Triathlon running

Understanding the fundamentals of triathlon running is vitally important.

As simplistic as it may sound, many people take running for granted and don’t realize how the dynamics of the run change when you swim and bike first.

Successful triathlon running is not as easy as it at first seems but there are several ways to have more success in the run.

Most people who are new to triathlon are a bit surprised when they struggle with the triathlon running part of the race. This is especially true when they were accomplished runners before they became triathletes.

The biggest impact is usually felt by those who are taking on their first ironman and have several marathon finishes to their credit.

They mistakenly assume that deducting a bit of time from their best marathon result will indicate what their Ironman Marathon split will be.

Unfortunately it doesn’t usually work that way in an Ironman Triathlon. There are too many variables to account for. Reaching the finish line can often take an hour or more longer then expected.


(1)Failure to spread your energy reserves out evenly over the entire distance of your triathlon. This is especially important in a Half-Ironman or full Ironman.

It’s a long journey to get to an Ironman Triathlon start line and something one has imagined over and over again.

The atmosphere is electric no matter what Ironman race you are entered in. Often it results in many people going out way too hard when the gun sounds. Getting caught up in pre-swim anxiety can eventually impact your marathon.

The energy wasted in a poorly executed swim is unrecoverable for the rest of the day and once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. There is a direct link between a poorly planned swim and the Ironman Death March.

Usually that same poorly executed swim plan is followed by a mad dash through transition and a blistering fast bike pace that you hold for as long as you can. There is only one result from this scenario.

There will be a massive wall waiting at some point on the bike course. If you don’t hit the wall on the bike course it will most likely happen early in the run. You will suddenly loose your energy and just making it to the finish will be a challenge.

(2)Reaching the start line over-trained and under rested is a common mistake.

It’s hard to understand at first that you can actually take a much-deserved rest. You won’t lose everything you’ve gained over months, or perhaps years of training. It’s simply not the case.

Without fail there will be dozens and dozens of triathletes out training in the hot sun during any given ironman race week. They have so much pent-up energy they simply don’t know that to do with themselves.

Every single hour they are out their stressing their bodies needlessly is taking away from their best possible effort on race day.

Triathlon running

(3)Poor hydration and nutrition in the days leading up to the race and also during the bike leg can have a big impact on your run.

It you get this part wrong it’s really too late to make up for it out on the run course. If you’re playing catch-up with your food and fluid intake it’s hard to recover because you are continually burning energy and dehydrating yourself.

To really recover fluid and nutrition energy levels properly you would have to rest up for several hours. You can’t really do that because triathlon is a non-stop event and there are cut-off times to consider.

Once you get behind it’s too late and you are in for a very challenging time out on the run course.


(1) One of the most important things you can do to have better triathlon running results is to know your limitations and pace yourself.

This train of thought should begin even before the gun sounds to start the swim. Have a sound swim plan in mind long before race day. It’s pointless to take off like a shot when the guns sounds unless you are a pro and are trying to keep up with the other pros.

There’s not a thing to be gained by doing the swim 8-10 minutes faster if it means stressing yourself physically and in the process burning energy you will need later.

The end result of gaining that 10 minutes in the swim could well mean taking 90 minutes longer to make it through the run later in the day. That just does not compute.

Swim well within your ability with your main focus being to get to the swim finish using as little energy as possible and being as relaxed as possible.

This means keeping your emotions in check when there is chaos all around you. It also means taking your time through the swim/bike transition.

Give your body time to re-adjust from being in the water and take it easy when you head out on the bike course.

Going out as fast as you can will sky-rocket your heart-rate for no good reason.

Save all that energy for the last part of the bike. If you feel great then, that would be the time to pick it up a little while everyone else is hitting the wall.

(2)Consider a one-month taper for an Ironman Triathlon.

With 30 days to go before the big race it’s time to begin to ease off on the gas pedal. Let your body have it’s well-deserved rest from those months of preparation.

Each of those last 4 weeks cut your training back 20% or so from the previous week.

The week of the race don’t be tempted to do 15-mile runs in the heat of the day or to head out on a 75-mile bike ride.

This is perhaps the biggest mistake that is made by most new triathletes.

All that’s really required is a few short bikes, runs, and swims in the cool of the morning or evening for a few of those days. For the rest of race week stay in the shade and do nothing but relax and dream of the finish line.

If the race is Sunday, be sure to take Friday completely off and get a good nights sleep as you may not sleep that well the eve of the race.

Do just a short run on Saturday morning to get the cobwebs out and prepare for the big day.

A few short “pick-ups” of ten seconds or so is perfect. Early in the morning run easy for 10 minute or so to warm up, do a 10-second burst at a fairly quick pace and rest for 50 seconds and repeat. Do about 5 of these and run easily back to your room. That’s it! About 15 minutes. Now just take it easy for the rest of the day and wait for Sunday’s race start.

pasta load for well-fueled Triathlon running

(3)Do your carbohydrate loading and hydrating several days before the race.

Wednesday is a good time to begin to take on lots of extra fluids for a Sunday race.

It’s also a good time to eat meals that you are accustomed to that are high in carbohydrates. It’s no time to experiment with new food or energy drinks.

If your urine is clear and copious by Saturday then you are pretty much there as far as hydration. Your last meal on race eve is best eaten fairly early in the day(I never ate past 4 p.m. the night before a race).

This will allow sufficient time for your digestive system to work so you have no stomach issues on race morning.

A light breakfast of tea and toast and perhaps a banana about 3 hours before the gun goes off and you should be well-prepared for the race.

The key to hydration and nutrition during the bike leg is to begin early on and eat and drink controlled amounts often as opposed to a huge amount once in a while.

The best time to start drinking and eating is after about 15 minutes on the bike.

Taking on food and drink too soon may irritate your stomach. It’s best to give your body time to make the switch from being horizontal in the water to vertical on the bike.

From that point on I would suggest drinking at regular 20-25 minute intervals for the duration of the bike leg. It really works well if you set the timer on your watch to beep at regular 25-minute intervals as a reminder.

Most of your eating should be done early on in the bike. Eating in the late stages of the bike is not necessary or recommended.

Food eaten late in the bike will most likely not be assimilated in time to do any good in the run and may do more harm than good.

If you do things properly on the bike course you stand a good chance of making it through the run just drinking water at each aid station and avoiding food almost completely.


The National Post has excellent articles on running.

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About Ray

Ray hasn’t stopped since his first Ironman in Kona, 1984. He has since run 14 more Ironman races, authored 5 Triathlon books, and is now bringing together a passionate community of triathletes. Contact Ray at

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