The Best Running Speed Session For Triathletes?

How to improve your running speed without it impacting your swim and bike training…

Wouldn’t life be simple if all you did was running? Each week you could include two speed sessions and a long run into your training routine. Throw in a few maintenance runs and Bob’s your Uncle. Job done. You’ll soon be knocking minutes off those PB’s.

Unfortunately it’s not quite that simple. Long runs and interval speed sessions take their toll, often requiring a good 48-hours to fully recover from (sometimes more). Sure, you could do them regularly but they might leave you too tired to swim and cycle hard the following day. You’ll improve your running, but you could soon lag behind on the other two disciplines.

One solution is to incorporate regular Fartlek running. Also more pleasantly known as “The Swedish Natural Method” these workouts give some of the benefits of structured interval training without quite so much fatigue. The result is that you’ll have more energy and motivation to work hard during your subsequent swim and bike workouts. Let me explain how those clever Swedes do it.

Fartlek involves running according to feel, playing with various intensities. This means occasionally running at low intensity levels and occasionally at higher ones. You can vary the terrain too, so you might run on the streets on day and on undulating trails the next. If you’re having a bad day you can keep the intensity low. If you feel great, you could do a few more high intensity efforts. Whatever works best for you on that given day.

This means you to listen to your body rather than sticking blindly to a pre-set workout. So if you feel shattered after three hard reps, you can jog home without feeling guilty. You still get the increase in leg-speed without digging yourself a hole that takes two days to climb out of.

However, in the final 8-10 weeks before race-day it’s a good idea to swap a weekly Fartlek session for a more structured workout that mimics the demands of your race. For instance an Olympic distance triathlete might do 6-10 x 1km efforts at 10km race pace (with 3-minute rests). Just make sure that you take ample recovery during this phase of training when the intensity is higher.

Fartlek sessions to try:

Don’t be a slave to the sessions below, because the whole point is that you listen to your body. Experiment with different routes and terrain to keep things fresh.

Session 1

Run 40 minutes at a maintainable steady pace. Once fully warmed up, sprinkle in 3-6 x 60secs efforts as fast as you feel capable of on that given day. Don’t stop between efforts – keep going at a maintainable pace. Start the next 60 second fast effort when you feel ready.

Session 2

Run 30 minutes at a maintainable steady pace. Once fully warmed up, do a five minute effort as hard as you feel capable of on that given day. Don’t stop afterwards. Carry on running at a maintainable steady pace. Depending on how you feel you can shorten or lengthen the five minute fast effort.

Session 3

Run 60 minutes at a maintainable pace. Once fully warmed up, include the following fast paced efforts: 1minute, 2minutes, 3minutes, 2minutes, 1minute – all as hard as you feel capable of. Don’t stop after each one – carry on at a steady pace. Take as much (or as little) time as you need to recover between each rep.

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Phil Mosley (Coach & Founder)
Phil Mosley (Coach & Founder)

Phil is a recognised expert in the field, having featured on many endurance sports publications. He founded MyProCoach in 2010 to sell premium training plans complete with email coach support for triathlons, duathlons, running & cycling.

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