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What Runners Can Expect When They Start Triathlon Training

Taren Gesell

Runners need to develop new skills and routines to succeed in the triathlon because running in a triathlon is quite different than running in a 5k, 10k, half-marathon, marathon, or trail running event. The reason for this is because in a running event you're starting the race fresh, whereas in a triathlon you're starting the run already having exerted a bunch of energy on in the swim and the bike, so you're low on energy and your body is scrunched up from the bike.

If you look at track runners or elite road running races the athletes have a big swooping butt kick running technique, whereas even the best triathlon runners in the world have a running technique that's built much more for efficiency than pure speed.

Not only will you have to adjust your running technique as you take up triathlon, but you've got two more sports to learn. If you’re a runner transitioning to triathlon, use these tips to build up  out your newly required fitness skills.

Learning To Swim – It Requires a Different Mindset Than Running

For runners, there are a few points to keep in mind. First, swimming has a different dynamic – you cannot merely push harder for speed. Swimming requires more technique than running.

Second, you cannot go into swimming workouts with smashed up run legs. That means doing a swim session on the same day,shortly after a long run is not a good idea.

Dial Back On Your Running To Fit In Other Training Activities

When you get started in triathlon training as a runner, you are probably used to doing hours of running. You might do a long run every weekend and traditional running races. However, it would be best if you changed your routine. Instead of doing multiple runs each week, you will need to add in other training activities. For example, spend most of your “fresh legs” energy in the pool and on the bike.

A lot of coaches will break down the hours of a triathlon training week into 50% biking, 30% swimming, 20% running.

Add Muscular Endurance Training On The Bike

As a runner, you have a great “cardio engine.” That gives you a foundation of fitness to build on. The bike portion of the triathlon is more of a strength-focused event, however. Strong runners come to the bike with a strong engine but not enough muscular strength to deploy that engine effectively.

There is a simple training solution to help runners build up their muscular endurance. During your bike rides include periods of time where your pedaling cadence is in the 50-70rpm range. This will be a tough adjustment, but it’s worth it to build up your overall muscle strength because it’s like strength training for cycling.

You Need To Adjust To New Equipment

Running is a great minimalist sport. You need shoes, clothes and you’re ready to get started. When you start training for a triathlon, you might be worried about having to spend thousands of dollars on new gear. It doesn’t have to be that way.

I encourage new triathletes to get into the sport with as little gear as possible. Give yourself a budget of a few hundred dollars for your triathlon. Use this list to get started:

-Tri shorts (these also double in as your swimwear)

-A cycling top

-Mirrored goggles (you can use these in the pool and open water)

-A set of aero bars to attach to your bike. There’s no need to buy a multi-thousand dollar bike to get started. Just attach aero bars and you’re good to go.

-A bike helmet

With that gear, and the running shoes you already have, you have enough to get started in any distance triathlon you want to enter.

Increase Your Focus on Nutrition For Optimal Performance

As a runner, your diet habits are probably not ideal for the demands of triathlon (see: runners don’t typically think about in-race nutrition). Most runners I know survive on water and aspirin. In a triathlon, you need more than that. Since there is a greater strength focus and you end with a run, you need different nutritional support. This point is especially crucial if you are getting ready for a more extended event. When you are competing for half a day or longer, you need more fuel to keep going.

Keep these principles in mind as you get ready for your first triathlon event. If you want more support and a complete understanding of how to build running into your triathlon preparation check out my book, Triathlon Running Foundations, which is specifically for how to develop the unique triathlon-running skills you'll need to be successful in your race.

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Taren Gesell
Taren Gesell

"Triathlon Taren" Gesell is founder of MOTTIV and one of the world's top experts on helping adults become endurance athletes later in life. Best known for his YouTube channel and podcast Taren is the author of the Triathlon Foundations series of books and has been published featured in endurance publications around the world.

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