Run technique & training: 9 common mistakes triathletes make

Former top GB athlete and 220 running coach, triathlete Paul Larkins explains 9 common mistakes triathletes make in the run leg and provides advice on how to correct them

Credit: ITU

One pace training

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Conquering all three disciplines is by no means easy, which is why so many of us drift into one steady effort for everything be that a 1500m swim, a steady 30 on the bike or a five-miler running at a good clip. The trick to effective training is remember that one pace will not cure all; it’s actually better to go much slower than usual some days and much faster on others.

Think of it as plateauing and you’ll quickly understand where you are and how to cure it for yourself. As many triathletes know the all-conquering Marc Allen discovered that; most of his training was done at one, pretty quick tempo, but when he had the nerve to back off and allow his body to recover, well… his incredible Ironman record will tell you what the result was. Runners are particularly prone to this ‘crime’, running just about everything at the same sort of tempo – usually too fast. Back off and you’ll be amazed.

Ignoring short intense workouts

Following on from the crime of one-paced training is the belief that super endurance will be built simply by running for huge distances. Steve Robinson, a 2:30 marathon runner and RAF physical instructor, has discovered that for himself. “Looking back at my training diary I saw that I put in some great long runs and excellent totals for each week so I just thought ‘more is better’”.

Results, however, while still good, began to taper, so Steve revisited his training diary. “What I had failed to notice was that when I was running my best marathon, I was also in my best shape for a 200m or even 100m. Often I would go to the track and run some sharp 200s – not many, just eight or so. It seems counter intuitive, but less really is more as long as you are working on all the different aspects of your training,” he says.


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Structuring your effort

Greg Rouault, Directeur Sportif at Poissy Triathlon knows all about this. As a former 29-minute 10,000m runner on the track, he turned his attentions to age group Olympic distance events and within three years was crowned world champion. “Work on your strength and diminish your weakness,” he says simply. Runners, he continues are prone to getting too carried away with the other disciplines. In short, it pays to have a rough plan to work to both in training and races. As Greg is keen to remind us runners, pace pays off be it controlling that urge to burn off in training, or in your preparation and, of course, as we all know to our cost, in the actual race.

One for runners turning to triathlon: ignoring running!

This is my own personal crime as a runner. For someone used to circling the track or just heading out on the road or trail for some easy miles, triathlon is a tough sport. You need to get into a swimming routine, you need to understand the time cycling takes and you need to soak up all the small details that can make such huge differences such as kit selection.

So, being a runner, I did all of that, playing my trump card that I could run and therefore ignore training a little bit too frequently. Similarly Greg says if you are runner don’t forget to run. “Just skip the low intensity or muscular work and sub a good bike ride or a swim.” It circles back to the short intensity thing – bin the junk miles so loved by runners and make it all count. ‘I went from running 70 miles a week to 40 miles but maintained my main workouts and went from training 10hrs/week to 25hrs/week.”


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Too much too soon, equally trying to play catch up if training is missed

Jump into something new and you’re bound to commit this deadly sin – and end up injured as a result. “It goes back to my favourite saying: ‘Hurry slowly’,” says Greg. “Like the race or your training it is always better to start a little too slow rather than start a little too fast.” He adds: “Remember that 95 per cent of your performance will come from some aerobic work along with first threshold training so don’t overdo it. Second, listen to yourself and to your body. It is OK to miss a workout!”

Running by the watch too much

Running is so much a science as it is an art. Some days you feel good, some you don’t – both such days are where the watch should most definitely be left at home! Coach Dick Weis at Oklahoma State has his runners complete some pretty tough workouts – tempo runs to specific times being a favourite, but he’s also an advocate of backing off and just taking it easy should the occasion call for it.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love the accuracy a watch provides and the guys all work to specific goals when we’re doing a 10-mile acceleration run. But the following days, I just tell them to run. If they feel good, well OK, but if they don’t, well don’t worry, just jog; knowing their speed or distance in either instance isn’t helpful.” A tough goal for a triathlete given the amazing equipment we all now enjoy.

Greg agrees. “By all means use your watch on easy run to stay easy and on a first threshold run to stay at first threshold…for the rest…forget about it. People are getting driven by their tools and it becomes unproductive. Too much technology leads to a total lack of independence and knowledge of yourself in the effort.”


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Footwear and getting the shoes on is clearly an issue

Runners agonise over this one as preparing for a running-only race is a relatively leisurely affair and can be conducted at your own pace. Greg knows that only too well as a former college track champion but who learned the hard way that transition can be over complicated. So he’s straight to the point on this one: “Don’t use the marketing products that are supposed to make you so much faster and more efficient… stick to the good old elastics…once again, keep it simple!” Like anything in life, stick to what you know best and you’ll reap the results.

The dreaded transition

Former GB middle distance track athlete and age-group GB duathlate June Swift says runners often forget about the technical aspects of the transition to their cost. “Running to athletes like me is just about putting your shoes on and going, but in a duathlon it’s different. I know, I found out to my cost!

“ Make sure your transition is practiced! It’s the small things like having your shoes in place and using elastic laces. And make sure you can just slip your shoes on and go. It may only be 10 seconds but it makes a big difference.

On a similar note, she has more advice for transition – an ‘alien’ area for pure runners.  “Assessing the bike route and the last few kilometres coming into transition is vital to see whether you can start to quicken your cadence on the approach to mimic the quick cadence in your run. Muscle activation in running post cycling is not different to just isolated running, however the recruitment pattern of that muscle activation does appear to increase post bike, but what the optimal cadence should be is still being debated.” In short, practice, everyone is different but spinning those legs does play a big role.

Finally, she has one last thing word about transition. “Check the length of the transition to see if you can use this bike push period to stretch out the legs, this may affect your decision on the bike to change on how you change your cadence.”

On the bike

For runners, the bike perhaps feels the more natural of the two other discplines but June, a sub 2min 10sec 800m runner at her best says it’s worth thinking about the small things when your in the saddle. “Remember,” she says, “running is about being tall, biking is about being crouched over. That takes time to adjust to.” Like all of us, while not exactly a ‘fan’ of brick sessions, she can’t emphasise their importance enough. “Stimulating the physiological responses experienced during the cycle-run transitions is really important in training.”

It also helps with your breathing, again an unusual sensation for runners more used to a smooth, even paced experience. Your ventilator response within the first minute of running is greater than the entire cycle, so prepare your body for this physiological change through training ‘brick’ sessions.

“And have at least one practice training session where you use all your competition kit so that is becomes familiar to you, this includes race shoes, hydration and snacks. This helps prepare you mentally and also creates confidence in you executing a sound transition.”

Paul Larkins is a sub four-minute miler, has represented GB at World and European level in athletics and competed in the World Half Ironman Champs in Clearwater as an age-grouper.

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