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Looking to improve the run leg of your triathlon? Ian Murray explains the first four steps to take towards becoming a better runner.
Most of the multisport races we do conclude with a run. The run is waiting for you after you’ve survived the swim and gone strong on the bike. It shows no mercy for the fatigue you’re carrying into its first few meters, or at the end of the race. If you’re a good runner, meaning you came into triathlon from a running background, then move along. If you’re the type that ran cross country or track in high school or college, or you’ve got stellar PRs in 5K, 10K, half marathons or beyond, then there’s nothing to see here. For the rest of us, let’s discuss how to make your run the best part of your race, where you cannot wait to slip through the swim and spin through the bike so you can pass scores of athletes all the way to the finish line.
Learn Proper Technique. Running is a sport where good form provides huge advantages. Proper technique makes you faster, but running well also reduces injury and prolongs run-life expectancy. For dramatic and lasting changes, find a running coach—an educator, not simply an athlete you know who runs fast—to teach you how to run well.
Practice Proper Technique. Commit to the new run form that you discovered in Step One. Let’s say, for example, that your first change is to shorten your stride. Go out to run five miles and you’ll probably only be able to sustain this new style for 800 meters before regressing to your old style for the remainder of your run. That’s no good. Making changes in your technique requires frequent, perfect repetition and any visits back to your old ways hinder your progress to becoming a great runner. In this case, do the planned five-miler, but run only the amount of time you can sustain the new, perfect run form. Before you fatigue and regress, stop running and walk for 30-90 seconds to refresh before you run another short, yet perfect, piece. Approach all your runs that way and you’ll quickly be on your way to permanent muscle memory alterations.
Run Often. The fitness we gain from running is high quality. Being “run-fit” is no substitute for training all disciplines, but it still raises the level of your bike and your swim. To get your technical changes to stick and to make rapid gains in your fitness, run often. You don’t have to necessarily run long, run hard, run hills or run fast. The No. 1 priority is to run often, even if those frequent runs are short, flat and easy. Focus on good technique and breakthroughs will happen. Practice perfection.
Run with Meaning. All great runners seem to share one thing: a love of running. Conversely, fear and dislike of running are common among poor runners. For run success, brush off the negative attitude and appreciate the natural human ability to run. “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall is an excellent read, even for folks who don’t run, because it has a good story and it’s told well. Inspiring tales about running are tucked in its pages. Similar nuggets are in Danny and Katherine Dreyer’s “Chi Running” and Nicholas Romanov’s “Pose Method.” Get motivated by reading “The Perfect Mile” by Neal Bascomb, “Strides” by Benjamin Cheever or the run novel “Once a Runner” by John L. Parker. Seek out the perfect run partner, a favorite trail, a stopwatch and a track. By adding new meaning to your running, you’ll begin to find a new level of joy in its practice.
As with all great pursuits, there are many more steps on the path to great running, but following these first four will start you on a whole new triathlon experience.
Ian Murray is a USAT Level III coach, head coach of TTS and the host of the DVD box set “Triathlon Training Series.”