So here’s the situation:
You’re 16 miles into an Ironman marathon. Your nutrition strategy’s going to plan, your pace and heart rate are where you want them… Then out of nowhere you begin to get those aches of tightness and the early warning pangs of cramp in your thighs.
You start to think: “Perhaps I pushed it too hard on the bike. Maybe that’s why my legs are wrecked…”
Maybe that is the case. We’re all different. However one thing is constant, and that’s the fact that cycling is a Quad dominant exercise, no matter how well set-up your bike is.
If your individual running style also happens to be excessively Quad and Hip Flexor dominant (which is the case with most triathletes due to the volume of time spent on the bike in training – and subsequent neuromuscular pattern development), then you will be running in such a way which predominantly uses the very same muscle groups which you have blitzed on the bike… Definitely a recipe for early fatigue, or worse, injury.
Ideally you should be looking to get your Hamstrings and Glutes to engage as you run, helping you to maintain a smooth and efficient pick-up with the legs and a good posture, rather than relying on the Quads and Hip Flexors to pull the leg through from stride to stride.
A good example of these two different styles can be seen in the Crowie vs Chris Lieto Running Video Analysis clip from Kona 2009.
By using your Hamstrings and Glutes effectively as you run, you offload the strain on the Hip Flexors and Quads which are already heavily fatigued from working hard on the bike. This means that you’ll be sharing the load across multiple sets of muscle groups, delaying the onset of fatigue. Allowing you to run faster for longer!
Practice Makes Perfect!
The only way you’re going to be able to change the way you run is through specific practice. You need the new, Hamstring active running style to be second nature for it to work for you under race conditions, under fatigue
Just as with swimming technique, running technique is a skill that is there to be mastered. And just like swimming, you don’t simply need to be doing the right drills, you need to be doing the right drills correctly! With repetition the movements become easier, the newly used muscles get more active and stronger and you become more efficient.
Once you’ve become comfortable the basics of the correct running technique. I find that getting triathletes to do a number of mini-brick sessions (purely technique focused runs) during the week has an awesome effect on thier ability to hold great form off the bike.
Running Technique Mini-Brick Session:
This isn’t as bad as it sounds!
It is simply 5-10 x 60-100m at race pace with a walk back recovery, immediately once you finish your bike session of the day – whatever that happens to be.
The key is that the runs are all focussed on reinforcing good running form using the Hamstrings and Glutes.
This is purely a session to reinforce the neural pathways of the new improved technique once the body is in a state of bike induced fatigue. No need for it to be a hard mini-session, think quality not quantity.