Boost your leg speed and hone your technique with pro triathlon indoor running workouts, says expert Garth Fox.
In June last year I was lucky enough to be invited to watch the USA Triathlon team, and the likes of Andy Potts, Hunter Kemper and Sarah Haskins, in training at the US Olympic Training Centre in Colorado Springs. Right after a ferocious swim set, several athletes got straight on the treadmill (even though it was a glorious summer’s day outside) and ran steadily for 30 minutes. Speaking to one of their coaches, it transpired that this was a session aimed at simply maintaining “running feel” and technique, not especially fitness orientated. But it did make me think that if some of the best athletes on the planet are using treadmills in the middle of summer even when they have the very best facilities at their disposal, there must be good reason. So in this feature I want to introduce some of the ways that top runners use treadmills, and how you might do the same.
The multiple world champion recently tweeted: “Second run session of the day. 10km on the treadmill, included 10x400m at 24km per hour pace for leg turnover. Need to get my stride rate up.” While McCormack may be able to run briefly at those speeds, most of us would find ourselves promptly spat out the back of the machine. But an age-group friendly version that would do the same job might be, for example, 6×30 seconds at 17kmph with 90-second recoveries. This session is less about cardiovascular conditioning and more about improving efficiency of movement. It will improve leg speed, encourage sound running biomechanics and specific core strength and is the perfect accompaniment to the usual winter diet of long, slow base mileage. Essentially it will translate into better running form even at slower speeds.
The four-time Ironman World Champion, when under the tutelage of renowned triathlon coach Brett Sutton, would famously perform the occasional “marathon on a treadmill” session. Sutton is known as much for the psychological conditioning of his athletes as physiological, so the objective of this session was to improve mental toughness but also the ability to control variables like wind, gradient while reducing the impact forces and hence the chances of injury. The lesson for the rest of us is not to be afraid of including the occasional longer, steady indoor run lasting in the region of 40-60 minutes into your training week when running outdoors is particularly unappealing, inconvenient or even dangerous due to slippery conditions underfoot. The biomechanics of treadmill running are subtly different from the road, but your cardiovascular system will not know the difference and you’ll make the same aerobic fitness gains.
World record holder, Olympic gold medallist and one of the greatest runners of all time, Gebrselassie would not be the first person who springs to mind when thinking about treadmill running. And yet his preferred afternoon session for five or six days of the week involves a short session in which fluid movement and speed are the goals. These sessions may be very short, just 15 minutes long, but they allow for a very controlled and predictable environment in which the sole focus can be on leg speed and technique. A mirror will help here, giving you constant feedback on your form. So next time you barely have the time for a proper run, opt instead for a session in which you focus on running tall, keeping your hips and feet directly beneath you with minimal forward lean and ground contact time.
This article was originally published in Triathlon Plus magazine. Save time and money by having every issue delivered to your door or digital device by subscribing to the print edition or buying digitally through Zinio or Apple Newsstand.
You’ll find loads more triathlon training advice in triradar.com’s Training Zone section.