3 Basic Steps to a Faster Run

In moving from sprint to Olympic distance racing, gently build a long run once per week into your training routine.<br><em>Credit: Getty Images/ Marco Garcia</em>

Q: Hey Gale, I recently competed in my first sprint distance triathlon, and I am hooked. The swim and the bike come fairly naturally to me (or at least I feel like I am able to improve at both); however, the run is where people pass me. I don't know the proper way to prepare for the run. During my training leading up to the event I would run three to four miles, but I never switched up the pace. I plan on doing an Olympic distance triathlon in the near future and would love to feel as dominant on the run as I do with the swim and bike segments. Any suggestions?


A: There are several strategies to attack improving on the run in triathlon. What strategy or combination of strategies you use depends on how much time between now and your Olympic distance race. Below are three of my favorite strategies:

  1. In moving from sprint to Olympic distance racing, gently build a long run once per week into your training routine. A run in the five- to seven-mile range works fine. If you have several weeks or months until the triathlon, then you can build more toward the seven-mile mark. Keep the intensity of this run mostly easy and conversational, in other words stay primarily aerobic.

  2. You are right about switching up the pace. You need to get away from mono-speed for all of your workouts, in all sports. This is not to imply that all workouts need to be gut-busting fast; but you do need to include one faster workout in each sport, each of your non-rest weeks.

    To begin your faster-paced running program, try intervals of three minutes at a pace that challenges you, four to six times per workout. A "challenging pace" means you are aware of breathing a little harder; but this is a steady pace you can maintain over three minutes, four to six times. It would be difficult to hold a conversation at this pace, yet you aren't running near an all-out pace. You can begin with four and over the course of several weeks, work your way up to six repeats. There are lots of variations of this format, but a good start is the three-minute work bouts to keep your speed high. Between each three-minute work interval, take a one-minute rest or recovery interval. Run or jog at a very easy rating of perceived exertion.

  3. Include speedy bricks (workouts going directly from a bike ride to a run) in your training plan. Begin the workout with a good warm-up on the bike. Make the last three to six miles of the bike ride at race pace, then transition right to a short run (one to two miles) at race pace. As you build fitness and experience, you can change the race-pace distances in both sports. You can also play with race-paced intervals and steady-state efforts. In both sports.

Be sure to include rest weeks in your training plan. A "rest week" means to reduce training volume and allow your body time to adapt to training. I like a format of two or three "work weeks," followed by a rest week. Best wishes training and racing.

Gale Bernhardt was the 2003 USA Triathlon Pan American Games and 2004 USA Triathlon Olympic coach for both the men's and women's teams. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow training plans. For more information, click here. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.

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