Run Workouts for Triathletes: Breaking Down Long Runs

Among your foremost needs as a triathlete is that of determining how to best allocate your energies within each discipline. Even among jocks who focus only on running, this is a challenge.

Figuring out how much of every week's (or cycle's) training mileage should be dedicated to intense intervals and to longer, more sustained high-end efforts versus the amount that ought to consist of easy recovery running is something that can take years of trial and error. The right mix varies widely between individuals.

Triathletes, whose every session contributes something to their overall aerobic base, are more concerned with making the most of every run than with jogging around between hard workouts. With this idea in mind, it is sensible to approach run training through a scheme that is anchored on three basic types of key workouts: Long runs, medium-long runs and intervals.

The particular scheme that I employ with my athletes divides each type into three general subtypes. Medium-long and long runs are divided into steady-state, medium-paced and fast-paced subtypes. Intervals are divided into short-, medium- and long-interval subtypes.

With one subtype of each type done each week, athletes complete one multi-pace training cycle that includes nine distinct workouts every 21 days before embarking on the next or tapering for an upcoming competition.

Overall running volume also fluctuates on a three-week cycle. Mileage is relatively lower in week one, medium in week two, and highest in week three.

Here's a glimpse at how this will ultimately look in schematic terms:










Week 1


Medium-long run/fast finish



Long intervals


Long run/marathon pace


Week 2


Medium-long run/steady state



Medium intervals


Long run/fast finish


Week 3


Medium-long run/lactate threshold



Short intervals


Long run/steady state


These workouts will be described in detail in a series of three columns. This first installment deals with the workout of greatest interest to triathletes: the long run. Whether your aspirations center mainly on shorter events or you're aiming for an Ironman, long runs comprise the core of your perambulatory training.

Types of Long Runs

The main benefit of a standard, or steady-state, long run is furthering endurance and building a basic resistance to fatigue; not only fatigue incurred during competition but in the course of various other types of training.

When done at about 70 percent to 75 percent of VO2max (or 75 percent to 80 percent of max HR), these runs increase the fuel-burning efficiency of both type I (oxidative) and type IIa (fast-oxidative) muscle fibers, and require less recovery time than more intense long bouts.

Pace is not a concern during these runs, so you're free to undertake them on trails and hillier courses. However, be aware that especially rough terrain that prevents you from maintaining smooth form throughout the run creates a suboptimal situation, as it's important—even more so for multisport athletes than for marathoners—to practice good form with steady turnover while tired.

A sample run for someone with Ironman experience and the ability to run 3:30 in an open marathon (8:00 pace) would be 18 to 22 miles at about a 9:00 to 9:30 pace, assuming good weather and a favorable training course. For specificity, it would make sense to do these the day after a long bike ride.

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