Project Ironman – The Run: The Heel of The Matter

Project Ironman – The Run: The Heel of The Matter

So how do you make your individual functional technique better? Run! Photo Credit: James Mitchell

The IM run is probably the most daunting of the three legs (no pun intended) and is certainly the harshest on the body. The ability to run in a highly fatigued state for so long is no easy task even in optimal conditions. The technical challenge is to hold form throughout to sustain your goal race pace – holding TUF (technique under fatigue) as we say at Trisutto.

As mentioned in my previous blog, success on the run is very much predicated on your bike fitness, pacing and fueling management. A proper triathlon-analysis of any run performance should take the bike segment into consideration. For this discussion I will assume the stage set with a well-delivered bike.

What is “proper” IM running form?
The crux, like the swim, is in the ability to cover the race distance at (your) speed “comfortably”. It starts with your form, one that you can replicate sustainably for ~40000 steps over 42k. There is no right or wrong, only what is effective for you, based on you (size, weight, shape, anatomical anomalies etc.).

Attempting to emulate track runners or shorter distance runners is misguided, especially if you are a late starter in the sport. Very few, even at the highest level of our sport, are capable of running the IM like a gazelle from start to finish (i.e. Craig Alexander, Andreas Raelert, Mirinda Carfrae). Most end up moving in a manner that is most economical to them. So take heart that you too can still be a good IM runner without conforming to a stereotype “proper form” derived from open events, especially those track specific.

The foot plant is probably one of the most discussed aspects of “proper form”. Whether it is to avoid breaking, to harness the potential elastic energy in our tendons and muscles or to minimize contact time, the mid/fore foot strike (over heel strike) is the mainstream technical goal you are encouraged to achieve. As we watch the best at IM what do we actually find? – A mix of foot contact types – forefoot, mid-foot/flat/outside, and heel “touchers”.

Of the top 10 men in Kona 2016 approximately half heel touched, the other half used a flat/mid foot (and one distinct forefoot) plants. Some of top 10 ladies at Kona 2016 also distinctly heel touched. So if you currently favour a heel first contact and are comfortable doing so you may not need to change it.

It is essential however to clearly understand the distinction between heel striking and heel touching before tinkering with what might already be a suitable IM form for you.

Heel striking occurs when you land on your heel and at full stance your heel is still in front of your center of mass, leg is relatively straight, and weight is being transferred through the heel, which effectively jars the body and causes a breaking action.

Heel touching occurs when your heel contacts the ground first in front of you, briefly, but at full stance your center of mass is close to or over top your weight bearing foot, the leg is bent, head-shoulder-hips stacked with weight being transferred through the supporting mid-foot. From initial contact to full stance the hip continues to translate forward.


Daniela Ryf

If you mid/flat foot strike you will tend to land very close to your centre of mass already (or as close “underneath”) and the time to full stance is almost seamless. If this is you, that is ok.


Mary Beth Ellis

Note in the examples above the similarity in alignment at full stance (right photos) despite slightly different start points.

Both of the highlighted styles are effective. Avoid choosing one over the other to conform to what is deemed “proper” or ideal. The one that still holds by the end of the IM will be the fastest for you.

Start by optimizing what already works for you. If you push to change to be something you are not you could increase injury potential or regress in performance. If, for example, you insist on a mid-foot strike in your IM preparation long runs, now after years of heel touching, you will increase the likelihood of a metatarsal stress fracture. On the other hand, to force a heel touch approach if you are a natural mid-footer will likely cause you to heel strike to make that change felt.

Does this mean you should simply settle and never adjust anything that may improve your economy and speed? Of course not. Small tweaks (rhythmical shoulder extension, compact hand/forearm swing, a more upright and stacked posture, head inclination, cadence etc.) can collectively compliment what happens from the waist down. Just avoid drastically reorganizing your mobile base of support to something that isn’t natural for you. And note that what is natural to you will also evolve as your experience progresses.

So how do you make your individual functional technique better?
Run.
Forget about drills. The more time you spend on them the better you will be at them, but likely no better in form at 35k in the IM run. If your form crumbles forcing you to walk, shuffle and hobble mid-way, all the prancing, skipping, machinegun butt-kicks and explosive knee drive drills you did will have only served to improve your photo pose coming out of T2. Rather focus your technical effort on building race pace (RP) form stamina. Insert segments of IM RP tempo on your long runs. Run off the bike often and following long race-paced efforts to impose the specific (or close to) fatigue that will help forge your IM run form durability.

Next time someone comments on your “heel strike”, assess the accuracy of that observation using video and the cues aforementioned before altering anything. Then take heart that many of the best IM runners (and champions) – male and female – contact the ground first with their heel.

 

 Ed Rechnitzer is a Trisutto Coach based out of Calgary, Canada. Check out Coach Ed’s Triathlon Camp scheduled for 2018 in Mont Tremblant.

Run Improvement: Practical Treadmill Truths

Run Improvement: Practical Treadmill Truths

Over the last week we’ve had a couple of people reach out after reading an article outlining the bio-mechanical negatives of running on treadmills:

http://www.triathlete.com/2012/02/training/the-truth-about-treadmills_48165/amp

My first response, of course, is that it’s highly unwise to base your training off triathlon magazine articles. It’s their job to produce new and interesting content, not consistent training advice.

But to address the article specifically:

It is theoretical truth… And practical bullshit.

If you are a challenged runner treadmill training – without changing floor angle – will improve your running out of sight. The positives by far outweigh the negatives.

Take heart that many of the greatest athletes now and in triathlon history have used treadmills as a regular part of their training. As often as four times a week.

Our thoughts on the best use of the treadmill can be found here:

http://trisutto.com/10-tips-to-better-triathlon-running/

http://trisutto.com/training-city-treadmill/

http://trisutto.com/the-dreadmill-benefits-of-treadmill-training/

Be reassured that the treadmill can be your best tool to improve your run split. Several of our main squad members will be on it this afternoon!

Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton at one of his remaining training camps in 2017 in LanzaroteCyprus or Gran Canaria.

Key Performance Tools: The Treadmill

Key Performance Tools: The Treadmill

Six days before the Hawaii Ironman in 2016, Daniela Ryf completes a key pre-race speed set on the treadmill.

Over the last month I have written blogs on exercise equipment that can help you with your swim and bike performance. There have been many enquires asking can you write something about the run?

Since founding Trisutto.com, there have been several blogs published on the benefits of treadmill for run / triathlon performance. I urge all of our new readers to breeze through our back catalogue of blogs for a variety of articles that will help you enormously with your triathlon. We view ourselves as a resource for all triathletes to use in their quest to be more efficient athletes.

The Dreadmill: Benefits Of Treadmill Training  includes a short video blog to explain one of my favourite mid week run workouts, that will help your leg turnover and your run form on race day. It was developed when training Jan Rehula who went on to win the Bronze medal at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

As well as run efficiency, the practical aspect of the treadmill is time efficiency. Trisutto coach Rafal Medak wrote an excellent blog on exactly this, Training in the City: Treadmill

I hope you will make the most of our online resources –  happy reading!

10 Tips to Better Triathlon Running

10 Tips to Better Triathlon Running

I often have athletes coming to me because they want to improve their run off the bike. Often times the first response is the athlete thinks they need to run more. Sometimes this is the case but often it’s not. Running for a 1500 m track event and running off of a 90 km or 180 km bike are two completely different things. I’ve seen athletes hiring a run coach to improve their running, then see their 400m times improve, but still fall short when it comes to having a good run off the bike. Here are my 10 tips to helping you have a better run off the bike in triathlon:

1. Get off your toes

I’m not sure when the forefoot running first came out but I’m almost certain it wasn’t discovered in triathlon! Teaching athletes to strike from the front of the foot leads to nothing but low leg injuries and for most is not sustainable, especially for a 42 km run off the bike. This style of running takes the key muscles out of the equation (glutes) and puts way too much pressure on the lower leg and calf. When an athlete is tired and completely depleted it makes no sense in my opinion to keep loading up the smaller muscle groups. Now there is still the odd runner out there who can sustain an Ironman marathon on their toes, but it’s more than likely that they’ve been running a high volume for most of their lives and can get away with it.  Even Haile Gebrselassie, a former marathon world record holder, when asked what he changed to improve his marathon times, said he needed to move to more of a heel strike.

2. Work on high run cadence 

In general, increasing run turnover will help an athlete run faster. In the second half of the run when the body is out of “spring”, a long stretched out stride just takes too much energy out of the athlete. We aim for a cadence of 90 strides per minute for most people. For people with shorter legs it is often higher at around 95-100.

3. Improve run efficiency

One of the most important factors for a good Ironman marathon is being as efficient as possible. The best ways I have found to improve run efficiency is to increase your turnover (as mentioned above), staying upright (not leaning forward), reducing your vertical oscillation (the amount you bounce up and down every step), keeping your arms up closer to your chest, and keeping your legs low (reducing the amount of hamstring kick at the back of your stride). It’s important to always focus on holding a good technique as you get more fatigued at the end of your sessions. We call this TUF (technique under fatigue). If you ever notice the best runners in the back half of a race, you will almost always notice a similar thing, they still look good even though they may be hurting because they are efficient!

4. Get on the treadmill

If your main problem is either needing to get your cadence up or you struggle from running injuries, then my suggestion is get on the treadmill. It’s helps with turnover as it’s almost impossible to over stride. The surface also helps lessen the impact on the body. Also, when athletes are trying to improve their bike, treadmill running works well as they are able to recover faster from a treadmill run so they can hit the bike hard enough on the non-running days.

5. Get your bike stronger

When I won my age group at Ironman Australia in 2015 with the fastest female run split, I did not do more running that year, in fact it was the opposite (it was 65 km/week max). I actually did less running and just worked on my bike strength with a tonne of big gear work on the bike. I recently had an athlete run a 2:57 marathon (a 12 min marathon PB) after a PB bike this year.  The main thing we worked on was proper fuelling and more big gear training on the bike, NOT more running.

6. Run more hills

This is fairly obvious, but long distance triathlon is very much a strength sport where strength endurance is the key component to a successful race. Running hills, just like pushing big gears on the bike, will help you run faster on the flat. It also helps prevent running injuries. At Trisutto we generally like to run hills every 3rd run or so.

7. Build mileage slowly

You can only get better if you’re not injured. One of the best ways to reduce the chances of injury is to build up the mileage slowly. I recommend increasing run volume by no more than 10% per week. At Trisutto we say “hurry slowly”. For most females it’s best to only run every second day, in order to rest the bones on the non-run days.

8. Double or triple run days

Double or triple run days is a great way to get mileage up instead of just a really long run on the weekend. This also helps keep the run quality up and generally less risk for injury as opposed to just going long and slow every weekend.

9. Make most of your runs progressive

There are a few reasons for doing this. The first is there is less chance of injury when you start your runs slower. If the muscles are tired from training load, they often need more time to warm up and get all the big muscles firing. If you step out the front door and go straight into a hard run (which needs the large muscle groups) you increase the risk of pulling something. Also, I’ve never seen it work in a race to start too fast. You will almost always finish a race/session better if you start easier and finish fast. It seems to work ok for the Kenyans.

10. Stay fuelled

Staying well fuelled in my opinion is the key factor for staying injury free. Any injuries I’ve seen have almost 100% of the time happened from under fueling or losing weight too quickly. It’s a tough subject because the main thought is “if I lose weight I will run faster”. Yes this can be true, but if you are injured from losing weight and can’t run, you obviously won’t improve. Do some athletes need to stay bigger to improve? Yes. Could some athletes lose weight to improve? Yes. It all depends on the size of the engine and frame of the athlete. If you are an athlete who may have a little bit too much extra weight, my advice is to try and lose it slowly and more in the off season when the training intensity/load isn’t too high.

 

Michelle Barnes is a 13 time Ironman Finisher and 7 time Kona Qualifier with over 30 AG podiums in all distances. She was recently the 35-39 AG Champion at Ironman Australia, where she had the fastest overall female marathon, including the pros. Michelle understands the challenge of training at a competitive level and need for balance while holding down a full time job.

Join Michelle in Vernon, British Columbia for two training camps in July.

Racing in other Sports

Racing in other Sports

‘Coach, what about racing in other sports?’

The Northern Hemisphere season has kicked off and one of the most asked questions is ‘Coach, I’ve got time before I do my main race. Can I do a race in another sport?’

My answer changes depending on the sport, the amount of time before the main race, and the possibility that doing that race could cause injury that will impact on the main goal of the season.

Let’s start with an open water swim race. The answer is nearly always a yes, great idea. Any time we get to practice open water in a real race scenerio is a big positive for me. If it is not the day before the race I’m more than happy to give it the big thumbs up.

Let’s move to the run race scenario. Again, I like this as a training aid to a better triathlon run. In saying that, we break it up into two categories:-

  • To help improve speed, choose a race that is much shorter than race distance.  If one is racing Sprint or Olympic distance triathlon, then a 3 to 5 km road race is a great stimulus for future.
  • To help improve race pace for long course / Ironman athletes, then races from 10 to 21 km are ideal. My favorite is around 15 km, as I have found it gives a great stimulus of both above race pace and endurance, but without flattening the athlete, or interrupting too much their training due to needing a longer time to recover. When attempting this style of race we insist it must be done negative split, or as a build run. This ensures we don’t build up a lot of unnecessary lactate during what is a glorified training session.


Running Races can compliment our triathlon training well.

I left the bike to last, as when an athlete tells me they would like to join a cycle race, I ask if they would like a broken collarbone before their main event of the year?

In a perfect world I’d love to say yes, but rarely does this occur. Safety must be the ultimate decider of bike racing, and I just don’t see pack riding being beneficial to an Ironman racer. If they ask can I do a time trial race, I’m the first to say ‘what a great idea’.

Let me be clear, if someone asked me to pick between a 1 hour criterium or a 1 hour time trial on a turbo, I would say there is no comparison. (I have only seen one, no two athletes fall off a turbo – but that is for another story!)

Racing other sports I find to be a great benefit if you put them in context with your long term goals, and can help you enjoy your fitness without breaking the bank – financially, or physically.

Get out there and give them a go!

Using Specificity and Progressive Overload in Training

Using Specificity and Progressive Overload in Training

I’ve often been asked what are the two things that make a great triathlete?  I always say consistency and effort in training. Of course, possessing a great physiology and mental toughness is an advantage as well, but when it comes to training principles, it is my opinion that Specificity and Progressive Overload are the two that are most important.

 
What is Specificity and Progressive Overload in training?
Specificity in not only the type of training, that is swimming, cycling and running, but also in the intensity of effort. Progressive Overload, is gradually increasing workload volume, intensity, or frequency of training over time.

You probably realise by now that at Trisutto we don’t spend much time on what is not specific to triathlon. Our training routines rotate around those activities that we use when racing, that is lots of swimming, biking and running. Lots of “switching” and “bricks”. Not much stretching, weights, or yoga.

The same could be said for the intensities that we train. While there is the bulk of training at intensities lower than race pace, there is also a prescribed amount at race pace and a smaller amount just above race pace. Rarely do we need to train at maximum intensities.

A good example of this is one of our regular run sessions. I remember discussing with Brett Sutton over 20 year ago, about how he learnt to become a triathlon coach from being a swim coach. His reply was that ‘he knew nothing about biking and running, but just applied the same principles as he had learnt in swimming’. Therefore, his run sets were designed like swim sets, i.e. longer, less intense running with a short recovery. I was taught with running, being a higher intensity activity, the work to rest ratio should be 1:3. Brett just turned that around (3:1) and it soon convinced me that he was on to something that has been a great weapon for coaches who are willing to treat triathlon as one sport and not three separate sports.

 


Specific overload at Trisutto age group camp in Australia 

 
Specificity and Progressive Overload Training in Action
As an example, lets consider a running workout on the athletics track.

4 x 200m leaving on 1 minute.

Initially doing 4 repeats of this 4 x 200m, and an additional 30 seconds rest between each of these 4 sets.  We can add an additional repeat each week, building up to 8 repeats of 4 x 200m. Your 200m pace should be approximately race pace for a 5km running race. Over the weeks, we progressively overload through increasing the volume, while maintaining the same rest periods.

Once this is achieved, we can move from 8 sets of 4 x 200m, to 4 sets of 8 x 200m while still maintaining the 60 second send off for each 200m, and still keeping an additional 30 seconds rest between each of the sets.  We do the same number of 200m intervals (32), but have fewer of the 30 seconds rest periods as we are doing them broken into 4 sets, not 8 sets.  

From here we could move to 4 sets of 10 x 200m (3.2km total),  2 sets of 25 x 200m,  and finally to 1 set of 50 x 200m (10km total) still maintaining the same send off of 1 minute for each 200m.

You will notice in this example that the time base has remained the same (1 minute), however the specific overload has increased. The number of 200m intervals has increased from 32 to 50. There has been a reduction in the amount of rest in the workout as we moved from 8 repeats with 30 seconds additional rest between each, then to 4 repeats, then to 2 repeats and finally to 50 x 200m without any additional rest periods.

Yes this is a tough workout, but you are progressively overloading as you become fitter.  You are also resting after every 200m (the time between finishing one 200m and starting the next one), you are working your cardiovascular system, but not completely exhausting your muscular system, as you would do if you ran the same distance (10km) at that same speed continuously. This allows holding better form, with less injury risk, while being able to train the neuromuscular system at ‘race pace’ in a planned and progressive approach throughout the whole year.

The same principles can be achieved running 400s or even 800s. It is all about being Specific and Overload.

 

Rob Pickard is a former National Coaching Director and High Performance Manager of Triathlon Australia, and is based in Australia.
Rob is holding camps in Guam and Subic Bay, in April

Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.