Creating a faster run

Running faster for longer is an area that everyone wants to improve on in order to become a ‘faster’ runner. When we talk about ‘run speed’ for triathletes it isn’t about trying to emulate the 100 or 200-metre run speed of Usain Bolt to create top speed. It also isn’t about trying to create a faster runner over a straight five to 10 kilometres. The key ‘run speed’ component that triathletes should be looking to improve is their run speed-endurance rather than outright speed. After all, we never start our run completely free of fatigue and fresh just like single-sport runners do, who are looking to run as fast as they can over a specified distance.

The run leg forms the last part of our event and typically takes up about 25 per cent of our total race time. This is where run speed-endurance (or on a more simple level the ability to run as fast as you can in a fatigued state over a longer distance) comes into play. Any form of run speed should be the cherry on top of the cake and is something that we need to build towards within our training rather than having the simplistic view of just trying to run as fast as we can in training in a vain attempt to improve run speed.

When it comes to improving your triathlon run speed, the first piece of the puzzle should be creating a solid foundation. Using the aforementioned cake analogy, the long run should form the base of your cake and is there to support the rest of your run training. The cream of your cake and the next component should be the run-off-bike session commonly known as R.O.B. Finally, the cherry on the top of our triathlon run training is our speed training sessions. Just like creating a cake, without the proper pathway towards building our running speed, things will generally fall apart pretty quickly.


Layering: Build your training layers properly and you will see the benefits.


The first building block is, of course, creating your running endurance through longer aerobic running sessions. These sessions should gradually increase over time as your fitness level improves. As a guide to the low intensity required, it should be possible to hold a conversation with a friend while you are running. This run session builds your stamina and endurance creating a foundation on which to build upon with your more intense workouts. If you need more of a challenge then doing these runs over hilly terrain and on dirt running trails can be a good way to build your run endurance.

Once a solid endurance base is created we can then begin the process of adding in a small amount of faster running in the form of a run off the bike or R.O.B. These sessions are great in the sense that they allow us to do a very race-specific workout by allowing our bodies to get accustomed to the same sensations of tired legs once we complete the bike leg and lace up our shoes during a race. When you first start out 15 minutes is more than sufficient and you can gradually increase this over time. The key is to work on your race pacing and teach yourself to run with good form at your desired race pace with biking fatigue in the legs.

The final part of any triathlete’s run workout is to incorporate speed endurance workouts in the form of interval or fartlek training. These workouts are very beneficial as they allow us to tap into our speed while keeping the workout specific to our sport in the sense of working on our speed endurance. These forms of workout need to be done with a solid running foundation in order to get the true benefits. The duration of these sessions should be based on your current levels of fitness as you bounce from easy to hard running throughout the interval session.

The key message in creating running speed is that we cannot do so without first looking at building a running foundation in order to layer these ‘speed’ workouts on top. Once this foundation is laid we can then start to add in triathlon run specific workouts that tap into our speed endurance that in turn will make us a faster triathlon runner.


Sam Betten

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