Thursday, March 6, 2014

Running Off the Bike

by Nick Stanko, PCG Elite Coach

maximize your running and cycling fitness

For many triathletes, March is a great time of the year because the racing season is beginning to peak on the horizon and we can start to connect more with the “why” of putting in all that off-season training. Balancing the three disciplines is different for most athletes, and it even varies from year-to-year for some, depending on what they should be focusing on for a successful racing season. When it comes to the bike and run relationship, many athletes can benefit from a successful transition into the use of bricks in the last five to ten weeks leading up to an A race.

Peaks Coaching Group Run and Bike Density
run and bike density (red dots)
As you prepare for the racing season, your bike and run fitness should be firing on all cylinders. Consider developing your running and biking individually to the fullest, and then as the season approaches you can blend the two together to increase your ability to run off the bike.

There are an infinite number of ways to optimize running and cycling fitness, and it should be up to the coach/athlete to determine what is best for any individual. If we had to narrow it down to one variable, frequency/density of training will play a major role in how well we can run off the bike. Running or cycling one or two times a week will more than likely not be enough to make the needed fitness gains. For a seven-day week, consider getting on the bike three or four times and running three or four times. If you run three times per week, cycling could be four times per week, or vice versa. Not everyone has the time or energy to get in this amount of training and still have time for swimming, but using this as a starting point will help you get the most out of the time you have to train. There is a tipping point, but for most of us it comes down to the fact that the more days (not necessarily volume) we can run and bike in a well-planned-out training week, the faster we’ll be on race day.

Here are two example weeks using the three-four principle (not including swims):

Run Focus Week (3 bikes, 4 runs)

     MON: Run
     TUE: Bike
     WED: Run
     THU: Bike
     FRI: Run
     SAT: Bike
     SUN: Run

Bike Focus Week (3 runs, 4 bikes)

     MON: Bike
     TUE: Run
     WED: Bike
     THU: Run
     FRI: Bike
     SAT: Run
     SUN: Bike

This is a pretty simple structure of alternating running and cycling days. The specifics/details of each workout will vary for each athlete based on what he/she is training for. If you can increase your frequency of cycling and running, this will lead to fitness gains that can be applied later to your race prep work. There should even be some training blocks of 5-7 runs or 5-7 bikes in a week, but we’ll save that one for another day.
Peaks Coaching Group Triathlete Insufficient Running and Cycling Fitness
insufficient running and cycling fitness
 Attempting to tackle all three at once in the off-season will leave you with a reduced ability to successfully run off the bike when it really counts (see the smaller pyramid example). For most athletes, completing bricks in the off-season will not optimize their specific running and cycling abilities to their fullest. But what about the law of specificity? Triathletes need to be able to run off the bike, so they should practice running off the bike. The glitch in this approach is that when an athlete completes a brick, he/she rarely ever pushes limits on the bike or run. Within most bricks, on the bike an athlete holds back a little for the run, so cycling fitness is not optimized. Out onto the run the legs are tired, and once again specific running fitness is not optimized.

Consider these training methods if you are looking to get the most out of your bricks once racing season rolls around. When we see athletes running well off the bike, more times than not their cycling and running fitness have been individually pushed to their max, and come race day, they blend the two together for a powerful one-two punch.

Nick Stanko is a PCG elite coach, a USA Cycling Level 3 coach, and a professional triathlete. He has entered two US Olympic marathon trials and placed in US road race championships and other national class races. He and his fellow PCG coaches create custom training plans for endurance athletes. Nick can be contacted directly through