Runner or Triathlete? Why Not Both?

Here’s the challenge. You like running and are intrigued by triathlon. Or you like triathlon, but would feel you have the potential to be a better racer.

What if you want to do both? Is it realistic to think that you can achieve running and triathlon personal bests in the same season? Absolutely. You can do more than you think you can, better than you think you can. Believe it.

More to the point: the better runners always finish higher in triathlon results. You need to be a better runner to be a better triathlete.

Want to get better at both? Here’s the recipe, in three phases.

Running Phase 1: January through May

Between January and May, I tend to an average six hours training time per week. My training mix is roughly 55% running, 30% biking and 15% swimming. Running is the focus, cycling serve as great cross training, and a little swimming helps to break things up. This approach prepares me for solid Spring running races.

This part of the year is already behind you, but thanks to Chicago winters, which favor running, you’re probably in good running shape. You’re perfectly set for the Triathlon Phase.

Triathlon Phase: June through mid-September

With a solid running base in place, transition to biking as your primary training focus beginning in June, to carry a strong running and biking base into summer triathlons. The days are warmer and longer, allowing more hours for longer training rides and outdoor swimming.

Two days after a late May Marathon, I start my intense cycling season in preparation for triathlons. After your last running race in early summer, you should too.

Longer, warmer days in summer allow more training time without compromising priorities like family and work. I aim to average about 10 hours weekly training in the summer, with early weekday morning rides, and a long ride on the weekend.

The mix of swim, bike and running training should shift directly, with running and cycling almost trading direct emphasis: biking 60%, running 30%, and swimming 10%. I probably underemphasize swimming more than you should; it’s a personal preference. Modify as needed, but keep cycling top priority.

You can make nearly every day a cycling training day. In summer, add runs to the end of your cycling workouts for extra endurance training, and great preparation for the actual triathlon experience.

About once every two weeks, also toss in what I call a ‘speed bike/run’ session to simulate race conditions. Pick a cycling distance – I like 40 miles – and time-trial it, ride as fast as you can. Immediately after finishing, transition to a run; I like 10k. Run that as fast as possible, too. Because you’ve had a great running season already, you’ll be speedy. Note your time. Try to beat it the next time, and the next.

By the time your triathlon races arrive, you’ll be ready to tear up the course.

Running Phase 2: Mid-September through December

Chicago offers great Fall running races. Take advantage of them. And you’ll be more than ready to unleash the stronger runner you’ve become. With strong cycling legs from the Summer, and continued running speed from the Spring, you can be a double threat of endurance.

With a solid triathlon training mix, and a good running season already behind you, now is the time to fine tune. Daylight is declining, there are fewer hours in the day, so I shoot to average about six hours training per week, as in the first part of the year. But the training mix, this time, is much more balanced: 50% running, 45% cycling, 5% swimming.

To do well in these Fall running races, your focus should be on a mix of speed work, intervals and long runs. Use cycling as longer recovery workouts. You might want to trade some time for swimming, I only swim rarely when my legs really need the break.

Don’t be surprised to find yourself running personal bests in the Fall running season. You’ll have been through two phases of running and triathlon training to result increasingly better conditioning, strength and speed. In many years, that’s been my experience, and it can be yours too.

The Year in Review

Yes, you can have it all. You can deliver solid running and triathlon performances in the same year.

All you need is a schedule that allows you to build your strength and performance throughout the year. Follow this realistic training plan, and you can get the best of both — and become a better runner and triathlete this season.