The Run Doesn’t Matter…Except When it Does

One thing I see and hear many triathletes doing is to “focus on their run” between triathlon seasons.

Think about it – the run is the last event in a triathlon. And therefore, for many, the most memorable. Often the swim is great, bike is good, and run…well…the run is where the race begins. People remember how they felt on the run. So really, the run makes an obvious item to focus on in the down season. Except when it doesn’t. And it doesn’t.

I am not saying the run doesn’t matter, and to ignore it. But what matters even more than “focusing on the run”, in the offseason or any season, is consistency. Pure and simple.

Due to various reasons, my coach has adopted a conservative run plan for me for my last 4 IM races. I haven’t run over 16 miles in a single, continuous run.

In my down-season, I haven’t focused on my run for a few years. Rather I have focused on consistency in all 3 disciplines (Swim, bike, run!). I don’t drop or ignore one discipline in my down-season.  

I haven’t run a pure running race since 2015. If I am going to run, I am going to run a race with what I have that day. I am, right now, saving that effort for races that I want to focus on – and those races are triathlons.

And what is that “work?” It was what my coach had written. It wasn’t low volume! It is a build and a lot of work. I am always being challenged. I had to make choices to get it all in. But I do.  

Efforts written into my training plan are written as “marathon feeling effort”, “steady”, “Comfortably hard”, and “fast and controlled”. We’ve kept my anxiety low this way. Just this past February, I was given actual paces for intervals for the first time in a long time. And I was fine with it.

And the work isn’t always training. It’s recovery, strength, and even mental focus.

Recovery is dedicated recovery intervals from my coach, as well as time between training sessions. Life doesn’t stop, and I don’t expect it to, but I do work to be sure I am giving myself the best opportunity to recovery be it nutrition (fuel, electrolytes, hydration, etc), gentle stretching (loosening up), or trying to get adequate sleep.

I have spent a lot of time with strength. In pictures of my running, you can tell I get tired as my left side drops. And so I have worked to strengthen all those muscles that support not just my running, but my form. It is an on-going process. I know now that I can never let this drop if I want to remain able to run well.

And the mental focus for me is huge. I can tell I am waking up from a down-season hibernation, and getting into race mentality. Before a race I like imagining what a race feels like, preparing my body and mind for that sensation of wanting to stop, and knowing that I can make it so I don’t say “OK” to that desire to slow down or stop.

The run is important. But sometimes it may get too much focus since it is the lasting memory of many people from a triathlon. The fact is, if you are stronger, you will help your run. If you are able to ride better, you will be less fatigued when you get to the run. If you fuel properly you will have the fuel to run stronger.

There are a lot of things that factor into the run that can help a triathlete besides focusing on the run in the down-season.