No doubt the triathlon discipline that puts the most stress on your joints and musculature is the run. So, how do you ramp up for race day without getting injured?
As an initial matter, every runner is different. If you’re already injured don’t take these ideas as a cure-all for what ails you: get evaluated by a medical pro and get your run form evaluated by a coach to avoid re-injury. These tips are intended to prevent injury as you increase volume and intensity in your runs leading up to your triathlon season:
- Avoid self-braking: “Heel striking” gets a bad rap. But it actually matters less what part of your foot hits the ground first, and instead matters quite a bit where your foot hits the ground in relation to the center line of your body. That is, if your heel is well out in front of your body, you are physically braking yourself – you’ll not only run slower, you’re putting a tremendous amount of pressure on the biomechanical chain up your legs to your hips. Focus on letting your foot fall more directly underneath your body to avoid injury.
- Slow cadence: Working on a quicker cadence is always easier said than done, but it will help avoid injuries and actually help get your foot to fall directly underneath your body. Start with a simple 3 mile run (1 mile warmup, 1 mile continuous flat terrain half marathon pace, 1 mile cooldown). Most watches now can calculate your cadence. Ideal cadence is around 90 rpm, but work up to that slowly. If your natural rate is in the 70s for example, during each run spend time solely focused on increased cadence of 3-4 rpms. Sara actually had to do many runs where the only run metric she had on her watch was cadence and time – she let go of pace completely (although of course a higher cadence tends to make your run more quickly, if not at least more efficiently).
- Too much, too quickly: The ol’ 10% rule has been around forever. Don’t increase running volume by more than 10% per week. There’s significant truth to this. Watch out for adding too much run intensity as well. If you have a triathlon coach, he or she should be monitoring your “ramp rate” and training stress closely in a program such as Training Peaks. If your body is starting to ache in ways that feel more like injury and not fatigue, speak up immediately! Triathletes are rarely “wimps” – be honest about how you’re feeling early and avoid injuries later.
- Skipping strength: It’s hard to find time to add strength training when we’re already stacking in as many swim, bike, and run sessions as we can. But ignoring strength training and mobility programs is doing your run a disservice. Focus on programs that support your major run muscle groups and those helper muscles too – hips, abs, etc. Even doing a simple everyday mobility program that gets us out of the straight line of swimming, cycling, and running to promote lateral movement and strength can help avoid over-use injuries!
- Old shoes: Sara and I have both made this mistake and always feel dumb when our shins or hips start hurting, only to realize – woops, I need new running shoes. Now I track my shoe mileage in Training Peaks and I recommend you use a journal or online program to do the same. Running shoes generally last 300-500 miles depending upon your biomechanical efficiency and a bit on your weight. Don’t forget to just listen to your body though if you’re within that range – just not feeling the support or cushion you did before? Time to shop!
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Shoes are expensive, but compared to the “cost” of an injury, they are a wise investment.
Cadence is also difficult for me. I’m getting better at maintaining effort on hills and part of that is cadence.
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AGREED! Another common technique is to have two sets of running shoes – mid-sole cushion takes about 24 hours to recover so switching shoes between runs can be helpful, as well. The cadence switch is tough but keep at it, a very wise training “investment”! Good luck and keep us updated on your progress.
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