12/7/15

I'm a triathlete, not a runner.


It seems odd to say it, right?
I'm a triathlete, not a runner. 
I mean, running IS the third discipline of triathlon so why is it that triathletes should not call themselves runners?

If you are a triathlete....
When was the last time you had the urge to register for a swim meet?
How about participating in a cycling road race?
When was your last running race?

Perhaps some triathletes enjoy racing in other events aside from triathlons and with the training for one sport, comes an improvement in sport specific skills and overall fitness. But it is not that common for a triathlete to dedicate 2-3 months, specifically trying to get faster in swimming or cycling, with the intention of racing in a swim meet or cycling event to show off their accumulated fitness. 

However, on the contrary, it is extremely common for triathletes to dedicate 2-3 months, typically in the "off-season" to run specific training and racing. Many times, triathletes will even train for a marathon to improve endurance or focus on short distance races with the hope of making gains in speed.

The last two running races that I trained for were in 2011 and 2012. 
In 2011, I ran the Subaru Half Marathon in a time of 1:31:51. This was also Karel's first half marathon (he ran it in 1:29:44).
In 2012, Karel and I ran the Native Sun 10K (41:11 for me and 36:40 for Karel) and Karel ran the Donna Half Marathon in 1:21:37.

Since 2007, I continued to call myself a triathlete and train for triathlon races but every year, come October until April, I found myself thinking like a runner and wanting to train for running races. Sometimes I would continue to cycle and swim as if I was training for a triathlon but other times, cycling and swimming was viewed as cross training and took a back-seat to running. I pretty much divided my season into triathlon season and then running season. 

Big mistake. 

Since then, Karel and I have shifted our focus to 100% triathlon training and racing. We instantly noticed an improvement in our overall fitness as we were able to go through many phases of training, starting from the off-season.

It wasn't until last year, that I broke my no-running races streak and participated in my first running road races (a 5-mile turkey trot and a 5-mile road race) in 2 years.
BUT - my focus and intention for racing was much different than ever before.

The running races were simply training sessions.
I was simply training with a lot of people, great volunteers, a t-shirt at registration and I choose to pay money for the workout.
Oh, and I didn't care what the overall time or placing was when I crossed the finish line. 

Karel and I have learned that although running is part of our 3-sport event, it is not necessary to dedicate a chunk of time in the winter, in order to train for a running race. Although for some athletes, it may help improve run fitness and confidence, many times, a specific running block of training increases the risk for injury and does not result in a massive improvement in run performance off the bike.

At Trimarni, we do not let our triathlon athletes train for running races. Sure, exceptions are made at times but we stress the importance of having a purpose for every race and the race has to make sense in the annual season layout plan.

I know it sounds so mean of us to not allow our triathletes to train for running races but that doesn't mean that they can not do a running race or two.

In order for us to focus on their overall, season development in all three sports, it is important that every triathlete that we coach (regardless of running fitness, speed or endurance)  thinks and trains like a triathlete.
Running is the last sport of a triathlon so it is obvious that running is what makes or breaks a great race. It is also what triathletes remember the most (whereas your swimming performance is easily forgotten and trumped by two other sports, by the time you cross the finish line). And for many triathletes, running is fun, it is freeing, it's inexpensive, it's easy to do anywhere, at anytime, and it is the sport that releases the most endorphins and assists in weight loss/body composition changes. So, as you can imagine, it is easy for some athletes to feel more passionate (or addicted) to running, than to swimming or cycling.

If you are a triathlete who wants to become a better, stronger, faster or fitter runner, it's not necessary that you train for a running race.
But, if you feel inclined to participate in a running race in your off-season (or at the beginning of your season), here are some of my suggestions:

-Do not register for a marathon. Triathletes will not gain triathlon run fitness while training for a marathon. Perhaps you will improve endurance or speed or you will prove to yourself that you can do the distance (again or for the first time) but when it comes to running off the bike (especially in an Ironman triathlon), running 26.2 miles in the afternoon, after you have swam 2.4 miles and biked 112 miles has nothing to do with running a marathon. You are running 26.2  miles to finish an IM and any Ironman athlete can tell you that that experience is not like a stand-alone marathon. Also, it can actually cause more damage to your season development and overall health. Very few triathletes will ever benefit from training for a marathon (when was the last time you saw a handful of professional triathletes participating in a marathon in the off-season?).

-Running races less than 15K can actually be beneficial to some athletes who want to get more comfortable in race situations (working on pacing, digging deep, mental strength, nutrition) as well as for athletes who need a social outlet due to a lot of alone-time training. Triathletes often view running races as a way to get faster or to go longer. But really, the goal is to have fun.

-Be mindful that if using a running race for establishing pace or HR training zones, you will always run faster with others, in a race environment, than alone (of course, the course terrain matters on this statement). Using running race efforts/paces for your solo training can actually set you back as you may be training in unrealistic zones for day-to-day training.
It's best to perform your running test alone, for a true indication of what you are capable of running.

-A half marathon (or 20K) can be incorporated into a training plan, as a training race, so long as you are ready. Any time you register for a running race in your triathlon season (including off-season), it should make sense with your season development.  Always discuss running races with your coach ahead of time, before registering. If you are seeking a running race in November or December, you need to consider you past injuries or health issues, when the off-season started for you and the upcoming season plan/goals. Maybe the race falls at a good time if it is a 5K or 10K but if it's a half marathon, it may be too early in the season to be running that far (or that fast). Remember, in order to peak appropriately, you must build your foundation. Do not skip steps.

-If you have the tendency to be extremely competitive on race day, it may not be ideal for you  to race a "fun" local run race when you know all of your local competition. Perhaps choose a running race in a different location and enjoy exploring new sights and roads with hundreds of other runners that you don't know. Think of it as a big group workout.

-Find a race that suits your strengths. Do you do better on trails, gravel or road? How about hills versus flat terrain? What about rolling hills? What about crowd support, the weather or the location of the race?
Triathlon racing and training is not cheap and running races are not free. If you are going to participate in a running race in your off-season, pick a race that, no matter what, you will absolutely enjoy. Go ahead and wear your gadget for some data after the race but do not let your gadget run, control or ruin your race experience.

-It's ok to compete at a running race even if it's just for training or for fun. You are a triathlete, thus you are an athlete. And athletes love to compete!
Whenever you race, you should always understand your purpose for racing and the outcome you want to achieve. Unlike runners who may seek PR's, your focus shouldn't be on pace, total time or pacing as you will likely be going into the race not tapered and with a bike or swim workout preceding or following the race. Find a way to be competitive so that you can improve your race tactics and mental strength skills but not at the expense of you being hard on yourself if you don't like your overall finish time or placing. And of course, no running race should come with the risk for injuries or a delay in your triathlon development. If you register for a running race and you find yourself injured before the race, don't race (it's not worth it!!). And if you race hard, allow time to recover so you don't experience any further setbacks in your triathlon training. 

Remember, you are a triathlete.
Being a great runner is important but only if you can do it off the bike.