"When most people think about taking on their first triathlon they worry about the swim or the cycle, disciplines that are a bit more specialist, but the run is where the triathlon can actually be the most difficult for beginners..."
When Conor O’Keeffe talks about running, you would do well to listen. He's an endurance junkie who rarely turns down a competition on two feet, having excelled at everything from 5k park runs all the way up to 324km ultra marathons (lately he's been gearing up to run 32 marathons across Ireland in 32 days). And you'll be glad to know he's more than experienced in the world of triathlon as well...
So, whether you want to get in shape for your first tri or fancy seeing a major improvement for your next one, allow the colourful Cork native to "bring you up to speed" as only he can...
Get used to quick tie laces
"There are many varieties of quick tie laces out there but they’re all designed to do the same thing - allow you to slip your shoes on and off without the need to tie them. This might sound like a small tip but it can make a huge difference to your run. Use these quick tie laces in training so that your feet and mind can get used to them - it can seem weird running in shoes that you haven’t had to tie. That way when it comes to race day it’ll feel natural to you and you won’t waste precious seconds or even minutes trying frantically to tie up shoe laces to start the run."
Train in brick sessions
"A brick session is simply where you combine two of the three triathlon disciplines into one workout - cycling and running. And there are so many benefits. Firstly, we use various muscle groups in completely different ways depending on whether we cycle or run. So, it can feel a bit weird the first few times you come off the bike and start running after a long session, and this helps prepare the body for it.
"Secondly, it will get your legs used to running while heavily fatigued. Start small - if you have a long bike day each week maybe hop off the bike, slip on your quick tie runners and head off for 1-1.5km run. All in all, brick sessions can be as ace up your sleeve in preparation for the run section of any triathlon."
Use 'slow running' sessions to boost your breathing
"Humans have two basic energy pathways - aerobic and anaerobic. Aerobic means that we use oxygen to breakdown carbohydrate and anaerobic means we break down carbohydrate without oxygen. When we breakdown carbohydrate without oxygen we get a byproduct called lactic acid. That’s the unpleasant burning sensation we get in our muscles and lungs when we’re working hard. Still with me? Don’t grab your secondary school biology books just yet, I’m getting to the point...
"Usually, if we can keep our heart rate under 160 beats per minute (bpm) then we’re in an aerobic state. So, next time you head out for a run strap on a heart-rate monitor or smartwatch and check when your own heart hits this point. Check what pace you’re doing and then you’ll know how fast you can go before you heading into anaerobic territory. Don’t be afraid if you’re running a lot slower than you were - when I first tried this I was running a full minute slower per kilometre! As you train more in the “slow” zone you’ll get faster and your heart rate will stay the same. You’re getting fitter and you’re increasing your aerobic base, which will help massively."
Strengthen your lower leg
"If there's one area that causes runners the most issues it's the lower leg. Whether it’s shin splints, right calves or plantar fasciitis, the lower leg takes a hammering when we run. These are very small muscles that can take up to six times our body weight with each running stride. Of course we should be building up our large muscles like our glutes and quads to help us take this load but if you don’t focus on the lower leg you'll keep suffering.
A big tip from me is to do a few exercises without your shoes - yep, socks only - it’s time to engage those small muscles in the lower leg and feet. I recommend tippy toe walks. Basically you want to grab two dumbbells (start light and see how you feel during and after the exercise to determine how much weight to use) and walk on your tippy toes for 20-30sec for three sets. By doing this strength work and building up these muscles we’ll reduce our chances of injury and give us a great foundation to start running longer and faster. Obviously put your shoes back on as you wander around the gym, and mind you don't drop any dumbbells! "
Brick sessions can be as ace up your sleeve in preparation for the run section of any triathlon
Incorporate fartlek training to your schedule
"Fartlek training doesn't just sound funny, it's also one of the best ways to train there is. You choose to increase the tempo of your run for a period of time whenever you like. So, say you’re on a 10km run you can choose a distance (i.e. 400 metres) or a time (i.e. 1 minute) where you’ll up the intensity of your run before taking the foot off the gas, recovering, and then firing up the engines to go again. This gives you enormous control of your run and isn’t as rigid as doing high tempo interval work."
"It’s also perfect if you’re new to running and want to increase your fast paced sessions while enjoying your time outdoors. Fartleks are best ran on feel and not by relying on your GPS or heart rate. Imagine a scale of 0-10. Run your ‘fast’ efforts from 7-9/10 and your ‘slow’ efforts from 4-6/10. And just have fun with it."
Fuel your runs
"Glycogen, which fuels our muscles, is like the battery in your phone - it can be increased, stored and lost through use. So just like electricity charges your phone, carbohydrate replaces lost glycogen. What we want to do is make sure that we have enough glycogen in our muscles before we head off on a run, during the run and after a run. A nice carb heavy meal 4-5 hours before setting off can be a great way of making sure you stay on top of your glycogen levels. Keep well hydrated, pack some carbs with you and you can smash a big session.
"Drinking Red Bull is also a great way to stay focused, particularly for endurance athletes who need a lift at the right time. Whether in training or in a two-day long race I've even found that using Red Bull alters my perception of effort, making running fast feel easier."
Warm up thoroughly before you train, and cool down when you finish
"When I first got into competitive running I thought speeding into the first kilometre slowly meant I was 'warming up'. I wasn’t - I was just running slowly. When we warm up we want to bring blood and oxygen to the muscles that are about to work hard, and with dynamic movements we can warm up these muscles. This is as simple as a few stretches, squats and general movement to get your body firing.
"Additionally, make sure that when you return from your run that you cool down. This might seem like a bit of a chore because our body’s temperature will naturally fall and return to normal once we finish our runs but what we want to do is get your body moving in a different pattern to what it was doing when running. Our bodies will tend to become stiff if we don’t move it out of this pattern, so get some more stretches in.
Lucy Charles shares her running tips
Lucy Charles talks about running and how to improve your running technique.
Run with friends for a mental boost
"Grabbing a few friends for a run really can take all the worries out of trying to get triathlon-fit. A few laughs will make a long run seem shorter as well; and if your mates don't fancy pounding a pavement, that’s fine - there are so many running clubs of social runners clubs popping up all over the country, from We Run Belfast to Galway Bay Brewery Running Club. Get involved!
"Part of what makes getting fit for purpose, for a big event like a triathlon, so fun is the chance to leave your comfort zone, meet new people and learn something new about yourself. I used to say 'I have to train later'. Now I say 'I get to train later'. Because running or any type of activity is a privilege and if you keep that mindset you’ll enjoy your running far more."
Taper in time
"When you’re approaching the final two weeks before a race there can sometimes be an internal battle taking place - do you train hard in the hope of some late fitness gains? Or do you believe in your training thus far, reduce the workload and turn up fresh on the day of the race?
"It's always better to arrive a little underprepared and fresh rather than turning up with a lot of pre race training but feeling worn out. That’s why we 'taper down' prior to an event. Firstly, calculate your weekly output for the past two weeks of training.
Once you have calculated this, take the basic rule of thumb of reducing this output by 20% two weeks out from the event and a further 20% in the week proceeding the event. Try to keep the same tempo in your training, what we’re reducing is volume. Example: you’re running 50km in your training block up to this point, you’ll run 40km two weeks before the event at the same tempo as your previous weeks training. One week out drop it to 32km keeping the same tempo.
For the last two to three days before a triathlon I like to do absolutely nothing. Some people like to run but if you feel like moving maybe try some mobility drills or walk the dog. The idea is to reduce mental and physical stress before we go out and give everything for the race. Trust your training. You’ve got this!"
Believe in yourself
"Self belief is everything. It doesn't appear at the start line, it's something you build within yourself daily, training positively and always doing things at your own pace.
"Remember - each of us are different. Some of us will like short intense running sessions. Others will like a leisurely long run of a Sunday. It’s all good. We just have to figure these things out, see what our body enjoys and take it one step at a time. And remember: back yourself."
3 things to bear in mind before the run on race day:
(i) When you transition from the bike you’ll head out fast. Check your pace early so you don’t blow up.
(ii) As you tire posture, breathing and cadence can get sloppy so check in on them throughout. This will help to mentally steady you as well.
(iii) Write your name on your jersey so the crowd can call your name and give you a quick boost.
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