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Tips for improving your bicycling to running transition

May 8, 2013 at 12:08 a.m.


If there is one aspect to the sport of triathlon racing that is unique it would be how to master the bike to run portion.

Muscle memory is important in many sports, but uniquely so in triathlons where you go from a horizontal position in the swim to sitting and pedaling on the bike and then to an upright position for the run.

A typical response from triathlon newbies is that their legs feel like "Jell-O" when they begin the run, or they refer to heaviness in the quads as they dismount the bike.

An athlete that comes from a running background who may normally ace an outright road race may be reduced to a jog or shuffle during the run portion of a triathlon without proper training.

Why does the heaviness in the quads occur in the first place?

There are a few reasons.

First, when you cycle, the majority of the blood flow is directed to the quads because they are the major muscle group utilized in cycling. As this happens, the athlete will experience a vasodilatory effect on the blood vessels and tiny capillaries that lead to the quadriceps.

This results in a "pooling" of blood in the quadriceps that remains as you dismount the bike and start the run portion. The feeling persists until blood begins to be redirected to the running muscles of the hamstrings and calf muscles.

The second physiological response that occurs is due to muscle memory response.

While cycling hard for an extended period of time, your brain has been signaling to the working muscles to pedal in circles.

Then, suddenly, when you dismount the bike, your muscles have to change it up, and in an instant, the demand switches to your legs supporting your body weight while running and trying to make your legs turn over.

Through training, you can begin to teach your muscles how to respond and integrate new muscle memory by helping your muscles get used to firing the appropriate neural pathways while moving blood from previously active muscles to previously inactive muscles.

A triathlete can improve his or her bike to run transition in a few ways.

The first is by incorporating weekly transition runs into training. True transition runs are short in duration - 5 to 10 minutes - and are tacked onto the end of a bike ride.

The purpose of a transition run is to train your body to make a smooth, efficient adjustment from cycling to running.

The other training component that can help is brick training. It is similar to a transition run but typically is a longer run workout and one that is intended to provide a proper run workout in addition to the cycling workout. bricks also help teach the body to sustain a consistent running effort in a pre-fatigued state.

A brick is a bike ride followed immediately (within about five minutes) by a run.

There are a few types of brick workouts to utilize during training.

The first is a basic, foundation-type run where both bike and run effort is at a moderate aerobic intensity.

The second type is one where both the bike and run are done at a slightly more intense effort. The last type is where the bike portion is at a moderate effort followed by a tempo run. I have even given my athletes intervals as part of the run workout off the bike.

In addition, I suggest that training volume be done so that you are proficient at tackling about 25-50 percent more than what will be required in each discipline during the race.

If you are training for a triathlon that consists of an 800-meter swim, 12-mile bike and 3-mile run and only working up to each of those distances as your max, you will end up feeling a progressive amount of fatigue over the course of the race.

I typically give my athletes 25-50 percent more than what they will be racing so that they go into each discipline feeling strong and are limited in the amount of trickle-down fatigue they may experience.

Lastly, there is some work that can be done during the final five-eight minutes of the bike portion to better prepare yourself for the run.

In the final few miles, come up out of the saddle with the chain ring set in a bigger gear and ride a few hundred meters standing up. This will allow some of the blood to flow back out of the quads, as well as start preparing the muscles to go vertical for running. Then sit down and put the chain ring in a smaller gear and allow legs to "spin out" at a quick cadence.

Finally, as you near the transition area, stand up to stretch out the hamstrings and calf muscles.

The above are some great tips to incorporate into your triathlon training regimen to hopefully allow you to begin the process of mastering the bike to run transition.

Missy Janzow received her B.S. in dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and owns Fit4U, a personalized coaching and nutrition business that serves to train the novice or seasoned triathlete or runner. You can reach her with your questions at janzowml@yahoo.com.

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