› Endurance Running

Training For A Triathlon

Why Include Endurance Training In Your Running Plan?

Endurance is a key part of training for a triathlon. This is because endurance is a fundamental attribute you need to perform well. Even the so called “Sprint Triathlon” takes the best athletes an hour to complete and the run will account for about 25% of this.

triathlon running

Crucially the run is the last discipline in a race, so this will affect your training for a triathlon. Endurance for triathlon running is not just about being able to complete the run distance, it is about being able to perform well when you are already fatigued.

Who goes to the key 10-km race of the year, trying to race their best having just completed a couple of hours training?

Triathletes, that’s who!

Really well trained endurance triathletes will likely run only a fraction slower than their individual distance best.

Therefore good endurance training is essential for anyone training for a triathlon. Endurance training also lays the foundations for you to do speed training. Starting too much speed training without a good endurance base means the quality and volume of sessions will be limited. You will plateau in performance quite quickly, although you may make some quick gains initially.

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

Why Is Endurance Training So Important?

A solid base of endurance training makes chronic structural changes to your body:

  1. A larger, more powerful heart muscle
  2. Increased capillarisation (more of the tiny blood vessels) of the lungs and muscles – allowing more blood to pass through, transferring and delivering more oxygen to the muscles.
  3. Increased mitochondria (convert energy into useable forms) – enabling the oxygen to be converted to energy for movement.

All of this translates into your body being able to go faster for longer.

Another way of putting it is that you become more fatigue resistant. Unlike pure runners, triathletes value fatigue resistance as a key ingredient to triathlon performance. Having to run hard off the bike means you are beginning the run fatigued, and to maintain performance you will need to resist that fatigue and maintain good technique and speed. Muscles that are conditioned to the fatigue are better able to continue as normal.

Many runners who take up triathlon find it difficult to make the most of their existing attribute due to being fatigued on the run. This is not just because of the bike and swim, but also because they are not conditioned to running at their race pace while already fatigued.

Is Endurance Training Important For All Triathlon Distances?


For the longer distances it is obviously a key ingredient and will form the bulk of the work for anyone training for a triathlon. However even those training for the shorter races will gain from including a significant portion of Endurance training in their running plans. The balance of endurance and speed training will vary through.

Those whose strength is fast running may include more Endurance to become more fatigue resistant. Those triathletes who run the same pace for Sprint, Olympic and Long Distance would probably look to include more speed at suitable times in their running plans, to try and run faster in the shorter races.

What Are The Different Types Of Endurance Training?

When training for a triathlon there a several ways of improving endurance. To begin with there are the simple straight forward long runs at various paces. We break these down as follows:-

  1. Extensive Endurance (EE) This is the long easy miles, where breathing is comfortable and it takes a while to feel fatigued.
  2. Intermediate Endurance (INE)This can be described as uncomfortably comfortable. It’s not hard, yet it’s not easy. In many running circles this is called TEMPO.
  3. Intensive Endurance (IE)This is your hard endurance; it is definitely not comfortable.

These are the same terms we use in cycling and swimming for long continuous blocks of work. This is because they do the same things within the specific discipline. We try to avoid changing terms between the disciplines as this can get very confusing.

Another very effective form of Endurance training is the use of Fartlek. Fartlek literally means “speed play”. Since its original inception, Fartlek as a training type has been butchered by many coaches over the years.

For us Fartlek is an endurance session that has changes of pace or intensity, whilst not being an interval session (that would be much more specific and have specified intervals and rest periods). Fartlek is about going by feeling and using the terrain around you.

Why Extensive Endurance?

Extensive Endurance is the cornerstone to a long term programme. It provides the fatigue resistance and basic fitness which will allow you to do more and better quality speed-based training.

This type of training for a triathlon improves your body’s ability to use fats as a fuel. This is beneficial because you have a lot more supplies of fats than carbohydrates to fuel exercise. Also burning mainly fats means less of a build-up of waste products that eventually cause fatigue.

When training for a triathlon, this type of training is most important for building a good base to build higher intensity training on. It is also important for people training to do an Ironman.

Why Intermediate Endurance?

Sometimes called tempo training (especially in running circles), again this is about fatigue resistance, but at the “uncomfortably comfortable” intensity. This training results in your muscle fibres become more conditioned to fatigue and therefore they tire less easily at this higher speed or intensity.

This is different to Extensive Endurance as you are now beginning to use your glycogen (carbohydrate) stores to supply the fuel for the muscles and you need to improve your efficiency at dealing with this. As this is at a higher speed you begin to adopt more similar mechanics to your race pace (particularly middle to long distance athletes), and thus condition this stride pattern and range of movement to the requisite fatigue.

This training DOES NOT generally produce significant speed gains, unless there are other elements designed to do this in your programme. If it does it is because you are more fatigue resistant and therefore more comfortable running at a slightly higher speed, not because you have changed a physiological threshold.

This is specifically relevant to people training for a triathlon over theOlympic, and Half Ironman distances, although Elite Ironman athletes will also benefit significantly, because the durations required for training are similar to the expected race times.

Why Intensive Endurance?

This is a hard intensity and improves the fatigue resistance at higher intensities. Similarly to the differences between Extensive and Intermediate Endurance, this type of Endurance training has a specific effect on how you deal with fatigue in the muscles at these higher intensities.

You will now be relying purely on carbohydrate to supply energy for muscular contraction. This is a hard session and there are also psychological benefits through gaining an understanding your limits and learning how to get the most from yourself.

This training is specifically relevant for Sprint and faster Olympic Distance athletes. It is not very relevant for Middle distance to Ironman athletes.

How Do I Use These Types Of Endurance Training In A Programme?

To find out how to include these types of training in your programme read How To Do Triathlon Run Endurance Training This page is for both beginner triathletes and more experienced triathletes.

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

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