Running off the Bike…Master it in the Off-Season

By Debbie
October 15, 2013 on 1:35 am | In Sponsorship, Training | No Comments

This blog brought to you by TriSports Champion Ed Ten Eyck, who is a kick-ass duathlete and coach. Check out his blog or follow him on Twitter – ed_teneyck.

Not too long ago I was invited to an event at one of my local bike shops as an information night for Irongirl. I was to present information about running off the bike and how to avoid the feeling of heavy, or dead, legs. Being a standard distance duathlete and exercise physiologist I thought nothing of the matter as I could talk about running on or off the bike for hours. Since I only had 15 minutes I compiled a very well manicured list that can keep most people out of trouble! I will outline the different sections and then get into more detail later about each one.

  • Bricks
  • Bike efficiency
    • Pacing
    • Cadence
  • Better running form

Bricks are the most common and possibly the most feared workout that new multisport athletes encounter. What is a brick? A brick is when you combine 2 workouts into 1. Whether it is a swim/bike, bike/run, whatever the combination you come up with you have a brick. So how can this help your run off the bike?

The dreaded "brick"

Specificity of training states that training should be relative and pertinent to the sport in which you are training. If you are going to bike and then run in competition, you should train that way so your body is used to the stress demands placed on it. By incorporating brick workouts into your training you are stressing the muscles in the same way that you will during a race. This allows your body to adapt to the stress more efficiently. This alone will not prevent you from having the feeling of heavy legs, but it is one of the tools used to help.

Bike efficiency is a very broad category but we will focus on pacing and cadence.

Pacing is the hardest thing for most, if not all, athletes who compete. The reason? We are all competitive and we all want to win. That being said, pacing on the swim or run followed by pacing on the bike can help you set yourself up for a successful run off the bike. Pacing can be done using a variety of tools; HRM, power meter, RPE, speed, and cadence. Personally I feel a power meter can be the best tool when planning your pacing strategy for the bike portion of a race. It is the only true direct measurement of effort you can monitor. So what is proper pacing? Pacing depends on a number of factors but if we just look at the bike portion of a race we would have to look at the distance that the bike portion is, the terrain, and what your goals are coming off the bike into the run. For shorter distance bike courses you will be able to ride at a higher pace than if you were riding a full IM course. The same can be said about flats versus hills. When it comes to the run off the bike, if you are looking for a solid overall performance and want to negative split the run, then pacing on the bike is key.

Cadence is the other side of bike efficiency. The faster you turn over the pedals the less stress per pedal stroke is placed on the muscle; however, more stress is placed on the cardiovascular system. What is the optimal cycling cadence? That is the never-ending question. A lot of research has come out supporting a cadence between 86-96 RPM. Is this perfect for everyone, no, but it is a general range that the majority of people will fall into. The more experience you have the easier it tends to be to maintain a cadence in this range. Some studies have shown that slightly higher cadence can benefit riders; however, there is a good deal of training that would be needed to adapt to the demands. Winter is a great time to practice this on an indoor trainer.

For the focus of multisport I feel the range of 86-96 RPM is ideal because when you get off the bike and you run at about the same RPM, your body is used to moving at that pace. When it comes to running, you are more efficient when running at a higher cadence because at lower cadence, the stored energy in the muscles is not used as effectively. Also, when you spin a higher cadence on the bike you are giving your muscles a break because you aren’t generating as much force per stroke. So the take home from this section is that your bike and run cadences should match, which will decrease the likelihood of feeling the onset of “heavy legs.”

I believe better run form is one of the best off-season training tools you can use to your advantage if you are new to the multisport or endurance world. Having inefficient running form forces you to work harder and can increase the likelihood of injury. It takes time and patience to become a more efficient runner, but usually after 6 months of dedication and focus on form you will begin to see the results. So what is better running form and why is it more efficient? A natural running position is when your kinetic chain is in alignment and you are landing more over the center of your body. This is typically the result of landing more mid-foot versus having a heel to toe gait pattern. When landing heel to toe, the majority of people are landing behind their center of mass enough that they have to overcome the compression and gravity pushing them backwards to continue the running motion. This results in a decrease in efficiency. When you land more mid-foot or with a landing closer to the center of mass, then you are propelling yourself forwards. Correcting your running form is something that takes time and energy to do. It is something that can be done during the off-season and help you prepare for the upcoming season, but I wouldn’t ever recommend attempting to overhaul your running form during the race season.

Proper vs. Improper Running Form

In closing, these are just a few of the ways that you can feel more fresh coming off the bike going into your run. By working diligently on this during the off-season and pre-season, you will go into your races knowing you have new tools to help you PR the run portion of any multisport event.

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