You’re happy with your 10km PB and you’re hitting all the times your coach has set. You’ve come from a running background and it’s always been you’re strongest discipline. But, like many others, you struggle to run at your potential during a race. You’re not alone. Many a triathlete feel that their running economy and efficiency is negatively affected by the bike and there’s nothing more frustrating than feeling your race results don’t reflect the way you train. So, what can you do about it? Here are the areas to look at:
There are a number of factors that will undoubtedly affect the way you run. Namely, how hard you’ve had to work on the bike, whether you had to chase and the terrain/undulation of the course – as well as the distance you’re racing, i.e. the amount of time spent in the saddle. Make sure you’re prepared for the type of race you’re entering
and train on the bike appropriately. Recce the course to get a full understanding of where the most demanding sections are and when you may get a chance to allow some recovery.
What’s conducive with good cycling doesn’t always fit with running. The postural element is a key example of this. Getting in a low aerodynamic position is great for reducing workload on the bike, but many people achieve this by rounding off their thoracic spine into a flexed curvature. This, coupled with many people’s day jobs in front of computer screens (where all our postures could be a little better), can result in a stiff immobile thoracic spine. This is
no good when you come to leave T2 and want an upright run posture to optimise the biomechanics of running.
You can help to prevent this and increase the mobility of your thoracic spine with regular foam roller stretches into extension (fig 1 below). Just holding a sustained stretch is useful or find the stiffest segment and work specifically into this. Ideally put this into your programme pre- and post-riding to maximise the effects.
Fg.1 – Release thoracic spine
To release tightness in the thoracic spine caused by hours on the bike, use a foam roller and extend the thoracic spine over it in one move to get the maximum range of thoracic extension. You can then roll on a tight area to work on the muscles supporting the spine, or hold an extended position to mobilise a stiff segment of the spine.
It’s important not to fix with your upper body when riding the bike. The arms should just be used to stabilise, while the power output comes from the legs. Make a conscious effort to think about relaxing the arms while out on training rides. Tightness and tension through the shoulders can carry over into the run, with poor arm and trunk movement shortening stride length and affecting cadence. If this becomes a consistent pattern, it can lead to ineffective and problematic breathing mechanics.
Regular stretching of the lats and pecs (Fig.2 and Fig.3 below) will reduce any upper limb tightness and fixing on the bike. These stretches are also great to achieve effective stroke length during the swim, so well worth the time.
Fig.2 – Lat stretch with Swiss Ball
Kneeling down, reach the ball as far away as you can, keeping the spine level and in a neutral position. Drop the shoulders to feel the stretch in the underside of the arm and down your sides.
Fig.3 – Pec stretch
Fix the upper body against a door or wall. Step and rotate the body away to feel a stretch deep in the front of your chest. You can change the position of the arm, taking it higher or lower to alter the angle of the stretch.
While cycling, your hip flexors are working hard and doing so in a relatively shortened position. This is in complete contrast to when you get off the bike and run, where the hip flexors need to lengthen to full range. Any reduction in this can again shorten stride length and also result in a lower (sitting) pelvic position as you run out of T2.
Keeping your hip flexors in an optimum state and maximising your range of hip extension will minimise any negative effects from the bike. You can do this by regularly getting out of the saddle and allowing the hip flexors to lengthen, as well as regularly doing the stretches as shown in Fig.4 below.
Fig.4 – Lengthen hip flexors
In a half-kneel position, lean/push the front of the hip forwards to feel the stretch along the front of the leg. Try to keep your pelvis level and body position straight
T2 and bike to run is never going to be easy (otherwise you’d stick to single sport, rather than tri!), but hopefully by integrating these factors into your programme, running off the bike will start to feel closer to running fresh.