August 17, 2017

Running Off The Bike

Jarrett Pflieger

Legs like tree trunks and feet like bricks in your shoes. If you have ever done a triathlon, you know the feeling. One of the most uncomfortable parts of any triathlon is the sensation of running immediately after the bike portion of the race. Whether it is your calves, quads, hamstrings, or glutes . . . you hurt.

This pain shouldn’t be a surprise. We spend anywhere from about 40 minutes for a sprint distance race, up to six hours or more for an Ironman race, getting our legs nice and fatigued. Then we expect them to perform a whole different movement utilizing many of the same muscles we already killed on the bike. The most successful triathletes are able to overcome this feeling and perform well running off the bike. So how is this possible?

There are some simple solutions that will make you perform better running after the bike. It will always feel weird and uncomfortable, but you can train your body to overcome the feeling and perform nearly as well as you would with fresh legs. Here are some things you can try.

Brick workouts

Brick workouts are a great way to get your legs used to the sensation of running off the bike. A brick workout is when you pair two or more workouts together. For instance, going for a ride, then doing a run workout after. Your body has an amazing ability to adapt, and if you repeatedly run after you cycle, you will get better at it.

When you do a bike/run brick workout, the run doesn’t necessarily have to be long. There are athletes that have great success running just a small distance after every bike workout. Get in the habit of running, even if it’s just for a few minutes each and every time you get off the bike. You can even create variations to really challenge yourself, like doing a bike/run/bike/run brick where you alternate back and forth between the two events for two or more cycles. This type of training should pay dividends on race day, but use it sparingly.

Resistance training

The main reason it is so difficult to run after cycling is muscle fatigue. By resistance training, you can go faster while using less energy, delay the onset of muscle fatigue, and recover faster when you do get fatigued.

Most endurance athletes often overlook resistance training, but if you want to be successful in the sport, you really need to incorporate some into your training. Consult a personal training or coach for advice in this area.

Pacing

No matter how much you train for transitioning from bike to run, you will not be able to run very fast if you go too hard on the bike. The only way you can know how hard you can push the bike, while still being able to run well, is by practicing.

During training, experiment with different ride lengths and intensities and see how your run is affected. If you know your race distance, practice riding that distance on similar terrain then running close to race distance after to see how your body responds. If you have been incorporating brick workouts for a while and your legs still quit on you, you may be pushing too hard on the bike.

Cadence

There is still much debate when it comes to cadence (RPM) on the bike. Some very successful athletes have very different opinions on what is best, high cadence (90 rpm and above) or lower cadence (below 90 rpm). Personally, I find that the lower my cadence, the more I tend to hammer down on the pedals and burn out my legs. On the other hand, when I concentrate on keeping my cadence high, especially during climbing, my legs feel fresher off the bike.

My bike times may be a bit slower, but I can more than make up for it in the run when my legs feel good. It’s all a fine balance, one you have to discover for yourself in training.

Hopefully some of these little tips will help you become a better runner off the bike. Feel free to play around and see what works for you. Contrary to popular belief, there is really not an exact science for triathlon training. Experiment to find what works for you body and run with it (pun intended). A good triathlon coach can also help you in this area.

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