Running Faster for an Ironman 70.3

As the run coordinator for the University of Illinois Triathlon Team, I fielded this question from a teammate about running faster for an Ironman 70.3, and thought I’d share the question and my response.

Question

Hi Drew, I wanted to send you a message because I really want to get faster in the run portion of a half ironman in the spring. Could you send me some speed workouts, or some good workouts to work on speed. I already have a solid base from Ironman, but I need some speed. Also, are there any particular stretches you like to do to really open up the running? Thanks. Anything really helps.

Response

Here are my thoughts. It all boils down to 3 things for the half iron: being strong enough to maintain form for 13 miles after the swim and bike, being good at running fast because it makes running a slower pace easier, and being flexible, balanced, and supple so you stay healthy while you train. And when possible, run with people your speed or better than you.

  • For strength, hills and good long runs are your friend
  1. Run hills: hills are hands down the best way to get stronger and faster, and there are lots of different workouts you can do on them besides just sprinting up as fast as you can.
    a. Hill sprints: run up as quickly as possible while still maintaining good form, walk down. Start with 3-4 reps of 50-100m the first day, then build up to 10 reps as you get stronger.
    b. Threshold hills: if possible, find a hill 3-400m long. Run up at your threshold – as fast as you can without your breathing getting out of control – then jog back down.
    c. Trail running: find a mountain, (yeah right Chicago) run up it, then run back down.
    d. Rolling hills: run a regular or long run over rolling hills. This will build strength over time.
  2. Long runs – full time runners run 20-25% of their weekly mileage on the long run. I prefer the progressive long run, where you start at a relaxed pace for the first ~1/4, progress to a faster but still conversational pace for the next 1/4, begin moving a bit faster on the third 1/4, and finish well for the last 1/4. Having the control and fitness to execute a long run like this indicates you’ll probably be able to run a solid run leg. It also helps to have a focus for a long run, rather than just slogging 10-15 slow miles.
  • For speed development: this is a workout I’ve started to swear by and a big reason I was able to my a PR in the mile last February. Basically it’s one day a week where you turn into a sprinter to work on your top-end speed. I do a 5-10 minute warmup, full drills from here (http://www.fightingillinitriathlon.com/FIT%20Running%20Guide.pdf), this speed development day http://youtu.be/TQWDVRbz8b8, followed by a cool down, and general strength (example shown on the running guide). Another guy started doing this with me, and he’s becoming a much better runner, even if only from the time focused on form and not the extra speed itself.
  • For maintaining flexibility, balance, and suppleness, every runner must find the things that work for him. I’m still trying to fine tune mine. Here are somethings I do:
    1. Start with the lunge matrix. It looks dorky, but it maintain strength when done several times per week: http://youtu.be/-K_CiRml-vQ
    2. Do drills at least once a week, just like you did calisthenics in team sports. The exaggerated motions and movements help maintain athleticism. A sample list of drills is on the running guide; there are tons of examples online.
    3. Do some sort of strengthening and stretching for your core, hips, quads, and calves at least once a week. The “general strength” routine on the running guide is specifically designed by a pro coach to help open up the hips and groin. I like any routine by Jay Johnson. You can probably find good ones from others too.
    4. Stay athletic. I may do an experiment this fall where I play basketball once a week to see if the regular athletic endeavor helps offset the constant load of working out in straight lines.

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