Training for a triathlon? Two key sessions that will make all the difference to your triathlons? MF running advisor Sean Williams knows what they are.

In a triathlon, the run is the key leg. It’s all very well shining in the swim and cycle and being well-positioned as you hop off the bike, but unless you perform well in the run leg, a potentially great triathlon will end up a disappointment.

When training for the run leg of a sprint triathlon, you have to be prepared to run as fast as possible for 5km after hammering yourself in the water and on the bike. It’s completely different to racing over 10km or, say, Sydney’s City to Surf (14km) when you’re fresh on the start line.

As with any race training, the key to sprint triathlon run-training is to gradually increase your distances over the duration of your training program. Someone who’s moderately fit can train for a sprint triathlon in eight weeks. You should plan to train six days a week (two bike days, two swim days and two run days), with one day off for recovery. The two key weekly run workouts that will make a difference are tempo runs and the long run.

Tempo runs in triathlon training

Do one once a week. Warm up with a slow jog for five minutes, then start running. Begin your tempo pace after 10 minutes (or 1.5-3km). Tempo pace is one where you’re working hard, yet not breathing so rapidly that it’s out of control and you body’s producing lactic acid. It’s a pace at which you can say a few words, but not really be able to hold a whole conversation. It’ll probably be the pace you end up racing at. If you have eight weeks to train, increase the length of your tempo runs by two minutes each week. Thus, by Week 8, you’ll be doing a 26-minute tempo run (or 4-7km). At the end of the run, jog slowly for five minutes to cool down.

Long runs in triathlon training

Do one once a week. In the first week, your long run should be about 35 minutes (or 4-7km, depending on your speed) at an easy pace. Every second week, add five minutes (or up to 1km) to your distance. Your longest run of 50-60 minutes (or 6-12km), should be about 14 days before your race, and you should taper your distance to 15-minute easy runs in the two weeks before the race.

Add a brick in your triathlon training

If you’re keen to try a third run in your training week by week 5 or 6, add a bike workout (12-18km at a moderate pace) before a 10-minute (or 1.5-3km) run. This will allow you to practise the transition from your bike to the run. You can include a brick once a week until the last week before your race.

If you want to continue with only two runs a week, cycle 12-18km before your long run at least twice before race day. There’s a big difference between running fresh (i.e. without having swum or ridden immediately before the run) and running “off the bike”. It takes a fair bit of getting used to.