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- I'm a runner. Why did I have such trouble in that Ironman 70.3?
- I was running well for about 12 miles. Then the wheels came off.
- I should have done more bricks!
Running after a long bike ride is a big "ask." We've already spent multiple hours working our bodies hard. And now we have to summon the energy and mental courage to cover many miles by foot. But, as my husband is fond of reminding me: You asked for this. So hadn't we better find a way to handle this triathlon run – a way that doesn't leave us questioning what went wrong?
The simple, and most obvious, answer is that if we need to improve the run, we simply need to practice it more. But it's a bit more nuanced than that. Areas such as distance, effort and mental strength training have to be considered. But the biggest factor in a great or a disappointing run is:
Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're always right – Henry Ford
Mental strength begins with the firm belief that you can do it. "It" may mean pushing through to the next level, working outside your comfort zone, staying uncomfortable for sustained periods, holding your form when fatigue is pulling it apart, etc. Being mentally strong is your head keeping you going when your body is screaming for mercy and is ready to give up – being unwilling to back down until the job is done.
Fortunately, we can incorporate mental training in most of our run training sessions.
Interval training is designed to take you to your limit/ fully recover/ do it again, and again, and again.
Some runners are a bit hesitant to push that hard for good reason – it hurts! But the physical benefits have been well documented and when you walk away from this workout knowing that you were successful in pushing your body beyond what you thought possible, you're mentally stronger - a tougher, more confident athlete.
A tempo run is one which includes somewhere between 10 and 45 minutes of running at or near race pace. It's going to be uncomfortable but the objective is to help you get comfortable with the stress of race day and to understand that you are able to persist while being that uncomfortable.
I like to do this kind of work on a course where I've done it previously. The benefit is two-fold:
A transition run is a short (10-30 minute) run off a bike ride, the purpose of which is simply to practice getting into the running rhythm quickly. I like to think of it as making the mental switch to becoming a runner after all those hours of being a biker.
Allow yourself a very few minutes to "get your legs" as you find your rhythm, and then hold that pace. A t-run is short, so the pace can be quicker than you'll run in your race. Take periodic mental checks to make sure you're looking like a runner, not like a biker who rode for a bike PR and forgot about that pesky little run afterwards.
The brick is a longer run (:45 – 1:30) off the bike. There are some who believe that any run off the bike of over one hour is counterproductive because it takes too much from you and can affect your upcoming training. Others believe that an athlete needs the confidence boost of running longer as they'll need to on race day. I believe it's a decision based on the individual.
Regardless of the distance of the brick run, it should be at a comfortable, sustainable pace. A great benefit of this long brick run is to teach your body and mind to continue to run strong when fatigue starts gnawing away at you. At that point, it takes a strong, confident mind to keep moving forward holding your pace. In an Ironman run, you don't need to run fast - you need to keep moving forward, running at your own steady pace when others slow down or start walking. Constant movement forward will get you to the finish long before many others.
The long run is familiar territory to all runners. We tend to think of it as training to be on our feet for a long period of time. But to get the most out of your run, you need to have your head engaged from start to finish and that's where the mental strength training happens.
Champions are made when no one is looking – (Unknown)
Be strong – in body and mind – and go have the best race of your life!