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Thirds: Breaking your triathlon run into three uneven blocks!

Updated: Jan 1



One of the major mistakes many triathletes make is adopting or copying a running program based on long distance runners or even track athletes without implementing a solid running off the bike (OTB) program. This is similar to taking Michael Phelps routine and applying it in open water in order to become a faster swimmer! I have encountered triathletes who do this on regular basis without success on race day. It’s always good to remember that you are a triathlete, an athlete who swims in open water, and runs off the bike on very fatigued legs after coming off a grueling bike leg. The training regiment for such athlete should mimic the actual race conditions. Our approach to OTB is based primarily on cardio and neuromuscular adaptations that takes consideration of how fatigued the legs and the body as a whole after the bike leg. While doing non OTB running is great for building a cardiovascular base, it is imperative to involve the neuromuscular aspect for the body to adapt to the onslaught brought on by the bike.

Since the repetitive movement of cycling for great distances creates a high level of hypertophy in the muscular system, specifically the legs and a considerable amount of lactic acid builds up in the blood stream, creating a sensation in the legs as if they are bricks (hence the name derived from running off the bike) it’s extremely challenging for a runner to efficiently copy all that track or road running training on these lugging bricks! A sensible training approach is needed to be able not just to run, but to excel and compete at a very high level coming off the bike on race day. Enter thirds!

Thirds is one of many approaches we employ to help improve and get stronger and faster. We apply thirds to our beginner to intermediate triathletes since it’s a progressive system that allows the athlete to run for long distances or durations without running out of steam. We simply break the run duration into three parts. Lets imagine running a six mile run (10K) Run the first 2 miles easy (let’s say a bit over a jog pace -depending on the athlete’s running shape). you should be in the 65% to 75% heart rate if you are wearing a heart rate monitor . Then the second part of the run (miles 3 and 4) is a more brisk run. You will feel your Heart Rate go up slightly . (you should be in that 75%to 80% of your maximum heart rate if you are wearing a heart rate monitor ). Then for miles 5 and 6, we increase the tempo slightly so you should be between 80%to 90% of your maximum heart rate if you are reading a heart rate monitor. One should note that it is acceptable to take slight breaks(slowing down the tempo) after 2 to 3 minutes within these last 2 miles and try to sustain this to close strong. It sounds simple and uncomplicated but it is challenging!

Thirds is exhilarating and euphoric if done carefully and progressively. One must stress on the progression approach by incrementally increasing the pace, duration and distance in order to build the OTB strength needed to be able to compete at a decent level and improve your PR everytime you compete!


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Marques Garcia, IRONMAN Certified Coach.

Triathlon Coach Seattle Bellevue Redmond Kirkland Issaquah Sammamish