Top 5 tips for running off the bike
The run leg of a triathlon can be where the biggest gains (or losses) are made and learning how to transition well from the bike can make a huge difference to your performance and enjoyment on the run. Many triathletes don’t do this well and the fatigue and heaviness in their legs is evident. Therefore I thought I’d share with you my top 5 tips for running off the bike!
- Bike Leg
The bike leg is the longest and most time consuming part of a triathlon. It’s important when riding to remember that there is still a significant part of the race afterwards. Strong cyclists are often inclined to ride to the limits of their ability with small regard for the run leg ahead. This approach can cause a lot of suffering when you get to the run!
In my experience getting the balance right is difficult, particularly when the ride is in challenging conditions. I recommend monitoring how your body is feeling through every 10k. If you feel you are getting to your absolute limit of exertion then dial your effort back by 10%. This may cause your bike leg to be slightly slower but you will more than make up for it on the run.
Another good common tip is to prepare your legs for running by lowering the bike gear as you approach transition. The theory behind this is that in a lower gear your legs turn over faster, increasing the blood flow. In terms of increasing run cadence, changing gears near transition is unlikely to make much difference. The best runners run at a cadence of about 10% less than they ride at. It’s very difficult to greatly increase your run cadence off the bike, so you’re better off riding at a higher cadence in the first place.
- Run Leg
Once you’ve made it to the run, good form can really benefit your performance. An efficient running gait will improve your transition and includes the following:
- Limiting upper body motion – torso and arms
- Holding your torso in an erect position which is more efficient to maintain
- Slightly shorter steps to ensure a relatively fast cadence
- Minimising vertical movement
Everyone runs differently so these will vary for everyone. However I would strongly recommend getting someone to film you running to assess if there are any significant characteristics that could be improved.
- Brick Training
The most effective way to improve your transition to the run is to practise! Brick Training involves combining multiple disciplines into one session. With regards to triathlon the bike-to-run transition is the most important. Both disciplines primarily use the lower limbs but in vastly different ways.
On the bike a vast majority of your blood is directed to your quads. The brain is sending messages down your neural pathways telling your leg muscles to “pedal circles”. When you then start running, blood is redirected to the muscles more directly involved in running (e.g. the hamstrings and calves). The brain, in a split second, is now telling your legs they need to support your body weight and run. This adaptation process can take some time and is often why people feel like they are ‘heavy legged” when they start to run after riding.
Brick sessions are the best way to make running off the bike progressively easier. A good way to train your body in a time-effective manner is to add a short ROTB (Run off the Bike) after your weekly long bike ride – the coffee and brekky can wait for 15-20 mins! Then progress into more race specific brick sessions. Consider the distance you are planning to race and include an interval brick session that allows you to practise running from the bike as much as possible. For example, if you were doing a sprint distance tri (20km bike, 5km run), a good session could be 4 x (5km bike then 1.25km run). Set up a mini transition and practise going straight from one discipline to the other – this is the adaptation you are aiming to improve!
A lack of calories on the bike can lead to sub-par run performances. Dehydration from the bike leg can also significantly affect the run.
During the bike leg stay on top of calories and space your intake out evenly – every 20 minutes is recommended. Be conscious of the heat and your effort level and make sure you stay hydrated. If this means taking a pee on the bike leg (particularly for ironman athletes) then do it!
Practise your calorie intake before racing and make sure you can digest it well. If you are having problems with your energy levels on the run or digestion then it may be worth seeing a Sports Dietitian for advice.
When things get really tough, it’s easy to go into survival mode to get through the run. It’s not uncommon to see triathletes dropping their head, rounding their shoulders and back, tilting their hips back and basically neglecting most of the most basic aspects of running form. It’s easy to get into the mindset of “doing it tough” before you even give yourself a chance to run well.
A change of perspective can help. Think of a triathlon run leg as just a run with a swim and ride beforehand – it is not a world of torment and torture. Remember the fundamentals of running well, the basics of efficient running form and all the things you’ve done in training many times over. Concentrate, relax and don’t be defeated by the scenario.
Psychology is especially important when the weather warms up. Yes, heat does mean a slower pace but it does not mean that survival mode is the only option. On these days it’s the people who run positively and with confidence who stand out from the crowd, both in terms of strong running form and actual running pace.
Psychology during the run leg – as well as the whole triathlon – can make a huge difference to your performance, and how well you deal with situations that arise during a race. For running off the bike a positive mindset is key to running well.
I hope this article has helped improve your transitions. Happy running! (off the bike)
Check out John’s personal website to help you take the next step – http://www.runningpodiatrist.com.au/
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firstoffthe bike, Tri 101, Running Off The Bike. Accessed at http://firstoffthebike.com/tri101/1456-running-off-the-bike/
Radkewich N (2015) 3 Tips for Running Faster Off the Bike. http://home.trainingpeaks.com/blog/article/3-tips-for-running-faster-off-the-bike
Wernick C (2014) 4 Keys to Running Faster off the Bike. Accessed at http://ap.ironman.com/triathlon/news/articles/2014/10/how-to-run-faster-off-the-bike.aspx#axzz40N8AZBGM
John Charles graduated with honours in Podiatry from the University in London, and has since worked in both public and private practice. Additionally, he has completed additional training in dry needling and sports massage, and regularly employs these therapies in his podiatry practice. He has extensive experience in video gait analysis, fitting of athletic footwear, and prescribing orthotics and insoles.