Many athletes are beginning to plan the season's races and goals. No matter the goals you may have for the upcoming triathlon season, one thing can be certain: improving your running base will help you to improve your overall triathlon performance.
Running is one of the more difficult of the three sports in triathlon due to the complex mechanics involved and the potential for injury. However, it is also one of the best exercises to improve cardiovascular and aerobic fitness.
Beginning a periodized run program in the early parts of the training year will provide many benefits to overall conditioning. Additionally, focusing on building a solid run base earlier in the year is a smart thing to do to minimize the stress that is placed on the body when increasing run miles. A gradual progression of run volume is preferred to a short term overload progression that could predispose you to a greater risk of injury.
Mechanics and Injuries
There has been much press recently about proper running mechanics and while this article will not go into too much detail regarding the debate among the scientific and coaching communities, it is important to understand that improper running mechanics can not only lead to energy loss through decreased efficiency but can also improve your chances of getting injured.
What we know about developing proper mechanics is that having the emphasis of technique running early in an athlete's season is advantageous as it allows the body to slowly adapt to biomechanical changes.
For example, maybe you are trying a new type of running shoe, which may promote more of a "natural" running form. Or perhaps you are trying to implement better body position goals including a higher cadence, better forward lean and more efficient arm swing into your run stride. These tasks will require time to implement properly and the last thing that you will want to do is to try to rush running mechanic changes. Allowing the body at least two to three months of adaptation will significantly reduce your risk of getting injured.
Fitness and Periodization
As I mentioned previously, running can improve fitness level when done properly. Unfortunately, the too-much-too-soon concept plagues some athletes where the primary goal is to attain immediate results by loading on the miles. This could be a recipe for disaster for some athletes.
To properly build a solid aerobic running base, periodization should be used to introduce the concept of progressive overload into the training program. There are many different ways to periodize a running program to build a solid aerobic base and while it should be customized based on your running background, strengths, weaknesses and imbalances, there are a few tips that you can use immediately.
Rule #1: 2 up, 1 down
There are many ways to structure a run training program but I prefer a conservative approach in the beginning of a training cycle to allow the muscles, ligaments, joints and tendons a chance to adapt without too much stress to the body.
A good strategy to do this is to plan a progressive increase in running volume for two consecutive weeks (2 up) then implement a recovery or regeneration week (1 down). Doing this will allow the body to gradually build its running base safely.