help you maintain season-long performance and avoid injury. With run-specific exercises
you can target and address muscle tightness or imbalances that arise during a hard season’s racing.

Hours at a desk, driving or in an aggressive position on the bike can cause soft tissue problems that are magnified by hard running. Simple circuits (see below) can strengthen lazy postural muscles and reduce the incidence of related running ailments. You don’t need the gym for most run-focused strength work, as many exercises utilise your bodyweight.


Running shouldn’t be a mindless slog. Be conscious of your technique and get into the habit of scanning your body for correct form. Work through a mental checklist of form pointers, especially when fatigue kicks in, and it’ll soon become second nature.

Keep cadence high (85-95 strikes per foot, per minute) – count the strikes one foot makes in 30secs and double it. Picture yourself ‘floating’ over the ground, your feet caressing it. Don’t over stride; avoid jamming your heel into the ground ahead. Stand tall and keep your head up – don’t hunch your shoulders. Keep strong through your core, and avoid rolling the body or collapsing forward. Relax your neck, shoulders and arms; regularly shake your arms and roll your shoulders out.

Good form results in a quiet, efficient stride. Too much noise means something’s wrong, so work back through your checklist until you remedy the problem. The result? A run that’s a joy, not a chore.



Ascents and x-terrain should provide the platform this spring…

Swedish for ‘speed play,’ Fartlek training consists of unstructured intervals. Run hard when you feel good, hit a climb or until you reach the next tree. Back off until you recover, then go at it again.


Rolling trails are perfect for tempo runs, as undulating terrains force you to adapt your pace and stride, to keep your effort consistent. After a 10min warm-up run at tempo pace (sustainable discomfort or 75-80% of your max HR), go hard at it for 20-40mins and then follow your workout with 10mins of cool down.


A brute of a session that builds mental toughness, teaches pacing and raises threshold. Warm up, find a moderate grade (7-10%) hill and run hard up it for 5mins. Aim to maintain 80-90% max HR. Jog down to recover and repeat three to six times. Pace for consistent performance through reps.


A great session to tag onto the end of a run. Improves top-end speed, strength, power and technique. Warm up. Sprint up a short (25-50m), steep (20%+) hill at 100% effort, focusing on technique. Jog down to recover. Repeat six to 10 times.

How to pace your run in a triathlon

Four hill running sessions to boost your triathlon race speed