For access to all of our training, gear, and race coverage, plus exclusive training plans, FinisherPix photos, event discounts, and GPS apps, sign up for Outside+.
Take into consideration the terrain you’ll be running on when prepping for your big race day.
Written by: Mark Allen
Most courses you encounter in racing are going to have specific profile characteristics that define their uniqueness. Some will have hills, others can be totally flat and there is certainly going to be a variety of undulations. Let’s look specifically at how you can develop your weekly training routes for the run segment so that you are ready for the course you will be targeting in a big triathlon.
First, it is important to choose your run terrain profile based on the time of season you are in. During the early part of your year when you are laying your base fitness, try to pick runs that include all three types of profiles: flat, rolling and hilly. It is best to choose a specific profile for a specific workout rather than trying to target all three in every run. So one day you can run a flat loop, the next day one that has some rolling undulations and a third day one that has some fairly rigorous hills. Even if your races will be mostly one specific terrain, such as flat, variety early in the season helps to strengthen overall base fitness and give you strength that running just one terrain would miss.
As you get closer to your key race or races, start to shift your days so that you have about 50 percent of your workouts on the terrain type of your competition and then split the other days up 25 percent each on the other two terrains. So for example, if you know you have a fairly flat run course, try to do half your runs on flats and only about 25 percent of your runs in hills and 25 percent on rolling terrain. If the bulk of your runs are hilly, this can really beat up your legs and require more recovery time.
In the later part of your training when you have added in speed work, include weeks during which you do fast running on the specific terrain of your race. When you do this, try to overemphasize the key aspect of the terrain. For example, if the triathlon you are targeting has a lot of hills, do speed work on terrain that is either steeper and/or longer than what you will encounter in your race. The steeper part is usually easy to do for running. The longer part may be impossible, depending on the course profile. But overemphasizing the key feature of the course will make the actual race seem relatively easy if you have done fast running on something more challenging than you will encounter at the event.
Finally, consider the running surface you train on. Many try to find trails to do most of their runs on, which is great for saving your legs and joints, but not good for getting you ready for the muscle breakdown that you will encounter if your race is on pavement. If you do a lot of off-road running, it will be important to shift more of your running back onto roads as you approach your race, say within the final four to eight weeks, so that your legs strengthen up for the impact and breakdown that occurs on harder surfaces. This is especially important for long races such as an iron-distance triathlon, during which you will be running a full marathon. If every long run you did in preparation was on dirt trails, your quads would feel like hamburger meat before you got halfway through the marathon. So prepare early, but make that shift to harder surfaces gradually so that you adapt rather than just break down.