Triathlon legend Spencer Smith tells you how to run fast off the bike.

Triathlon Training - Run Faster With Spencer SmithOne of the biggest obstacles I have found during my 20 years in the sport is running well off the bike. It can literally make or break your race. It doesn’t matter if you consider yourself a fast runner or a plodder, because running after a hard cycle is always a great leveller in our sport. Trust me, I’ve seen plenty of top runners shuffling down the road in a triathlon. So my goal for this article is simple. To give five pointers that will make that dream of running well, and dare I say it, running fast off the bike, a reality.


I watch a lot of triathlons, and I see too many people taking big strides at the beginning of the run. It’s a bad idea because oxygen-rich blood is still gathered in your cycling muscles, and won’t divert back to your running legs for several minutes. So from the moment you rack your bike and slip your shoes on you should be thinking about one thing: baby steps. Short, fast steps that don’t overtax your muscles. Then after a mile or so your legs will start to feel more normal, at which point you can lengthen your stride slightly. You could even try and make your cycling cadence similar to that of your run. So if you run at 90-95 steps per minute you should aim to cycle at 90-95 RPM too. If you haven’t overextended yourself on the bike, you should be able to hold this rate on the run. It’s a big IF though, because too many triathletes go very hard on the bike and leave nothing in the tank for the run.


A similar mistake is simply starting the run too fast. The euphoria of finishing the bike coupled with the cheering spectators generally leads to an over-exuberant start to the run portion. You will be running faster than you think at the start. So be calm in transition and build your speed gradually over the first 10 or 15 minutes. Try to resist the urge to run too hard too soon. By the halfway point on the run you will be thanking yourself for having held back.


If you have not been able to hit the times you wanted in training, you probably aren’t going to hit them in a race. Fitness is the biggest determinate of your ability to run well off the bike. It may sound fairly obvious, but if you haven’t done the run training, then you can’t expect to run well. Go into the run with realistic goals based on your speed in training.


It is normal that as the race progresses, your form breaks down or becomes sloppy. You need that wasted energy going elsewhere. So the more efficient you can remain, the better. Try to keep your upper body movement to a minimum, keeping your shoulders and arms relaxed. And if you’ve ever done Pilates or core stability training, now is the time to use it. A strong core will stabilise your centre of gravity, and everything will function more efficiently as a result.


It doesn’t matter how fast you are, racing still hurts everybody. It’s perfectly normal to be very uncomfortable. Some people deal with this pain better than others. Everybody has tough periods during the run, so stay positive. In order to ‘stay in the zone’ perhaps concentrate on your breathing, or just focus on the person in front of you and gradually pick people off. The record-breaking marathon runner Paula Radcliffe even counts her strides, starting from zero every time she reaches 100. Whatever you do, be aware that your discomfort is probably being experienced by everyone else, and that you’re not alone.