Why Running Races Could Be Your Ticket to a Better Tri

One of the best ways to get fast and gauge race readiness is to get out and race.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

How racing could make you a better racer. 

One of the best ways to get fast and gauge race readiness is to get out and race. “If I told you to go out and run 6.2 miles as fast as you could, you’d hate me, but enter into a race, and it’s a fun way to build fitness,” says Coach Ryan Bolton, a 2000 U.S. Olympian in triathlon who now coaches elite runners, triathletes, and age groupers. “I almost have every athlete do a running race on the fast end of the season.” Here, Bolton explains the best ways to make a run race work for you.


Why you should: “Running a marathon gives you a good idea of what the legs will feel like at the end of an Ironman without the same amount of damage,” Bolton says.

How to do it: “If you raced a marathon all-out, obviously it would hurt, but if you simply stuck to your Ironman pace, it shouldn’t take too much out of you.” He also adds that a marathon is good race- day simulation for checking nutrition, handling nerves, and uncovering unforeseen obstacles.

When you should: Bolton suggests doing a marathon in the early season while building a base, no closer than six weeks before a goal Ironman or 70.3.

Half Marathon

Why you should: “A standalone half marathon is fantastic because you can use it to build great fitness at a longer distance,” Bolton says. Fitness that’ll pay off at every distance tri from Olympic on up. “The half doesn’t beat you up nearly as much as a marathon, and you can bounce back quickly.”

How to do it: Race at full speed. Shorter-distance races are a better gauge of fitness (see below), but the benefits of a best-effort half marathon will pay off later.

When you should: “A half marathon could be done anywhere in the season, but not closer than three to four weeks out from your goal race.”


Why you should: Bolton uses 10k races as a quality tempo session to build speed and endurance. “It goes both ways, a 10k is good for building fitness and is a perfect test of fitness for triathletes racing any distance,” Bolton says.

How to pace it: Run a 10k at your best 10K race pace, and use the result to see where your fitness is. “On it’s own, it’s an effective workout, but when used as a part of a brick, it’s even better,” he says. (See our sidebar for three creative workouts that include running races for any level.)

When you should: “Because a 10k has lots of benefits with very little detriment, you can pop a good one as close to two to three weeks before your goal race,” he says.

Extra Credit

Turn race day into a killer tri workout.
Beginner: Have your bike ready and waiting in the car. Cross the finish line of a half marathon or shorter, then take off on a race-day brick simulation by hopping on your bike and going right into 4 x (5 min. at 8/10 effort, 2 min rest), then a 20 min cool down.

Intermediate: Warm up running as10mineasy,5minat4/10,5 min 5/10, trying to hit the start line of a 10k or shorter event without stopping. After the race, keep running with5x(1minbuildto8/10,2min easy), then a 10 min cool down.

Advanced: Before the race—at a nearby pool or safe body of water— swim a 500 warm-up easy, then 4 x 200 at race pace with 20 sec rest. Quickly get to the start line of a half marathon or shorter, race, then finish with a 20-minute race pace effort on the bike. Cool down for 15 minutes afterwards, basking in the glow of your own broken mini-tri.

RELATED: Be a Runner and a Triathlete

Jan Frodeno Reflects on His Final Ironman World Championship

Immediately after finishing 24th place at his final Ironman World Championships, the Olympic medalist (and three-time IMWC winner) explains what his race in Nice meant to him.