Running is selfish, plain and simple. Why do I say that? From my experience in my own training, as well as the athletes I have worked with over the years, running only helps running. Running doesn’t help your cycling, and it certainly doesn’t help your swimming.
Running also demands higher recovery requirements, and has a higher incidence of injury associated with it. There is a strong positive correlation between total run volume and run performance. On that same note, there is also a strong correlation between run volume and injury rates. As you run more, you become faster, but your risk of injury also increases. That said, even short course athletes could benefit from increasing their total run volume.
In a recent interview with Alberto Salazar, he spoke in depth about two of the runner’s under his coaching. Mo Farah, and Galen Rupp. What’s so special about these two? They went 1-2 at the London Games in the 10k, Mo also took Gold in the 5k. Most people would consider the 5k and 10k relatively short. Guess how much they train? When in peak training, Mo runs 120 miles a week, Galen runs around 100. They both strength train and cross train, with Galen spending more time on an under water treadmill to increase his run volume. They do complete track work, but a lot of their running is at AeT pace. Salazar is adamant about keeping his athletes running on soft surfaces as much as possible. This is partly how they can complete such a large amount of running, and it is also what it takes for them to start reaching the top of their genetic limits.
If this is what it takes to run the 5k and 10k at a World Class levels, how much do we as triathletes need to run? From the cross training effect of the swimming and biking, it quite a bit less. Swimming and cycling are not selfish in that regard. Fitness gains from both of those sports do help running. Total run volume is dependent on the event you are training for, and your goals; which goes beyond the scope of this blog post. In general though, most people should be running more than they are now. Running is the least time consuming of the 3 sports, as there is very little prep work before the workout which makes it the easiest place to add a little extra training.
What is the best way to increase run volume safely? Research has shown frequency is very important when it comes to running. I like my athletes to run 4-6 days a week. If their recovery rates won’t allow that, walking workouts can be substituted in for some of the runs. I like to divide the total run volume up like this: 3 short runs, 2 medium runs and 1 long run. For beginners starting out with this, something like 3×10 minutes, 2×20 minutes and 1×30 minutes, all at AeT/zone 2 pace. Walking breaks can be added into these workouts if needed. When that distance is comfortable, a little more can be added, divided up in the same manner. At some point, harder work can be added in, replacing some of the AeT runs. The type and frequency of harder work/speed work is dependent on the athlete, their main race distance and their goals. Just like Mo and Galen, try to run on soft surfaces when possible. Get out on some grass or dirt trails, or run on some gravel roads. At minimum, try to stay off concrete, as it is harder than black top, chip seal or asphalt. If you are preparing for a Half or Full Ironman that has a hard surface for the run, you will need to incorporate some hard surface running into your training. There are specific adaptations that your body will have to make to be ready for higher impact forces you will experience during those events.