› Increase Running Speed

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How To Increase Running Speed For Triathlon

Training Sessions To Get You
Running Faster

Running in a triathlon is very different to running in a running race.

You still need to increase running speed to improve. But rarely do you get to the start of a running race with a significant amount of fatigue in your body.

In a triathlon your legs are heavy from the riding you have just done and your arms are heavy and feel like lead from the swim.

Now with two disciplines down and one to go you are into the home stretch, but how to get from Transition 2 to the finish as quickly as possible?

It is important to remember that whatever your distance for the triathlon, the run will feel a lot longer than it actually is. Your training needs to reflect this if you want to increase running speed or improve your time.

Training to increase running speed over 5-km the way a runner would do will ultimately end up in a less than optimal triathlon performance.

triathlon run speed

The reason for this is that to optimise your 5-km time in a run race means using an energy system that only needs to fuel or support you for about 14 – 30 minutes, whereas a triathlon will require you to begin the run having already completed about 45 – 90 minutes of exercise.

If you train to specifically run 5-km faster you may see some improvement in your triathlon time, but probably not the size of improvement you would want. Also, when you want to step up the distance to Olympic, you will inevitably be left frustrated that you cannot get anywhere near the times you think you should be able to do.

So the key is to increase running speed, but in a way that enables you to use it in a triathlon.

We have seen many runners turn to triathlon, and whilst they still run quite quickly, it is usually much slower than they would do if they were racing over just the run distance alone.

So what we are saying is that although you want to increase running speed, you must remember that you won’t be running fresh and your training needs to reflect this very specific requirement.

REMEMBER: We use the term SPEED training to describe any type of training that trains you to go faster. ENDURANCE training describes sessions that help you to continue for longer at the same pace.

If you have any questions about your triathlon running training then please just ask us.

What Are The Types Of Training To Increase Running Speed?

There are many variations of sessions to increase running speed and all coaches have their own versions of similar concepts. The examples below are by no means the only way of achieving the outcome. However the concepts we address here are the ones critical to triathlon running.

  1. Lactate threshold 1 (LT1)
  2. Lactate threshold 2 (LT2)
  3. VO2max and vVO2max

Looks simple doesn’t it? Well there are a variety of sessions that can achieve these objectives.

All the following sessions are based around an interval of time working hard then a recovery duration. Many running programmes use distances, for example 1-km.

However this is highly inaccurate for a varied ability audience. We have coached athletes who can run sub 29:30 for 10-km. The sessions and distances these guys do is incredible, and for a non-elite to even attempt these distances or volumes would result in disaster.

Take for example, an elite triathlete whose LT1 is around 18-km/h, and an novice age-group triathlete whose LT1 is around 11-km/hr. A 10 minute effort at around LT1 pace means the Elite will go 3-km, where as the novice will go 1.8-km.

You can start to see why using distance in designing training sessions is misleading.

What Do These Sessions Look Like?

1. Lactate Threshold 1

As we discussed in the physiology of training pages, Lactate Threshold 1 (LT1) is the intensity at which you begin to burn carbohydrates to fuel your exercise.

If you increase the running speed at which this occurs, you will increase the running speed at the ‘uncomfortably-comfortable’ intensity. This threshold has a high correlation to triathlon running performance at all racing distances from Sprint to Ironman, but this is much stronger the longer the event.

Challenging this point is the key to improving it. This doesn’t mean running specifically at this intensity, which will improve ENDURANCE at this speed. To increase the running speed at which this point occurs you need to make the body work a little harder and then give it rest. The adaptation to this stress will mean you will begin to increase running speed before you begin to use carbohydrates.

We explain how you can determine where your LT1 lies on the fitness testing page and lab testing pages. If you don’t use either of these tools then you need to get a feel for this intensity using a Rating of Perceived Exertion scale (RPE). LT1 intensity would be 12 – 13 on the RPE scale.

You can download an RPE scale here.

There are two main methods for developing LT1:

  1. Long reps
  2. Short reps

The Long Rep session requires you to run at a little above your LT1 intensity for between 5 and 20 minutes with a recovery period of about half the interval durations (work to rest ratio = 2:1). The recovery is quite steady and will be a fairly steady jog for most.

The Short Rep method uses much shorter efforts and much shorter recovery. The recovery though is very easy or a complete rest, and the effort slightly harder. There are a lot more reps though! To get the duration of the session up, there are a lot of repetitions. This session is usually best done on a track or somewhere you can assess your speed quite accurately.

Below are some examples of the two types of sessions:

Example Lactate Threshold 1 - Long:

Interval Duration 10 min
Recovery Duration 5 min
Intensity of Interval (Heart Rate) LT1 + 2 - 3%
Intensity of Rest LT1 -15%
Repetitions 2 to 5
Example LT1 HR 150 b/min
Example Interval HR 153 to 155 b/min
Example Rest HR ~ 128 b/min

Example Lactate Threshold 1 - Short:

Interval Duration 1 min
Recovery Duration 10 sec
Intensity of Interval (Heart Rate) LT1 + 4 to 5%
Intensity of Rest Walk
Repetitions 20 to 50

These types of session require a reasonable level of ENDURANCE training base before they will be effective. As you can see from the maths, the sessions are around 25 – 70 minutes duration.

So if a 30 minute run is your long run limit at present, you need to build this up through ENDURANCE sessions before you are ready to gain the most from this type of training. You also need to begin these sessions steadily, don’t bite off too much in your first one.

2. Lactate Threshold 2 (LT2)

As we discussed in the physiology of training pages, Lactate Threshold 2 (LT2) is the point at which you begin to almost exclusively burn carbohydrates to fuel your exercise.

Increasing the running speed that this eventuality occurs will increase the speed at which you run the HARD intensity.

Lactate Threshold 2 in triathlon running has a high correlation with the run speed on shorter triathlons such as the SPRINT and OLYMPIC.

To make these sessions most effective you need to challenge the energy system around LT2, then allow a little recovery before challenging it again.

To do this you need to have an idea of what your LT2 Heart Rate and run speeds might be. We explain how you can find this out in the fitness testing and lab testing pages.

If you can’t do any testing then you need to get a feel for this intensity using a Rating of Perceived Exertion scale (RPE).

Your RPE for this intensity should be 16 - 17.

Apart from the interval being at a higher intensity than the LT1 sessions, the other significant difference is the intensity of the recovery.

As the intensity of the main effort is quite high, your recovery needs to be VERY EASY otherwise you will be unable to complete the full session before fatigue sets in and the quality of the efforts deteriorate significantly. It is also very important to hit the right intensity. These efforts should not be near maximal, they should be HARD but controlled.

The sessions are described in a similar way to LT1 sessions with an interval duration and intensity, a recovery intensity and duration and a set number of repetitions. There are also Long and Short options. This doesn’t mean the actual sessions are long or short, just the way the intervals are set up!

Example of LT2 - Long:

Interval Duration 7.5 min
Recovery Duration 2.5 min
Intensity of Interval (Heart Rate) LT2 + 1 - 3%
Intensity of Rest Very EASY
Repetitions 3 to 7
Example L2 HR (b/min) 170
Example Interval HR (b/min) 173 to 175
Example Rest HR (b/min) N/A

Example of LT2 - Short:

Interval Duration 30 sec
Recovery Duration 7 to 10 sec
Intensity of Interval (Heart Rate) LT2 + 3 to 5%
Intensity of Rest Walk or Stop
Repetitions 20 to 60

With the LT2 - Short session it is important not to go off too fast. Using a track and having an idea of how far you will go in that time is a really good way of managing the session.

So for example you might go 150 meters in the 30 seconds. Try not to exceed this in the early stages, as you will pay for going too quickly later in the session.

It will probably take more than 10 reps to begin to get a feel for the right speed, as you are not running much harder than your 20-30 min best pace, and you are having a short rest every half a minute.

Another option with these sessions is to mix them. Say for instance, a 10 minute rep using the LT2-Long guidelines, then 20 reps of an LT2-Short session.

You might look to do this as you build up the volume of these sessions you are able perform, or to create a change, which as the saying goes ‘is as good as a rest’. It is good to vary training rather than getting stuck on a few key sessions.

Remember you are training to improve your race performance, not set a best time in a training set!

3. VO2max

VO2max sessions are about raising your physiological ceiling by increasing the maximum amount of oxygen you can process.

Improvements in VO2max also enable your thresholds (LT1 & 2) to be raised to higher levels. This in turn will allow you to increase running speed in a triathlon.

These are very hard sessions and you need to be ready to perform them effectively. In other words you should be reasonably well rested and also motivated. If you are off your game then you will fail to perform the session properly and all you will do is exercise and make yourself tired. That is not training and will not optimize your triathlon running performance.

As with most sessions to increase running speed you need to go harder than the intensity of the area you are trying to improve.

With VO2max there are two types of session that have been shown to have significant effects.

  1. Stochastic method (VO2max – Short) (i.e. intensity changes relatively rapidly)
  2. Steady state method (VO2max – Long)(more conventional longer steady effort followed by a rest period).

VO2max – Short uses intervals of about 40 seconds at around vVO2max, with 20 seconds of ‘recovery’ at midway between LT1 and LT2. This is alternated one after the other until the quality begins to deteriorate substantially (you should be aiming for a total time of 7 – 12 minutes).

The key here is to have an idea of what that VO2max effort is, because it is not flat out. It is also key to get the ‘recovery’ intensity correct as well, because this is not complete rest or easy effort - it is actually at an intensity above LT1.

So as you might see it is a hard session, but you might not begin to realize how hard until 2 – 4 minutes into the session as your physiological systems ‘catch up’ with your effort.

When you begin to struggle to hit the target pace for less than half the 20 seconds then it is time to stop! If you can hold it for 30 seconds but then lose speed very quickly it is also time to stop.

Example VO2max - Short

Interval Duration 40 sec
Recovery Duration 20 sec
Intensity of Interval (RPE) 18 to 20
Intensity of Rest midway LT1-LT2
Repetitions 7 - 12
Sets 2
Rest Between Sets 10 -15 min

VO2max – Long uses longer intervals of up to 4 minutes with a moderate duration recovery of about 2 minutes. The intensity is also performed at the speed of VO2max.

The recovery is very easy. You should find that by 4 minutes of the first effort you are working at an intensity around HARD to Very HARD, or 18 to 19 on the RPE scale. Heart rate would still be lagging behind your effort on the first rep, so don’t worry if it is not as high as you expected.

The recovery is either walking, a light jog or a mixture. As you go through the reps you should find that each one feels harder earlier in the rep, and you have to fight harder and harder to stay on the pace.

By rep 4 or 5 you should be on the limit, and on rep 6 (if you can make it this far) you are really having to fight to stay on pace quite early in the rep. Once you are at this point, you know you have done enough, even if it is on rep 4 or 5.

Interval Duration 4 min
Recovery Duration 2 min
Intensity of Interval (RPE) 18 to 19
Intensity of Rest Walk or light jog
Repetitions 4 - 6

Summary Of Sessions To Increase Running Speed

The triathlon running sessions outlined above are the key sessions we have found to increase running speed and have the biggest impact upon triathlon running performance. They are all designed to increase running speed by improving these physiological parameters:

  1. Lactate threshold 1 (LT1)
  2. Lactate threshold 2 (LT2)
  3. VO2max & vVO2max

The sessions that we have described are not the only sessions you can do to. You can be inventive so long as you understand the principles involved in creating sessions to increase running speed.



Got a question about your triathlon running training?
Then please ask us!

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