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Balance Of Swim/Bike/Run Training In Triathlon Training?

by Jen
(Perth, WA)

I came to triathlon from a swimming background. I was a competitive swimmer and I tend to come out of the water up the front of age group triathlons.

I quite enjoy cycling and my cycling performance in races seems OK.

Running is my weakness, and to be honest I've never really enjoyed running. I do seem to be progressing though (and therefore enjoying it a little more), but it is definitely still my weakest discipline and I don't look forward to the run when racing.

Up til now my training has been fairly even spread between the three disciplines, although I probably do slightly more cycling (I cycle to work).

I'm wondering whether I should focus more time on my running training? I don't want to neglect swimming and cycling but I feel like my swimming won't deteriorate if I do a bit less, and that I would benefit from trying to improve my run more.

I'm aiming for Olympic distance triathlons at the moment, maybe looking to step up to half-ironman in a couple of years.


Mark replies:

Swimmers often have a love-hate relationship with running.

As a swimmer you have probably spent most of your sporting background having your weight supported in the water, and being told to keep your ankles flexible to help with the kick.

Unfortunately both have a negative effect upon running, where strong stiff ankles are required to control your foot strike and help facilitate the release of the elastic energy stored in your lower leg muscles and tendons.

Swimmers who turn to running also seem to suffer more injuries around the lower leg, including shin splints and the more serious stress fractures. In many cases this is because they have not built stronger bones, ligaments and tendons which is a consequence of running and load bearing exercise.

So you need to be careful how much and how quickly you build up your running. Each individual will be different and will be able to cope with different training loads.

You don't say how much of each discipline you are currently doing, or what types of sessions you have been doing.

When you say you are doing roughly even amounts of each does that mean an even amount of time?

If it does then you possibly doing enough swimming and running, but it may be your cycling that is restricting your ability to run off the bike. Cycling accounts for the largest proportion of time in the race and should account for more of your training time.

You are in a fortunate situation in that swimming would normally account for the second largest amount, however you can take advantage of your swimming background and put more effort/time into the cycling and running.

Good swimmers can usually get away with only 2 swim sessions a week. Make sure these are good quality sessions, working on maintaining your Critical Swimming Speed (~ 1500-m pace), and maintaining your endurance (longer reps). If you feel that your swimming is beginning to slip then add in an extra session for a few weeks.

For your cycling, riding to work can be a good use of time. How you use this may depend upon how far the ride is, or whether you can extend it in either direction. If it is only a short journey of less than 20 minutes then it will have limited impact on your general endurance fitness, but if used well could help to develop some good speed endurance.

If your ride to work is short, try a quick warm up and short cool down, with a 10 - 15 minute Intensive Endurance session (slightly harder than Sprint Distance bike effort) or Intermediate Endurance session (about Sprint distance bike effort).

Try to do this 3 - 4 x per week, along with some specific Extensive Endurance sessions (long ride of 1.5 - 3 hours). How much really depends upon your current fitness level and the time you have available. Just remember you need to overload at points in your programme - only doing 20 minute rides twice day might not be enough.

If the ride to work is longer, you can lengthen these efforts, but only do 1 - 2 per week, depending upon how long they are. I would also suggest not doing this all year round, although you may want to include some more intensive endurance sessions in the winter, just not as many. You should though, try to increase the number of longer steady Extensive Endurance rides you get in.

Without knowing details of what you are currently running i.e. how frequently or what type, its difficult to be too precise. One thing that will be important is good lower limb conditioning to help prevent injuries. Have a look at our drills and conditioning pages for some ideas.

iI your running feels very different after the bike try to use your rides home as an opportunity to run off the bike. You don't need to go far, 5 - 15 minutes but try to maintain race pace. Start closer to 5 minutes and gradually build it up. There is no need to run more off the bike than this.

Are most of your runs just steady long runs or do you run with a club or do interval type training? A club is a good way of mixing with others and taking the focus off just running on your own all the time. Intervals can be tweaked to help improve performance but also to maintain motivation which is key to a successful programme.

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