Experts Talk: How to Become a Better Strength Runner for Triathlons

If you want to change your body, exercise. If you want to change your life, become a runner.

Running is an integral part of any triathlon event, but for some reason, it does not get as much focus as swimming and cycling. It could have something to do with the fact that there’s no additional skill required for running. While that may be true, what’s also true is running requires focused training. It’s not just about putting on a pair of shoes and making a dash for the finish line. It’s a test of your strength and endurance as an athlete.

Running training for triathlons is even more specialized. Think about it – running is the last component of a triathlon event. It comes after you are already completed the swimming and cycling course and the fatigue has started to set in.

Also, running on a pair of legs that have just ridden a bike is different from running on a fresh pair of legs. That’s why you need specialized training for triathlon runners.

Building Strength

The first thing triathletes need to focus on to improve their strength running is increasing their overall strength with some workout routines.  Triathletes are advised to strengthen their muscle because a stronger and more powerful muscle is faster, more enduring, and resistant to injury.

Add strength training to your running regimen. Exercises like squats, lunges, good mornings, and plyometric box training are highly recommended to increase the power and strength of your leg muscles, and consequently your ability to run for a greater amount of time.

Become Better Pure Runners

Coach and published author Matt Fitzgerald, writing for Active.com, says that in order to become better triathlon runners, triathletes need to be better pure runners. He says the most effective way for triathletes to become better pure runners is to focus on running during triathlon off-season.

He recommends running a few races during the fall and winter seasons and run up to six times a week to train for them. It would only be a matter of time before you experience an improvement in your running, which you can carry over to the next triathlon season.

Fitzgerald is also of the opinion that triathletes should work on become stronger cyclists. “I strongly suspect that strength on the bike is one of the keys to running well off the bike,” he says. To become tougher cyclists, Fitzgerald recommends riding more or riding faster or both.  

Posture is Important

Having the right posture can not only cut out several minutes from your running time, but also protect you against athletic injuries. Coach Krista Schultz has some valuable tips to give on maintaining a proper running form.

According to Schultz, it’s important to keep your head in a neutral position. Visualize an apple or a soft ball under your chin like you are trying to clench it and look 15-20 feet ahead of you at all times taking care not to drop the chin too low or bring it up too high.

Your neck should be relaxed and shoulders relaxed and open as should your arms. Maintain a neutral pelvis, pull the belly button in and under to keep the core nice and tight, and lift the ribcage, she recommends. Your body should be slightly tilted forward and you should be landing on mid foot or the heel and pushing off with the fore foot.  Finally, Schultz says, triathletes should aim to maintain a stride rate of 180 strides per minute.

Eat Right

Any triathlete knows that eating the right food is essential for peak performance. You need to be on a diet that not only provides you energy but also aids in recovery. Simple carbs combined with a little bit of protein are the best pre-run snack.

Also, studies show that caffeine improves running performance so don’t forget to gulp down that cup of coffee 30 minutes before the run.

Get off the Beaten Track

Runner and writer Brian Metzler strongly advises triathletes against running all their miles on the road. It is boring and repetitive with the exact same gait pattern on every stride. Instead, he recommends running an extra 10 to 20 minutes on a soft trail where every step is different. It forces you to shift weight and change directions and use dozens of muscles that go unused otherwise.

Metzler also suggests hill workouts to build muscle strength and bring some much-needed change to your mundane running routine. Running up hills helps makes your leg muscles stronger while increasing your speed and endurance.

This training will really come in handy when you are fatigued from completing your swimming and cycling course and struggling to finish the race.

Metzler recommends two types of hill workouts – short and fast reps (say 8 x 20 seconds) that send you into oxygen debt right away or longer reps (8 x 200 meters) that start at a moderate pace, but eventually growing in intensity because of the incline.

As we start heading into season, start now to work on building your running strength to become a superior runner and a better triathlete. Show the world how it’s done!

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