After Florida 70.3 a received quite a few comments about how "great" I looked out on the run. I really appreciated these because in all honesty this was not a stellar run for me. As I mentioned in my race report, for some reason or another my piriformis was really hurting on the bike which caused me to have to hobble out of transition after I racking my bike. As I was making my way out to the course to start the run I honestly wasnt sure if I was going to be able to run.
So the question becomes, how do you look "great" on the run even when you dont feel great? And more importantly what do you do when you are faced with the prospect of having to run 13.1 miles when your leg feels like its going to fall off? The key to this is to be able to still have an OK run without having a terrible run. If you can limit your losses to a minute or two rather than 10, 15, or 30 minutes, that may be the difference between placing in your AG and not.
IMHO, the best way to assure at least a decent run and avoid the "Ironman shuffle" is to focus on proper form and stride rate from the beginning of the run. Back to the FL70.3 example, as soon as I left transition I decided that I was going to focus on making sure I had good turnover (around 90 steps/min) and that my form was good. I wasnt worried about the pace because I knew that as long as I focused on those things, then the pace would come. Sure enough after a slow and rather uncomfortable first mile, I settled in and started feeling better. Consequently had I just let transition slogging along, back bent over and with a slow leg turnover, I'm convinced it wouldve only been downhill from there.
Too often I see people starting a run head down, slogging along and I know they are doomed from the start. So how do you avoid this? Just like all other aspects of endurance training... specificity and repetition. If you expect to be able to run with good form off the bike, you better run with good form in training. This is especially critical during easy runs where your legs are particularly fatigued like during your 50min run on a given Three Workout Saturday or easy run the day after a really hard ride. I highlight easy runs because during fast runs you will naturally have better mechanics because they are required to be able to run faster. However, by focusing on stride rate and correct form during workouts where you feel less than optimal it will be much easier to lock into these good habits when you feel less than stellar after a hard bike ride during a race. This in turn will all but eliminate the massive hemorrhaging of time which is all too frequent in the run portion of long distance triathlons.