Where Is My Speed?

[caption id="attachment_4677" align="alignright" width="148" caption="Had Very Good Running Economy at the US Open"]Toyota_US_Open_Championships_triathlon[/caption] I am not writing this post about the fact I am afraid of qualifying for Boston.  I am writing this post because I want to talk about the lack of speed I displayed at 70.3 Austin.  It has been haunting for the past few weeks that my time at the half-marathon was 1:53.  This is not a horrible time by any means but when your goal is in the 1:40 range then there is a problem. Add in the fact that after that race I ran 18 miles at a 7:51/mi pace, then two half-marathons (one in training and one in a race) at times of 1:39 and 1:38 and I think you can understand my dilemma with trying to cope with a 1:53 or 8:40/mi pace.  Yes it was hot, yes it was hilly but in the end those are excuses and there were others that had to run that race and ran it faster than 1:53. As I do with all things pertaining to race day and breaking down my race I emailed Coach to tell her of my disappointment in the run.  As is always the case she talked to me in terms that I can understand.  This was her response to my email:
I am sure that is a struggle for you but, let me say that what you run at regular pace and what you do after a hard race pace bike effort are very different, most of the time....
I run a 3:10-3:15 Marathon.. ran a 3:47 at Kona, my goal based on that was 3:40-3:55
I usually run about a 1:28-1:30 half marathon... ran a 1:40 at Vegas... goal was 1:38-1:45
In trying to do the math I noticed that the marathon was a 15% difference between 3:15 and 3:47 and the half-marathon was 10% difference between 1:30 and 1:40.  For me that means that my half-marathon of 1:38 which is 98 minutes would equate to a 1:48.  1:48 is what I ran at 70.3 Oceanside in April.  Is that 10% a standard?  Probably not but it is a good gauge.  Even when I ran the DRC Half-Marathon I thought that the time of 1:38 was incredible considering I had tired legs and started to equate that to running off the bike but I guess it is not exactly the same.
Matt Fitzgerald wrote and article on this very topic for Competitor.com, which you can read here, and it compares Hunter Kemper to Greg Whiteley.  The article points out that Whiteley was a better pure runner than Kemper but when it came to the running portion of a triathlon that Kemper always was better.
Here is an excerpt from the article that helps to explain the disparity with pure running and running in a triathlon:

Why some triathletes run better off the bike than others is not fully understood, but it appears to have something to do with differences in how individual athletes’ neuromuscular systems are wired. In a 2010 study by Australian researchers, about half of the triathlete subjects tested exhibited involuntary changes to their normal running mechanics after riding a bike. These changes reduced their running economy.

Were the triathletes who maintained their running economy off the bike more experienced or better trained? No. The difference was hardwired. This was shown in a previous study by the same researchers involving elite triathletes. All of the triathletes in that subject pool were experienced and extremely well-trained, yet almost half of them also exhibited the same economy-spoiling changes in running form after cycling.

The best triathlon runners typically run 5–6 percent slower over a given distance in a triathlon than they do in a running race of the same distance. It would be helpful if this figure could be held up as a universal standard. In that case you could test the disparity between, for example, your freestanding 10K time and your Olympic-distance triathlon 10K run split and know that, if the disparity was 7 percent or greater, you could adjust your training to close that gap. But, because of differences in hardwiring, there is no universal standard. Some triathletes can’t come within 5 percent of their standalone run times in triathlon even with perfect training.

The goal right now is to get faster, especially with Vegas coming up, but so that my running economy has a much smaller difference when I run off the bike.  This week I rode for two hours and then ran 20 minutes off the bike.  I can say that I was running 7:24s off the bike in those 20 minutes and my legs felt great.  Maybe the marathon training is improving my running economy already but we won't know for sure until I rack my bike in T2 in Puerto Rico and head out on the run and try to close the gap between 1:36 and that finishing time.

How Close Are Your Stand Alone Run Times Versus Your Triathlon Run Times?

Jason Bahamundi

About the Author:

I grew up in New York and lived there for 34 years until I got divorced and moved 1600 miles to my new home in Texas.  I love New York and miss it but that does not mean that Texas hasn’t been great to me because it has.  It was here that I discovered endurance sports and specifically the sport of triathlon.  Triathlon has given me new life through all the challenges it presents.  I no longer look at life the same way and I can say that is in part due to my endeavor into this sport.

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