Off and Running!

You’ve emerged from the water and pedalled your heart out. You start to breath a little easier as you enter the transition area and guide your bike back to the rack where you took off from not too long

ago. As you un-clip your helmet, you smile and think about how hard you’ve worked to get to this point. It’s a peculiar feeling of excitement; you relish the moment. You want to finish as soon as possible but at the same you don’t want the race to end! With shoes on and a big smile there’s only one thing left to do. Put one foot in front of the other (OK, you will have to do this thousands of times to actually get to the finish line but it sounds a lot better saying that it’s just one!).

The run in a triathlon is a lot different than a regular run in a road race or training run. There are a few things you can do to prepare yourself for this and be ready for the feeling of running with what I like to call “spaghetti legs.” There are many things that account for this peculiar feeling as you start the pedestrian portion of the triathlon.

The good thing about starting a run right after biking is that your body and cardio system is already warmed up. Because you’ve already been working out for some time, it is easy to get going after and into a running groove. For this same reason, it can be hard finding the right pace as you are probably accustomed to a mile or two warm up when you just start a regular run. It is easy to start out of the gate at a pace that feels right but you may actually find hard to maintain after a mile or two. This is pretty normal, especially if it is one of your first triathlons. Don’t worry. There are ways to prepare for this feeling.

Running and cycling use the lower body muscles differently. And after cycling any distance your legs will get used to how you use them. Shifting directly into a run after a ride confuses your legs and what muscles they have been using vs. the muscles you are now calling them to use. Running also is the most impact you will get in triathlon. When cycling there is not much impact on your legs; when running, your legs are hitting the ground with each step. Going from one right to the other is always a big shift and a funny feeling.

The trick is to practice this and know what to expect. As the race gets closer it is always a good idea to work in some “brick” workouts. These will prepare you legs for the quick switch from bike to run. A “brick” workout is where you actually practice this transition. So, whether you bike longer or short milage, you pop right off the bike, get your run shoes on immediately, and then go out for a mile or two.

A few notes about the “brick” workout:

  • It does not have to be a long run at all. Just long enough that you feel comfortable with the switch to running. As you do more brick workouts you will find out what works best for you and what feels right.

  • Practicing brick workouts also gives you a chance to practice your entire transition and will give you a better idea of how to set up your equipment in your transition area

  • Transition to run could also be a good place to get some nutrition in if you need it. Find out what works best for you by practicing.

  • These brick workouts never actually make the “wobbly leg” feeling go away… but they will definitely help you get accustomed to the feeling and will help you get your running legs on quicker.

  • Getting into the groove is the hardest part. Even if you aren’t feeling perfect coming off the bike, it is probably a good idea to at least go out for the first half a mile. Often times after you get over the initial shock of transition, it is easier to get your groove back and get into the swing of things.

  • Don’t panic. Even if the race isn’t going as best as you thought it would, stay focused.

Often times the first mile of the run feels like the longest mile of the race. But it gets better if you practice and prepare for it. If you just keep putting one foot in front of the other you will make it to the finish!

PS: If you want to practice transition/’jell-o legs” even more, while getting a good workout in, and you don’t have access to a closed road you can go up and down a bunch of times safely, you can bring your bike trainer to a local track. Spin hard for 5 minutes, change into running gear, run a couple laps hard, and repeat!

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