Bike, Running, Swim, Training Centre, Triathlon

What is the best way to improve my transitions and ability to run off the bike?

Clock Posted Jan 23, 2019

By Michelle Hemley.

The swim to bike and bike to run transitions can be an eye opener when you first start triathlon.

Often, a classic ‘newbie’ triathlete will spend so much time focussing on getting the required swim, bike and run training completed for their new sport, that transition practice is an afterthought in their preparation. When race day comes, the ensuring chaos and lack of practice can lead to many mistakes!

The good news? Transitions DO get easier and (much!) quicker with practice.

As you progress in the sport racing at the pointy end of the field gets closer, a fast transition and the ability to run off the bike quickly can be the difference between a PB, a podium position or qualification for a championship event.

In today’s article, we will focus specifically on developing your run off the bike and in MultiSport’s next edition, we will address the skill specifics of smooth transitions between swim to bike and bike to run.

Here are four specific areas you can focus your training on to improve your running capability off the bike (Note: All sample sets given below are main sets only and we advise a warm-up and cool down pre and post the following sessions).

  • Running Off the Bike Tip #1: Improve Your Bike Strength

The stronger you are on the bike, the better you will be able to run off the bike. This sounds simple, however it can take a while to develop the bike strength that will allow you to one; ride quickly and two; be relatively fresh off the bike and able to execute a fast run.

You can include specific strength building rides throughout your training week incorporating sessions such as seated hill repeats, intervals on your time trial bike which focus on a lower cadence and higher resistance than your race pace and short, high resistance/wattage efforts on the trainer.

You can safely incorporate two strength building sessions on the bike throughout your week (interspaced by 2-3 days) and they are ideal as part of off-season and pre-season training.

Sample Set: Power Intervals (on the trainer)

All efforts are at a high resistance, low cadence (HRLC) to develop cycle strength and recruit specific cycling muscles for a strong ride. Repeat the following set 3-6 times, with a few minutes of easy cycling in between each set:

  • 30 seconds HRLC/30 seconds easy spin
  • 45 seconds HRLC/45 seconds easy spin
  • 60 seconds HRLC/60 seconds easy spin
  • 45 seconds HRLC/45 seconds easy spin
  • 30 seconds HRLC/30 seconds easy spin

Over time, you can add a run off the bike (see Tip #3 below) so your legs develop running efficiency when they are pre-fatigued from these strength efforts.

  • Running Off the Bike Tip #2: Work on Increasing Your Running Cadence

You will notice that compared to ‘pure’ runners, elite triathletes tend to run with a higher cadence (or speed of leg turnover).

This has many benefits and in regards to running after a tough bike ride, a higher cadence helps to recruit different muscles for your run (so you are not using the same, fatigued cycling muscles) and help dissipate some of the residual fatigue bought about by the bike ride. A quicker turnover also means less contact time with the ground, therefore your legs absorb less impact and don’t develop that ‘heavy’ feeling quite as easily. So if you want to improve your run off the bike, it pays to focus on developing your speed of leg turnover.

Sample Set: Short Fartlek Efforts

The following fartlek set can be completed as a standalone running session or as part of your run off the bike. These short, specific efforts are aimed at increasing your leg turnover, teaching you to take quicker steps as you run. In these ‘fast cadence’ efforts, count how many times your left foot strikes the ground in 30 seconds and see what number you get:

  • 10 times (30 seconds ‘fast cadence’/60 seconds easy run)

Ultimately, we are aiming for 48-55 foot strikes per foot in these efforts. This does get easier over time and as the weeks’ progress, you will find you naturally start running with a quicker turnover.

  • Running Off the Bike Tip #3: Practice Running off Your Longer & Strength Based Rides

Learning to run off the bike efficiently is as much a neurological (brain) skill as it is a physical skill and you need to give your body the opportunity to experience what it feels like as much as possible. Considering training is simply showing the body what it will experience on race day, sessions where you complete a run off the bike are perfect from a neurological and physical preparation perspective. The more you do this, the better your running off the bike will get…..simple!

After your long ride each week, get into the habit of going for a short run off the bike. To start with, it only needs to be 10 minutes and it doesn’t need to be fast. You can build how long you run for over time and then begin to incorporate race specific speeds and intervals as you get closer to your goal event.

Sample Set: Run Off the Bike (after a long ride or strength based session)

  • Sprint distance event: Build to running 10-15 minutes race pace off the bike
  • Long course event (70.3 or Ironman): Build to 30-60 minutes at intended race pace

The key to ‘nailing’ this set is to be realistic with your race pace and the aim is to hold your intended run pace right through to the end of the session, rather than starting fast and fading dramatically. As you improve, see if you can increase your running speed and aim for a faster pace. Before you know it, this speed with translate to your race results.

  • Running Off the Bike Tip #4: Short/Multi-Loop Transition Sessions

What I refer to as ‘multi-sessions’ where you complete 3-6 repetitions of a smaller cycle/run brick are perfect to develop both running off the bike and the specific bike to run transition skills needed for a quick transition.

As these repeats are shorter, you can train elements of speed training so not only do you develop the skill of running off the bike, but you develop the skill of running off the bike FAST!

Sample Set: Cycle to Run Transition Set

Repeat the following 3-6 times, taking a few minutes to recover and re-set the transition area in between each round:

  • 4 km cycle
  • 1 km run

These type of sessions are great fun to do with a friend or your triathlon squad/club. If you wish, you can vary each repeat making some a bike focus, others a run focus, others a handicap race – you are only limited by your imagination!

I hope these sessions have given you some inspiration to practice your running of the bike. They say we ‘ride for the show, run for the dough!’ and developing your running speed off a bike ride is paramount to your improvement as a triathlete.

Looking for additional running tips? Check out our top 7 tips for improving your running here. 

I look forward to bringing you more transition skills based advice in our next article and if you have any specific questions, please email them through.

Until next time, Michelle

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