The Triathlete's Three Essential Run Workouts

Triathletes need to balance training for three disciplines; often, trying to add more training in one of them means sacrificing training in another.

You might have come across the dogma that you need to run a minimum of 100 miles every week to become a better runner. In reality, your training plan should prioritize mileage quality over quantity to ensure you’re getting the best out of each session and avoid so-called “junk miles” that do nothing but waste time, energy, and opportunity.

To help you out, we’ve simplified it down into the three kinds of run workouts a triathlete must have in their training plan. (Read to the end for a bonus workout time saver!)

Long Run

The long run is considered to be the cornerstone of a good training program, because aerobic endurance is the foundation upon which your performance is built.

Long runs paced properly improve your body’s capacity to use oxygen, store glycogen, and produce energy on a cellular level. Completing these long runs consistently over time encourages your body to form more capillaries, meaning more blood can flow to your muscles. Long runs also increase the size of your mitochondria (the power source of your cells), allowing them to produce more energy.

To produce these adaptations, you should do your long runs at around 50-75% of your 5K pace. You will get nearly the same benefits running in the lower end of this range as running near the top end, so keep your long runs easy.

The length of your long run depends on the distance you’re training for. Sprint triathletes will want to do at least 6.1 miles or 8 km. For Olympic distance triathletes, they should aim for 15 km. Middle-distance (half ironman) athletes will want to cover at least 23 km and Ironman competitors should cover at least 33km.

The Speed Run

The goal of any race is to finish faster than your competition, which makes honing your speed important. Many triathletes run a lot of miles expecting to become faster, only to find out that their pace plateaus or even becomes slower! This is mainly due to running the same speed all the time, doing easy runs too fast and fast runs too slow.

Instead, try to polarise the training. When your workout requires fast, you go FAST. This may require longer rest periods or bringing it down from jogging to just walking between intervals, but you want to be able to push at maximum during the speed interval.

The Tempo Run

Tempo runs are comfortably hard, sustained efforts at around 75% of your maximum. It’s around what some call “stutter pace”: you can get a few words out, but can’t comfortably hold a conversation like you could when doing a long easy run.

Maintaining your tempo pace builds running strength; for longer triathlon distances, it’s all about strength because the winner is usually the one who slows down least. This is why most Ironman plans won’t have you doing track sessions, which are pure speed builders.

For variety, a training plan may alternate between tempo runs and hill runs to help build that strength, especially early in the season.

BONUS: The Brick Run

A brick is doing two different triathlon disciplines in the same session one after the other with minimal interruptions (as we discussed here earlier: Why You Need Brick Training).

A brick run specifically means running after either a swim or bike effort. As triathletes need to be able to run after biking, brick run workouts help you prepare for the switch in body position and muscles used, while simultaneously recovering from the toll that the previous discipline took on your body. They also help you understand what your goal race pace feels like off the bike (vs. running fresh) and learn pace control.

Aside from providing specificity in training, brick runs help you get in some additional time on your feet especially if you’re having difficulty fitting in a completely separate run.

Our MX Endurance training plans are built with these key run sessions in mind so you have the confidence that on race day, you can run your best. Explore the MX Endurance training plans – access included in our Full Membership tier.

(Header photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash.)

Want to find out what MX Endurance is all about? Use the code MX2FREE to enjoy your first 2 months for free!