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Triathlete Run Training

Running For the Gravity Impaired

By Paul Huddle and Roch Frey

You know who you are. You have a good (or even great) background in swimming and cycling, and even though you've been impressing your friends for the past couple of years by leading or being near the front of every triathlon you've ever entered, the cheers of admiration inevitably become stinging japes about how a PGA golfer could out-walk you in the last mile of the run leg.

At first it didn't bother you. Hey, You've even got your mug in the paper a couple of times, but, like anyone who's had a taste of the front, you're getting sick of the parade that passes you during the run. What are you going to do?

You know that you probably can't handle the same mileage as the running geeks over at the track club, and while you don't want to physically reduce yourself to nothing more that a concave chest and pencil-thin arms, it would be nice to even-split a 10k for a change. Well, your time has arrived!

Instead of getting back into your usual routine of beating up on your lane at masters or teaching all the roadies a lesson on the Saturday group ride, you're going to become a geek, oops…we mean runner. Remember when you'd get in one, two, or on a good week, three runs? (and only when someone dragged you out the door?) Well, forget about it, because those days are over. You're going to eat, sleep, work, think, and breathe running.

It doesn't mean you're allowed to walk around all day in a pair of split-leg, hiked-up running shorts and talk about your latest 'during-a-run-bowel-movement-had-to-wipe-with-one-of-my-socks' story. No, you are going to gradually and methodically build your ability to not only run faster, but be able to handle the training necessary to maintain this improvement. How will this be done?

It won't happen without a subtle shift in your training/athletic identity. You have to think of yourself as a runner now - and not as a great swimmer and cyclist who sucks on the run. This necessarily comes at the temporary expense of your swim and bike training, but as you begin to bring the training balance together, the rewards will become apparent.

Over the next three months, we will be taking you through the following three running training phases:

  1. Base/Adaptation Phase
  2. Aerobic Build Phase
  3. I'm a Real Runner (geek) Phase

This article is devoted to the first of these phases.

Base/Adaptation Phase

Like it sounds, the purpose of the Base/Adaptation phase is to gradually introduce your legs to the increased stresses associated with running. Basically, you will be "training to be able to train like a runner." Before you get all fired up to do your first 40-mile running week, listen to a few words of caution.

Unlike its non-impact related cousins (swimming and cycling), an increase in running mileage can lead to injury. As such, you need to be aware of where you're coming from. If you're coming from a completely landless (non-running) background, a 60-mile running week will kill you. Conversely, if you have been consistently going out for three runs a week, one or two additional runs could be just what you need to propel your, up to now, "worst spot", to "decent-runner" status.

The Base/Adaptation Phase four-week schedule chart will follow this article. The schedule is broken down into three levels of ability and background. There will always be those athletes who will be on the cusp of one level or another, so it's up to you to take an honest assessment of your current running ability.

"Hey, what about swimming and cycling? I'm a triathlete!" No, you told us that you were a great swimmer/cyclist who crumbled on the run, remember? OK to maintain your feel for the water and satisfy your cycling addiction, you can still do one swim and bike a week. (Of course you could do two but the idea is to become a better runner, remember?)

Keep it relatively short and easy. The ideal days for this would be Wednesday and Friday, but you could schedule it wherever it fits into your life. If you're having a hard time accepting the idea of so little swimming and riding, just remember what it feels like to be passed by everyone and their farm animals during the run. You're already a strong swimmer and cyclist. With three to four weeks of 'regular' triathlon training come spring, you'll be back at your formerly dominant levels - but with a new weapon in your arsenal. We swear.

RED Level.

This level is for the non-runner. This means you've got no or almost no background with any kind of consistent running schedule. You may have run once or even twice a week in the past, but never consistently. At the 'red' level, you should be performing the lower to middle range of times given for each workout. For example: If it's a 30-50 minute run, you should run 30 to 40 minutes (but no more than 40!)

Tuesday. During the first three weeks, this run will be on the decidedly easy side of things. From the fourth week on, however, Tuesdays will be a higher quality run. For the fourth week of this schedule, Tuesday's workout will be as follows: Warm up for the first 15 to 20 minutes, then spend the next 15 to 20 minutes running firmly at medium level. (Not heaving but definitely breathing.) Finish it off by cooling down the remaining 10 to 20 minutes.

Thursday. This is simply your standard easy run. Bring a friend along for entertainment value only - not to race against! In the next phase we'll be adding some drills to enhance your efficiency and strides to improve your leg turnover.

Sunday. It's 'long' run day. This means the focus is on putting some miles and time on your legs and not intensity. It's about endurance and laying a strong foundation for future running.

Blue Level. This level is for the athlete who's been consistently getting at least two and as many as four runs a week but has no structure to their run training, but rather is "just putting in the miles." No, you won't be doing the workouts in blue. You'll be doing the upper range (time) of all of the red level workouts and the blue level workouts. Wednesday/Friday. During the Base and Acclimation Phase, these will be "easy runs" as defined above.In the next two schedules, Friday will become the 'tempo' run day.

Green Level

So you think you've been doing enough running (four to six days per week) to be a good runner, but somehow you just can't keep the hordes at bay in that last half of your tri-runs. Two words: structure and purpose. Wait, that's three words but you know what we mean.

Saturday. Like the Wednesday run above, Saturday is another "easy" run day and, if you're riding on that day, it's a good opportunity for an easy transition run (not a brick!) There it is. It's that simple. You could make it a lot more complicated, but it doesn't need to be.

Next month we'll be adding some intensity and technique work, but your legs aren't ready for that just yet. As you begin the quest for running parity, always remember that discretion is truly the better part of valor, or in this case the better part of remaining injury-free. Injuries, unfortunately, do sometimes occur. If time is taken off at the first sign of injury, the opportunity of quick recovery is best. If unsure of a persistent injury, seek out a qualified health professional. Until next month, run on.


Paul Huddle and Roch Frey are partners in the Mrs. T's MultiSport School of Champions, which holds camps in San Diego and Boulder. They also serve as coaches with the UCSD Master's Triathlon Club and the UCSD Master's Swim Team, respectively. Check out the coaches' website at www.multisports.com.


This article originally appeared in the December 1999 issue of Triathlete

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