The transition from biking to running can be a daunting one during triathlons. Triathletes around the world at all levels of experience have had their legs feeling like a ton of bricks. But why is your ability to run so impaired after the bike ride?
There are two main reasons why your legs feel so heavy going from bike to run. First is because your body directs blood flow into the muscles that need it; in cycling, this is in the quads. When you get off the bike and start running, it takes some time for the blood to migrate to the other muscle groups associated with running, like your hamstrings and calves.
The other reason for brick-like legs is the nerve signals your brain sends out. When cycling, your brain is signaling your leg muscles to pedal. Your brain and nerves need time to adapt to the change in movement patterns, which can cause awkwardness in your motions as you transition from cycling to running.
Now that we know why your legs feel heavy, how can we counteract this to run faster off the bike?
Simulating race conditions will improve your ability to run off the bike. Doing brick training sessions helps you get familiar with the discomfort of going from bike to run. A familiar discomfort is more tolerable than one you’ve never experienced.
Brick training will also help you understand how hard to go on the bike without affecting your pace and stamina during the run. Find out more about how to do brick training and how this will make you a better triathlete.
Being stronger on the bike allows you to ride at a much lower intensity, saving your legs for the run. Especially for longer-distance triathlon, the bike leg takes up a greater proportion of the race than the swim and the run. Doing a block focused on bike training not only improves your performance on the bike, but makes you a better runner as well.
If you get your training mix right, you can tune your bike-run brick sessions to maximise the strength gains on the bike. It is the run in the brick session that your body will have a hard time recovering from, so be careful with it. The faster you're running, the shorter the run length should be; the longer the bike, the shorter the run off it should be.
While classical running form (the type you see on track runners and elite marathoners) requires a lot of knee lift and stride length, your movement pattern and position when cycling causes hip flexors to shorten, which affects range of motion when running. To maintain the same pace with a shorter stride length, you need to increase your cadence.
As a side effect, training to increase your run cadence helps you become a more efficient, less injury-prone runner. Here’s how to improve your run cadence.
A lot of times, bonking on a triathlon run happens because you didn’t stay on top of your nutrition (and hydration) while on the bike.
Your body isn’t like a car where you can keep going until the gas tank is empty; you need to keep your glycogen/blood sugar and electrolytes topped up throughout. Pacing properly also ensures that the energy burn is even and consistent, especially over long distances.
Practice your nutrition strategy and products used until you have a plan for race day that leaves you feeling fresh and energetic when you get off the bike. Recommendations vary between 30-90g per hour in various research studies. Practicing your nutrition plan, and how much you will have multiple times in training, so you have it entirely sorted, and trust it 100% will make life much easier for you come race day. Here are the best practices for food timing during exercise, and here’s how to stay hydrated during a race.
While the discomfort of going from bike to run never goes away (you can observe this even in elite athletes!), there are ways to improve your run performance even after riding hard. As a wise man once said, “It never gets easier; you just go faster.”
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