Time-Crunched Triathlete: Short Runs that Pack the Punch of a Longer One

By Carmichael Training Systems

Triathlon is an equipment-heavy sport, and sometimes just preparing to head out to a workout can be time consuming. Swims often involve a drive to the pool and gathering swim and shower supplies while cycling requires a bike and tire check, water bottles, and lugging your bike out the door or to the car to find a place to pedal. The simplicity of tossing on a pair of shorts and shoes and heading out the door makes running an ideal workout for lunch breaks or occasions where you’re strapped for time. Even for Ironman and Ironman 70.3 triathletes, short and focused runs can be a great way for time-crunched athletes to keep their training moving forward.

Two keys to success in a running race or running leg of a triathlon are running speed at lactate threshold, and running economy. When you are running at lactate threshold, you are at the maximal pace you can maintain for approximately 45 to 60 minutes. Training at and just below this pace improve your body’s ability to process lactate – that is, to re-incorporate lactate back into the normal process of producing energy in the mitochondria within your muscle cells. The faster you can process lactate, the faster you can run before it starts to accumulate, which means you can hold a faster pace at this threshold point. It also means you can recover more quickly if and when you push yourself above threshold.

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Races in the 10k to 15k range are run close to lactate threshold, so being able to maintain a faster pace at this point means you’ll get to the finish line faster.  Steady State Run (SSR) Intervals are performed at the lower edge of your lactate threshold running speed, which is also the upper edge of your aerobic running speed. You should be right between the two. Athletes with good to very good fitness may be able to hold this pace for a ½ marathon or a little longer. Less trained athletes may be able to hold this pace for 10-15 kilometers. You can determine this speed from a recent running race result that had a finishing time between 45-60 minutes. Perform these intervals just slower than your race pace. Be sure to stick to these pacing guidelines, as going too fast early on will cause to steep an increase in blood lactate values and either shorten the time you can maintain that pace or force you to run more slowly. Either scenario will decrease the quality of your workout.

Running economy is a key to success in longer races and is determined by your oxygen consumption at a given speed. Simply put, if after training you maintain the same body weight but expend fewer calories at a given speed you have improved your economy. This is especially important as race duration increases and preserving energy stores can be the difference between a personal record or trudging across the finish line. If your form breaks down over the course of a race, your economy will suffer because you’ll require more energy to maintain the same speed. If you are already running at your limits, then you’ll have to sacrifice speed because you don’t have any more energy to give. Thrifty runners are fast runners, and focusing on improving running strength and maintaining form during long runs will minimize speed losses at the end of a race.

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These two short, simple workouts provide a quality workload and have you back to the office in time for your afternoon meeting. They are great for athletes in the closing weeks leading up to big races, as well, because they pack enough intensity to keep your energy systems activated and progressing, but they are not so long or intense that they generate too much fatigue.

#1—Steady State Run (SSR) Intervals—30-32 minutes

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  • 5 minute warm up—gradually build up speed, starting with brisk walking or easy jogging
  • 2×10 min SSR separated by 2 minutes recovery of quick walking or easy jogging
  • *Key point—use the first 2-3 minutes of the first interval to gradually build up to SSR pace. This will extend your warm up and ease the transition into the faster pace.
  • 3-5 minute cool down of walking or easy jogging
  • *Extra Quality Tip—develop your internal pacing clock by performing these intervals on flat terrain. Experienced runners are attuned to how their bodies feel at certain paces. Keep an eye on your pace and focus on how your body feels to familiarize yourself with the feel of race pace efforts.

#2—Hilly Fartlek Interval (FI) Run—30 minutes

  • 5-10 minute warm up
  • 15-20 minutes of FI work. Use a hilly course. Run at a hard pace (faster than your SSR pace but not all out) on each hill and then run an easy to moderate pace on the downhill and flatter portions.
  • *Key point—hill work is a great way to improve economy because it strengthens the leg and hip muscles. For extra form work, pay close attention to your technique on the hills. Your head, shoulders, hips and ankles should maintain a straight line. Keep your arms are relaxed and moving forward and backward instead of side to side. As you fatigue, a natural tendency is to bend forward at the waist. Fight off this urge and teach yourself to maintain form in the face of fatigue. Also be sure to focus on form as you run the downhills.
  • *Don’t have hills nearby? Use landmarks, a few city blocks, or trail markers to guide your Fartlek intervals. You’re looking for about 2-3 minutes at your hard pace, with about 1-2 minutes at your easier pace between efforts.
  • 5 minute cool down

Carmichael Training Systems has been the premier destination for personal coaching, training camps, and performance testing since 2000. As the Official Coaching and Camps Partner of Ironman, CTS offers Ironman-specific coaching packages and camps, many of which include coveted entries into sold-out Ironman races. Visit https://trainright.com/coaching/ironman/ for information.

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Comments 3

  1. Pingback: Start Boosting Your Running Speed Before Winter Is Over - CTS

  2. Chris,
    I always love to read your thoughts on running. I am hoping you guys end up writing a book on run specific training. I agree with the idea of rethinking periodization present in the TCC and TCT books. I am wondering if it can work with running. Is it possible to build up from aerobic running and strides to a high level of running fitness in 6-8 weeks? I know the FIRST program is out there, and has been proven highly effective. However, I don’t know many who have made through more than one cycle of intense running 3 days a week. The 6-8 week window in TCC makes much more sense. Any thoughts?

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