Nail Your Triathlon Weak Sport: Running

Its simple. It's convenient. But do you love it enough?

If running is your weak sport in the swim-bike-run trinity, it can be uniquely frustrating. It’s crushing to out-swim and out-cycle so many competitors during the bulk of the race, only to have them drop you like an energy gel wrapper in the final miles. And what you do in the homestretch can make all the difference on your overall time. But how do you fight fatigue and finish strong if you’re not a natural runner?

I spoke with Rod Raymond, Master Personal Trainer, wellness director at the University of Minnesota and 20-time Ironman, to get tips on how weaker runners can balance out their triathlon skill set. Raymond can speak from personal experience—in the 2000 Kona Ironman Triathlon World Championship, he says he jumped off his bike in about 25th place overall, only to be passed by 60 or so competitors during the run. Relatively speaking, running was his weakness. But Raymond learned not to dread the last leg through targeted training and some good-spirited transcendental wisdom. 

Here are a few of his tips on improving your run and achieving “oneness” with the swim-bike-run trinity:

Focus on running often. As with any sport, the more time you spend running will translate into an improved overall time.But when you up your running time, you’re more likely to increase your overall fitness—your lactic threshold, speed and endurance all improve and carry over to help your other sports. Plus, it’s easier to cram a high-intensity run into a day with limited training time than it is with swimming or biking. Keep at it if you want to level up your overall performance—solid runners stand a better chance at setting triathlon records than fast swimmers or cyclists.

Take pleasure where you find it. Even if you can’t grow to “love” running, finding ways to enjoy it will keep you lacing up sneakers on a regular basis. Raymond describes it using a pleasure/pain principle. “The moment you’re associating pain to running—and the pleasure of a better result doesn’t outweigh that—you’re not going to run,” he says. “You’re going to choose to bike or swim or do yoga or have a donut. But the minute you associate pleasure to the result of performing better because you worked out weakness, then the pain of the run goes away.” So how do you offset the temporary struggle of running with the anticipation of finish-line glory?

Find your motivation. It all comes down to motivation. Raymond says he’s grown to love the feeling of depletion that follows a good run, and anticipating that tired, detoxifying sensation is enough to get him to track workouts. Tiredness, in this case, isn’t a weakness—it’s enjoyable. For others, joy and motivation might come from finish-line medals, the social aspect of running with a buddy, or the sense of structured discipline needed to tick off boxes on a training schedule. Even chasing a runner’s high—that floaty endorphin rush that kicks in after a few miles to make you feel like everything is going to be okay—could be your reason to hit the streets early. Focus on what drives you personally and hammer up your intensity, build a training schedule or join a running club to add fun and meaning to your workouts.

Work on your form. This can be the hardest part of your new running routine, but it’s not an area where you want to get lazy. Raymond recommends finding a running coach because lousy technique not only hampers your results and increases your risk of injury, but it also might distract from the experience of running. Which leads to his next point of advice...

Get in the present. Raymond says a good way to get over the fear of your weaker sport is to center yourself during competition and focus on how lucky you are to have the physical ability to swim, or cycle or run. Forget “Harder, Faster, Stronger”—Raymond’s mantra is “Steady, Calm and Relax.” Focus on what your body is doing and how cool it is to challenge yourself in new ways, even if you have no chance of winning. Appreciate the emotional roller coaster that comes with depleting your body. After all, if you can survive a few more miles, you’ll be face-to-face with the ultimate release. “The first time you do an Ironman, you actually cry,” Raymond says. “It’s just a finish line—the last two feet of a 1000-mile journey—but it’s a visceral experience; it’s emotional. It transcends the miles, and the running just becomes a part of you.” 

Need help with a different leg of the tri? Check out other expert tips on Nailing Your Tri Weak Sport.

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