It all started with a quote off the letsrun.com homepage. When I say it, it was a great debate on slowtwitch.com about running. Here is the quote:
"If the most common question I get asked is, 'How do I run a fast marathon?,' the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th ... most common questions have something to do with diet, running form, sleep, footwear, stretching, weights; anything but actual running. American runners seem to have an unending fascination with all these extra-curricular activities, yet we continue to get slower at running marathons ... If you want to improve your performance in the marathon, stop worrying about minimalist shoes, caveman diets, and new-age running form, and start worrying about getting out the door and running a little more than you did last week. High mileage works!" -Pete Gilmore
But the real question is not how to run a fast marathon at all on Slowtwitch. It’s how to run fast off the bike and maybe how to compete in the sport. To know this it’s important to look back at history:
Simon Whitfield – Simon came out of relative obscurity to win the first ever men’s Triathlon Olympic Gold. He did it with a run that set the tone for how ITU style racing is won, on the run. Simon was 28th out of the water that day. After some near misses on the bike he came in 27th. His 30:52 in the 10K was 16 seconds faster than the next fastest run split. Although he had to sprint to win it was a forgone conclusion. The best athlete, the best runner on the day won.
Paula Newby Fraser – The Queen of Kona. Known for tearing it up on the famed bike course. But Paula was and is a runner. Her quirky running style with a left leg that kicks out was so tough on the run only her meltdown at 25 miles kept her from winning 9 World Championships. In her 8 victories she ran between 3:05:24 and 3:08:10 for the first 5 victories. Her run times slowed to 3:23:30 the year before her collapse. The year after her collapse she got her run mojo back and went 3:09:45 for her final victory on the Big Island.
In Ironman World Championships racing you only need to go back to 1989. IronWar. Mark Allen and Dave Scott ran toe to toe for 24 miles. Mark’s run time on that day was 2:40:04 and it set the stage for how the race is won. Sure Norman came through with two winning performances off the bike, but it’s on the run where the winners have been decided. Luc Van Lierde ran 2:41:48 to win. Tim Deboom won twice with masterful running. Peter Reid won when he ran well. Crowie, enough said. Macca all 6 feet 170 lbs of him ran 2:43:41 in 2010 to win.
The point of this historical view is that in races all over the world you can win from your strength on the bike. That is proven again and again. But when it really counts at the World Championships it’s running that gets you there. This is not just a pro thing either. Look through the age groups and you’ll see that the faster runner usually wins.
This is not an anti-bike article. In fact it’s clear from all the results that you need to ride fast to put yourself in contention. It’s also widely known that to run fast off the bike you need to be as fresh as possible at the end of the ride. The only way to do that is ride your bike often and make sure above all else that you are comfortable on that bike. The top pro’s and the top fit experts all agree that an uncomfortable super aero position won’t get you too far. An aero position that is comfortable is ideal.
This article is about how to run for triathlon. For those of you who are limited in your running due to bad knees or backs I apologize. I feel most for you because you can’t enjoy the pureness that is running. When I say pureness what I mean is that it’s by far the most freeing and it’s the easiest. Think about how much time you prepare for a run vs the preparation time for a ride or a swim. Then think about where you do it. Bikes for the most part need good roads and good weather. To swim you need a pool or open “warm” water. Running you need shoes and the right clothing. Any weather is fine and virtually anywhere is fine.
The quote above is full of items to talk about and I’m going to address all of them. I’ll start with all the things listed as “I get asked about everything but running”.
This could take articles and it probably will but honest to goodness truth is running shoes can’t change your running. The only magic running shoe is the one that works for you and if there was a magic running shoe I would have developed it by now and become a millionaire. That said don’t go with the latest trends, don’t listen to any of your friends, don’t read the forums about shoe suggestions, talk to a professional and get fit right the first time. My golden rule is go with the lightest shoe you can get away with. That mean’s if you need stability find the least amount of stability you can run efficiently in. There is no sense in running in more shoe than you need. In fact it will probably slow you down. So what about this barefoot or low profile trend you keep reading about. If barefoot is the least amount of shoe you can get away with go for it. You now fit in a unique 2% of the modern running population. As for low profile, if you can get away with it, then great for you. You just saved yourself lots of weight on your feet. But again, not everyone can go that low. So bottom line, see a professional.
Diet – Eat like crap, run like crap. Eat well (whatever that mean’s for you) run well.
Weights – All the best runners do some form of strength training. In the western world that mean’s you taking time out to hit the gym or your own personal circuit. In Kenya I can speak from experience, the majority of the athletes get their strength from their daily life. They aren’t hanging around in compression with their feet up. They are working to live along with running. For them that usually means on the farm. Remember the stories of the winners. The first thing they buy with their new found money is usually a tractor. I don't know a professional triathlete or an age group super star who doesn't do some form of strength training.
Stretching – That’s a personal thing. If you are naturally flexible you don’t need to stretch. If you are naturally tight you probably do. Alan Lunn from the Wolf Studio in Solana Beach, CA says that a somewhat tight hamstring is good for runners. (contact Alan from his website to clarify this for you). So you should know if stretching is for you. More than likely it is.
Sleep – I wrote about sleep here. The more the better.
Running Form – Good running form will only help you run faster. I mentioned Paula and her quirky running form. I only mentioned her left leg kicking out. Other than that her form was flawless. What does it look like. Fairly upright with no real lean forward or backward. Float – No Bounce. Shorter more frequent strides vs. longer strides. Everything else will slow you down. How you get this form is varied but the one real way is to run lots of miles with a couple of days of running drills and strides. Both drills and strides teach your body what it feels like to run correctly without killing you in the process.
So now it’s down to running and what’s the best running you can do. It’s early December when racing is a long ways away. If your goal is to run better next year the time is now and the mileage should be high. Mr. Gilmore says “High Mileage Works”. For you what does that mean and how do you go about it. My good friend Greg McMillan of McMillan Running of Flagstaff, Arizona says that long slow runs in the winter build capillaries and those capillaries once built carry more blood to working muscles (something you need in season). Greg should know, he coaches runners for a living and has worked side by side with arguably the best running coaches ever, to name the short list, Lydiard, Daniels and Dr. Gabriele Rosa.
But like Gilbert, Greg coaches runners so volume can’t be judged. Let’s see what some of the experts in the field of triathlon say. Maffetone who helped get Mark Allen to all those victories reportedly taught Mark to slow down. In simple terms he stressed training at or below you maximum aerobic heart rate. Using his formula of 180 – your age then adding or subtracting based on experience and injury rate leaves you with a fairly good number. For most if you aren’t used to this aerobic number you won’t believe how slow you have to go. Joe Friel has a great graph in his book the Triathlete’s Training Bible. The graph shows early season (base building) with progressive volume building while intensity stays low. As the season approaches and intensity goes up, volume naturally has to come down. These experts and more will tell you. If you want to run fast in August you have got to run “slow’ in December and you have got to run a bunch. For me personally I think it’s about 40 – 50% more than my normal running during the “season”. So if my in season running is 30 miles/week I need to be running at least 45 miles now. Or if my in season is 4 hours I need to run 6 hours now. Because I’m running longer or more often I can’t do the intensity. My body won’t work. So I have to keep sharp with drills and Strides. 95% of the time running, drills or strides I concentrate on form. Upright, float and quick steps. The one sport that takes a back seat during this time is swimming. If I can improve a couple minutes on the swim next year I’ll be lucky and I know it’s not about volume right now. To ease some of the pounding of winter running, I'll hit the treadmill a couple times a week. Good steady pace running for 45 - 50 minutes will keep the feet moving quickly without putting huge strain. Check out the articles on Rinny this year and you'll see her doing some treadmill work.
Some things to think about when it comes to running.
Heart Rate/Perceived Effort
Because running has impact and considerable effort you can reach high heart rates quickly. So keeping your heart rate (effort) low seems unreasonable. Coach Gordo Byrn goes as far as incorporating 1 minute walking breaks in each 10 minutes segment all in an effort to get that heart rate down. Mostly so you can go longer I might add.
The second important point about running is consistency. I’ll put it another way first to make my point. Swimming is 80% or higher form. Once you learn the form you’ve got it. Because there is no impact your body remembers that form. Take a long break from swimming and you can come back quickly because you remember the form and the lack of impact allows you to get in shape quickly. The same goes with riding a bike. Running though isn’t like that. It doesn’t matter what kind of runner you are, take a long break and it takes a long time to come back. So consistency is the best bet. For me during this time of the year it mean’s running 6 days a week. Yes I know that’s like a runner but that’s what it takes. It takes running to run it’s that simple.
1. If you want to run faster next summer start running now and increasing your total time spent running gradually.
2. Form will follow if you do the drills and strides and simply run more.
3. Be smart about the other aspects that affect your running, shoes, diet, sleep etc.
4. Run Consistently slow at this time of year. Your body will appreciate it and you’ll get to run more often.
It’s a good life…