Your free-flowing running gait, which was the hallmark of your style when you ran fresh, becomes nothing more than a pathetic and painful shuffle as you struggle to maintain contact with those with whom three minutes earlier you were riding shoulder-to-shoulder.
We have all been there! Take heart: there is hope. By undertaking a couple of practices and incorporating them into your normal training regimen, you can improve your running off the bike.
So what’s happening in your body? Well, it’s a clever machine. Firstly, it will automatically direct blood to where it’s needed. Unfortunately you use different muscles when you ride than when you run. In fact you experience what sports scientists call a vasodilatory effect – or shunting – to the capillaries and the blood vessels which are servicing blood to the muscles. What this means is that blood is not able to get to the running muscles (calves especially) quick enough. As a result, your legs feel heavy and weird as a consequence.
Secondly, your muscles will respond to any demands put on them. In short, an athlete who isn’t practised in the art of transitioning will be slower and less efficient to respond. When you are riding your brain is telling your body to act in a peddling motion for cycling. Quite simply, you do not give your body enough time to respond to the new command when you get off the bike and start to run.
During training, incorporate at least one “brick” session into each week’s schedule. By definition, a brick session means a ride followed immediately with a run. This will force your legs to get used to firing the appropriate neural pathways and shunting blood from previously active to previously inactive muscles a lot quicker, without the pressure of competition.
When considering bricks in your programme, think about the aim of your session. If you’re just trying to get your legs used to running after a heavy bike ride, then this can be done weekly by a short run off a longer bike ride. If you want to maintain or develop race pace through the run, then higher intensity bike/run repeats could be the order of the day. In this case you may wish to use it as one of your high-intensity sessions of the week and provide suitable rest and recovery both before and after the session.
The following sessions are designed for athletes looking to improve their bike-run performance at their goal race distance…
Target: To deliver a good-paced run from the start.
Duration: 1:15hrs (including a 10min warm-up and 10min cool-down).
Focus: 4 x [5min bike at race pace, 3min race-pace run, 5min easy spin]. Get into your race pace on the run quickly. When running hard off the bike, drive relaxed arms to get legs moving quickly.
Target: To run strongly despite having a tiring body.
Duration: 2:15hrs including 15min warm-up and 10min cool-down.
Focus: 20min run (steady)/30min bike (hard)/15min run (moderate)/30min bike (hard)/10min run (hard).
Target: Develop and improve running off the bike at race pace.
Duration: 2:10hrs including 15min warm-up and 15min cool-down.
Focus: 2 x [30min bike (15mins easy, 15mins race pace), 20min run
(3mins quick feet, 14mins race pace, 3mins just above race pace)].
Target Practise running when tired. Possibly a little out of left field for some but running when tired is an important skill for long-distance races. Adding a swim before the run not only helps the body shift blood from arms to legs but increases the session duration by adding an hour of low-impact exercise.
Session: 1hr swim to 2hr run.