Monday, February 22, 2010

Stepping Back

There may come a time in your training where you'll need to step back and reevaluate your goals.  Often it's just a rough patch in your training that a recovery week can get you through.  Other times it's a red flag that it's time to revise your plans completely.

One of our TFI athletes, Jane, was hit with a red flag.  Jane was training for her first Olympic distance race, her first open water swim and looking for a good performance.  Jane's plate is pretty full.  She has two young kids, including a daughter with special needs.  Her husband recently purchased a business which requires a lot of work and crazy hours.  In addition to that, he consults out of town so he's traveling quite a bit.

Jane kept getting sick.  We were constantly revising her training and taking time off.  As soon as we started up again she'd get run down and sick again.  She wasn't having fun.  We talked about everything that was going on with her schedule, stress and sleep and came to the conclusion that the Olympic was just out of reach.  She's switching to the Sprint distance.  Her training will be much less time intensive.  She's enjoying working out again and really looking forward to her race.  It will still be her first open water swim.  By next season, she may have the time and energy to put towards a longer race.  Right now she's having fun in triathlon and still moving forward.

Having fun and moving forward.  Isn't that what it's really all about?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Ask the Coach - Running Off the Bike

In the other triathlons I've done, my toughest (mental & physical) challenge is transitioning from the bike to the run.  The problem is not in the transition area but the actual run. My legs have such an awkward and jerk running feel to them that it takes me almost 2 miles to find my stride! - Phillip E. from Minneapolis.

Anyone who has done a triathlon (or duathlon) knows the awkward feeling when trying to run after biking.  Your legs are still trying to go in circles.

There are three main ways to improve your running out of T2:
  • Practice running after biking;
  • Developing and executing the right plan on the bike; and
  • Improving your running efficiency
 Practice Running Off the Bike
Running off the bike is a skill, just like sighting in open water, or bike handling in the aero position.  In order to master the skill of running off the bike you must practice running off the bike.

Many training plans call for bike to run workouts (bricks) every other week.  Typically these are a moderately long bike ride followed by a 20 to 40 minute run.  These bricks are a good start to getting your body used to running off the bike. 

To truly develop this skill more sessions of running off the bike are required.  Additional shorter runs after many of your bike rides will help you develop the neuro-muscular pathways to make running off the bike second nature.  It only takes a 5 to 15 minute run after many of your rides to help your legs adjust.

Develop and Execute the Right Plan on the Bike

Now it's race day and you've practiced running off the bike and feel like you've got it down.  You mount your bike out of T1 and hammer your way through 15, 22, 56, or 112 miles, all the way to the dismount line.  Slip on your running shoes and wobble out of T2.  What the heck happened?

You've trashed your legs to the point where no amount of prior practice is going to make running off the bike comfortable.  That's why you need a plan.

A large part of the plan is knowing how hard to ride given your level of cycling fitness.  The longer the ride the more important proper pacing becomes.

Most athletes can complete a sprint triathlon pacing at or above their lactate threshold (LT).  There are a variety of ways to measure LT, but to try and keep it simple, think of LT as the point at which your legs start to burn.  Elite age groupers and pros can perform at this level for the Olympic distance and even the Half Iron distance.  The rest of us will crash and burn if we try to maintain this level of effort for that long.

For the Olympic and Half Iron distances, if you are a typical age group athlete with some experience you will want to keep your heart rate at least 10 beats per minute below your LT for the bulk of the bike ride.  That means your average heart rate will be more than 10 beats lower due to time spent coasting or braking.

The second part of the plan covers the last 2-4 miles of the bike.  During this time you should BACK OFF.  Increase your cadence by spinning an easier gear.  The easy spinning will help loosen your legs for the run. Don't worry about the other riders hammering up to transition.  You'll most likely see them again a short distance outside of T2 as you pass them smiling.  Take this time to mentally run through your transition routine, rack location, etc. 

Improve Your Running Efficiency
I'm going to focus on only one aspect of running efficiency since I think it is the most important aspect coming out of transition.  Cadence.  Most of us overstride.  The long loping strides make running off the bike even harder. 

While training and racing focus on taking short quick strides.  Aim for 85-90 cycles per minute.  That's 80-90 strides per leg per minute.  In order to maintain that cadence and not burn out, we are forced to shorten our stride.

It can take quite a while to make stride changes (six to eighteen months).  Start now while you are building your foundation.

Another thing to keep in mind when starting to run out of T2.  Ease into it!  Start off 30 seconds/mile slower than your goal pace.  Keep those short strides and after a half mile or so you'll be in your groove.

Hope that helps, Phillip.  Best of luck with your season.