Workout of the week – The long “strength based” tempo run

Over the past few weeks I’ve been progressing gradually with my run fitness. I’m not training with a specific race day pace goal in mind but instead, I’m training to become a stronger runner. A lot of variables contribute to running well off the bike and frankily, it really comes down to not getting injured. Running is corrosive and it brings a great risk of injury. I’ve been thankful that my body hasn’t had a setback since August 2019 and for me – someone who has had a rocky relationship with running – that’s a big deal.

When I eased back into running after my short off-season break, I focused primarily on easy running with good form. I incorporated a lot of walk breaks in my runs to help reset form and neuromuscular firing (communication with the brain and muscles) and finished some of my runs with hill strides (10-15 seconds uphill w/ walk down) to activate the posterior chain and for leg turnover. After a few weeks of frequent running, I continued with easy runs but included one intense workout of either hill repeaters (8 x 30 sec strong hill efforts) or short tempo efforts w/ double time recovery (6 x 3 min w/ 3 min recover ). This progression over the past 6 weeks has changed my physiology to allow me to feel stronger during my long runs.

A misunderstood concept of long distance triathlon run training is improving economy and strength. Both are vital to running well off the bike – much more so than prioritizing endurance (easy long runs) and speed (speed/track work). It’s easy to have the “runners” mindset that to be ready to run 13.1 or 26.2 miles off the bike you need to do speed work and easy long runs and while both are valuable, triathletes should not neglect strength-based runs.

My weekly running mileage right now is around 24-26 miles per week which comes from 3-4 runs per week. Right now I am not doing brick runs and I always include easy runs into my training plan. I like to vary when I run (morning, mid day, evening) and what days I run, to ensure that I can find good form at any time of the day. But when I ask my body to do intervals, I prefer those workouts to be in the morning. I always spend at least 15 minutes doing ECFIT/mobility before a run. I also like to do an easy run the day before a harder run to help prime my body, neuromuscular system and mind.

I feel there is great value in incorporating higher intensity efforts on hills into a long run. Not only do you feel extra light and springy on the flats after you run uphill, but it’s a much safer way to elicit a higher heart rate and power response vs. sprinting on flat surfaces. It’s hard to keep good form when running at high speed (that’s why track athletes spend a tremendous amount of time warming up and on drills before they run) so there’s less of a risk for injury on hills.

Running is so much more than collecting miles or gaining fitness. When I run easy, I don’t see these workouts as “fitness gaining.” Sure, I’m gaining fitness but my focus is on form economy under fatigue, posterior chain activation, breathing, movement economy and finding the joy in using my body. And when I do more intense workouts, I’m focusing on raising my anaerobic threshold while improving my run economy and efficiency. Intense workouts are important but I’m not doing pace-based intervals as I’m not tied to running a specific pace on race day. In long distance triathlon, you need to be great at not slowing down.

While your strava file may not look impressive as uphill running produces slower paces than running on the track or on flat ground but hill sprints offer benefits such as:

  • Strengthening running muscles and tissues (ex. core, glutes, feet, etc.)
  • Increase stride power
  • Reduce risk for injury compared to speed work on flat ground
  • Improved running economy
  • Improved muscular endurance

Speed ​​isn’t holding you back from progressing with your run endurance. Focus on economy and strength and you’ll get better at going further while minimizing a massive slow down.

Long “strength based” tempo run

~25 min easy jog

4 x 30 sec strong hill efforts w/ 1 min EZ walk/jog down
4 x 5 min pace (not flat but not super hilly) w/ 1 min walk recovery (~6:59 min/mile)
4 x 30 sec strong hill efforts w/ 1 min EZ walk/jog down
2 miles steady (7:45 min/mile average)

~5 min EZ jog cool down

Total miles: 10.0 miles (funny because I didn’t even look at my watch until later that day. I rarely look at my watch when I finish a run because I run either by time or by completing the workout as prescribed)
Total time: 1:22
Here’s a graph of my workout to see the execution. Green represents speed. Yellow represents cadence. I don’t wear an HR monitor when I train.

I fueled with my typical 2 waffles (or a bagel) w/ peanut butter, syrup and yogurt around an hour before this run, had 2 Powerbar chews before the run and had 2 flasks, each with 12 ounce water and 1 scoop C30 Never Second berry

If you are interested in doing a run workout similar to my long workout, here’s a safe way to get started…..This ~50-minute workout can be done on the treadmill or outside.

Mobility + power walk into ~15-20 minutes easy run (include reset breaks as needed and before the pre-set)

4 x 15-20 sec hill run (4-6%) w/ 1 min EZ jog/walk down + 15 sec extra rest

3-4 x 2-3 min good form, steady running w/ 2 min walk/jog between

4 x 15-20 sec hill run (4-6%) w/ 1 min EZ jog/walk down + 15 sec extra rest

5 min EZ jog/walk

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