The Run: A Thinker's Approach

This is the first in a series on run training for triathletes.

Running is such a natural activity that we rarely give it much thought. Unfortunately, that mindset turns into a huge problem when we decide to take it up regularly, seriously and competitively.

When we start getting serious and competitive, it means we want to be good at something. And being good at just about any activity requires two things--hard work and dedicated thought.

The hard work part is intuitive. Running is hard, and the faster you go, the harder it gets. All you need to do is get in a race to understand that. But the dedicated thought aspect probably slips our minds because we haven't had to truly think about running since the age of 3.

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Most new triathletes begin training with the idea that swimming will be the most technically difficult component, the bike the most technologically challenging, and the run will be the easiest because, hey, it's just running!

And then oh-so-many of us find ourselves at our first, fifth and maybe even 12th triathlon, struggling to walk across the line.

We compensate for a poor race result by running harder, by running longer or, worse, by doing both at the same time. Oftentimes, this training method yields more injuries and lost training days than improvements.

Your path begins with your most recent injury, or perhaps a race in which you didn't meet your run goal. Now, let's think for a moment about your training leading up to that race or injury.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • How many miles a week were you running?
  • How many hours were you running?
  • How many hours were you swimming and cycling?
  • Were you sleeping enough?
  • Did you taper before the race?
  • What phase of run training were you in?
  • Were you aware of your heart rate zones?
  • Did you run the same distance each day?
  • What were you doing for speed work? 
  • What were you doing for distance work?
  • Were you making time for active recovery?

You might feel a little embarrassed or guilty about some of your answers. But the real concern surrounds questions you don't know the answers to at all. What you don't know can and will hurt your run, and everyone knows that your run can hurt your race.

There are things we need to know and start considering. A good first step is to know yourself as a runner. Start a log of your weekly mileage, routes and pace. Pick up a heart rate monitor and keep an eye on how it varies throughout your workouts.

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Over the next few segments of this series, we'll dissect your running game, assess your current ability and add to your knowledge toolkit to improve your workouts and race performance. If you want to run well, you have to train well.

A good training regimen doesn't necessarily require a coach or rigid program, but it does require thought.
That sounds difficult, but taking it step-by-step will make it easy. So start now by continuing to do what you're doing in training, but keep track of it.

How you construct your running log is totally up to you, but here are some key items you'll want to include and track along the way:

  • Type of workout (distance, tempo, interval, recovery)
  • Distance
  • Time
  • Average and peak heart rates
  • Cadence (check this twice during your run. Count the number of times one foot hits the ground or treadmill in 30 seconds, then multiply it by two.)
  • How you felt before you started the workout (tired, sore, great, etc.)

Adjusting your run approach takes time and effort. Over the next 30 days, track your runs and think about your goals. Our next installment will analyze your trends and show how putting a little more thought into each session will improve overall performance.

About the Author

Jim Gourley

Jim Gourley is a four-time Ironman finisher and part of a four-man division that finished the Race Across America. He earned a degree in astronautical engineering from the United States Air Force Academy and has written on science and technology in triathlon for four years. He is author of the book Faster: Demystifying the Science of Triathlon Speed.

Jim Gourley is a four-time Ironman finisher and part of a four-man division that finished the Race Across America. He earned a degree in astronautical engineering from the United States Air Force Academy and has written on science and technology in triathlon for four years. He is author of the book Faster: Demystifying the Science of Triathlon Speed.

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