My goal is to complete a sprint triathlon this fall.
August 29, 2010 8:45 PM   Subscribe

My goal is to complete a sprint triathlon this fall. Please help me be a better runner so I can run 5k without feeling like I want to keel over.

I hope to complete a spring triathlon before November. (A sprint is 750 m swim, 20 km bike, 5 km run.)

My goal isn't to finish goal is to finish. I've never run a race before - no half-marathon, no 5k, nothing - so I'll be happy with just about any time as long as I cross the finish line.

The swimming isn't an issue - I swim 3000 to 4000 m every week for fun. And the biking isn't a problem either, as I bike irregularly but enough so that a 20 km is more than doable.

My problem is the running. I am horrible at running. After a mile or so on a flat surface, I'm dying. I can't really figure out why. Your thoughts are welcome.
posted by st starseed to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
With the aerobic capacity you will have from swimming, I'm betting dollars to donuts you are running too fast. Slow down, enjoy the flowers. Little, fast steps, not big honking strides. "Running" shouldn't be construed with what you do when you're racing for a train. If you can have a conversation with someone next to you, you're going at the right speed.
posted by smoke at 8:49 PM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm also baffled on the "after a mile I'm dying", but am going to assume it is just lack of specific training/practice. Or as smoke suggested, you are just running too fast. Either way, I think most triathletes would agree the run is the toughest leg -- your quads and hamstrings are already tired from the bike when you start. If you aren't a regular runner and your goal is just to finish, then I have two recommendations for you:

1. Use the Couch to 5K plan (aka c25k) to ramp up your running. Your situation is a little different, as you are already swimming 60-90 minutes a week, so rather than starting at week #1, you might start at week #4. You'll be running three times a week, which is fine. You might try to get out on your bike once a week as well. If you are swimming 3000-4000m a week, you are already doing plenty.

2. At least once before your race, do a brick workout. A brick is a bike/run workout, so you can get used to feeling what it is like to start running after you get off the bike.

Good luck in your tri!
posted by kovacs at 8:58 PM on August 29, 2010

If you can have a conversation with someone next to you, you're going at the right speed.

As a swimmer who just started running, this used to make me nuts when people would say it, but it's really really true [and I'd kill myself on the treadmill thinking I was going a "normal" speed but it was usually way too fast] and it took me running with other people very very slowly, to realize it. Do you time yourself? Have you looked at or tried couch to 5K?
posted by jessamyn at 8:59 PM on August 29, 2010

A lot of people (including myself) sing the praises of the Couch-to-5K running plan, which gives you a schedule for ramping up from no running (couch potato) to running a 5K. You're already athletic, so you might be able to modify it to fit your level or compare its techniques to the way you run now in order to identify areas to improve. But basically it goes by what smoke said -- not pushing yourself too hard, especially before you're ready for it -- and it's been as I go through the program it's amazing for me to see that I actually improve quite a lot, really quickly, even though I'm not forcing myself to 100%! That was a really good lesson for me about physical activity. (And about life in general. ;)
posted by inatizzy at 8:59 PM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here's something I learned just today while I was out running. The simple act of smiling can rejuvenate you to an incredible degree. Even a fake one will suffice. We often think of facial expressions being a one-directional thing (expressing what you feel inside to the outside), but it's definitely a two-way street. This has been shown and applied in so many ways (laugh yoga comes to mind). Give it a try when you're feeling drained.

And while I agree with smoke's idea of running slow enough to have a conversation to a degree, I also think it's important to avoid running only at a single pace. Running sprints and quarters will help you in their own ways. When it comes to finding your pace, the most important thing is to listen to your body.

Also be sure to work on form. Like smoke said, shorten your stride, try not to overstep yourself. sork on you uphill and downhill forms. If something hurts, it means you can probably improve on something.
posted by genericdave at 9:07 PM on August 29, 2010

As others have mentioned, your pace may be off. If you can, go to a track and use a stop watch or spend a little time on a treadmill. If you're still dying at a pretty conservative pace (e.g., 10-15 minutes / mile) then you might have other issues. For example, are you warming up effectively before your runs?
posted by jedicus at 9:15 PM on August 29, 2010

Run a bit and walk for a while, try running again until you need to walk. Never push it to the point that you feel you need to stop and keel over. Keep at it every other day and the running stretches will gradually get longer. Be really alert for strange pains, burnings or twinges in your feet of knees; it's easy to undo all your hard work by injuring yourself.

Think about your form. I had really inefficient running form and on top of it, seasonal asthma, so it took me a long time to learn to run. (recurrent foot problems as a pre-teen caused me to compensate by running entirely on my heels) I don't think they're right for everybody but I really enjoy running in my Vibram Bikilas. Just concentrate on enjoying the activity and maintaining good form and the rest will eventually follow.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:21 PM on August 29, 2010

A mile is a good warmup. You might not be hitting the zone until then. Remember, also, that on race day your endorphins will get you over that hump - do you feel any different when you pick out a rabbit and "chase" them during your training runs? There's more than enough rabbits during a race, and that will take your mind off of your own pain.
posted by kcm at 9:22 PM on August 29, 2010

Make sure you have a good set of running shoes that have been specifically recommended for your feet. I have competed in two sprint tris this year and knew the running would be tough on me since I am a cyclist first and foremost (the swimming was pretty easy since its pretty short).

A good pair of running shoes can make all the difference between having fun and just gutting through to the finish.

Also, I have to stretch an awful lot when I'm training and leading into race day or my calves will tend to lock up on me. I get deep tissue massages a couple of weeks out and then one last one about a week prior to the race.

Make sure to stay well hydrated. A sprint is a great place to start and I'm already looking to plan out my schedule for next year including more sprints but also trying to work in at least one Olympic/International distance triathlon as well.

Good luck and don't forget to enjoy the race itself. In my first one, it was over before I'd even really given myself an opportunity to enjoy it (though I did rather enjoy the super super high speed bike descent back to the transition!).
posted by fenriq at 9:49 PM on August 29, 2010

Try this to get better running form: imagine you have to take a wicked shit. You have to run quick enough to satisfy your gut, but not so bouncy that you have an "accident". This thinking has helped me many times when I can't find my stride.
posted by notsnot at 4:23 AM on August 30, 2010

I'm with the others.. You're going too fast!

Always had the same problem myself, still have to consciously slow myself down all the time (I use a running GPS now, so it's easy).

I also used to have a technique problem, which some other people have too. When I stopped landing on my heels and landed mid-foot instead, it all got much easier. Try taking shorter faster steps, making sure your feet don't land in front of your body. Don't slow down by reducing your cadence, that would be silly.

Go out and try to run as slow as possible, it'll be boring and you'll be afraid people will think you're really slow, but ignore them. Try 7 minutes per km which is a 35 minute 5K.

Once you an do the distance, speed it up. Train slower than you'll race. Negative split. Heart rate monitors can be good, though "natural" runners often to disagree. Even in the race, resist the temptation to go at the same speed as everyone else for the first couple of km - go at your own pace to begin with.
posted by dickasso at 4:32 AM on August 30, 2010

The specific physiological issue at play here is your anaerobic threshold. When you go to fast you cross it and you begin to go into oxygen debt, which makes you feel like you're dying. Your anaerobic threshold is both highly trainable and sports-specific (to a certain extent), so that just because you may have a relatively high AT for swimming, that won't translate to running exactly.

The solution, as others have said, is to run slower. If you want to increase your speed after running slower for a while you can add either intervals of faster running above your AT, or long stretches of steady running just below your AT. Either will raise your AT so that you can run faster without feeling like you are dying.

Here is a longer comment, with some examples, about this phenomenon.
posted by OmieWise at 5:15 AM on August 30, 2010

- shoes! Go to y our local running store and have them analyze your gait, and fit you for the correct shoes.

- Couch to 5k, or Couch to 10k. Worked for me ;-)

- slow down

- get your head in the right place. If you keep thinking "I need to stop" over and over, it'll become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:38 AM on August 30, 2010

As a man running his first triathlon in 2 weeks, and having been on the couch for 2.5 years, I know exactly where you're at.

Some pointers to running and not "sucking it".

1 - you want to take about 85 steps a minute. (that's 85 times that your dominant foot hits the ground) - this is for most people the most efficient gait

2 - you probably are looking at the ground when you run. Look at the horizon. Keeping your head up and your shoulders back will give you much better lung capacity.

3 - Run outside and preferably at a track. Most first time triathletes do better here because you can keep track (ptp) of distance more easily

4 - Most first-time triathletes do run-walk intervals. I suggest 2min run, 1 min walk (try and keep your running form as you walk - elbows in, arms at 90 degrees, head up)

5 - If you haven't done it already, go cycle for 12 miles and then do a 1 mile run. You'll find it VERY strange to get off the bike and have an abbreviated gait for the first 1/4/ to 1/2 a mile.

6 - How long are you running for to complete your mile? Look for a 12minute mile. If that's where you are at and you are still "dying" - then I would go back to keeping your head up and relaxing in the run. If you are faster than that ... Slow down.

7 - (last point I promise) It seems that you might be thinking that the Swim is fine, the Bike is fine and you just need to run. Remember that in a tri, you move from one event to the other very quickly - try cycling straight after swimming, your balance will be off a little. bike-run bricks are your frenemy. They hurt like a bitch, but they make thing soooo much easier.

Good luck - you'll have a blast in the end...
posted by Metheglen at 11:18 AM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

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