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Running Off the Bike

A common complaint I hear goes something along the lines of “I can run 38 minutes in a 10km road race, but in a triathlon I have an incredibly hard time breaking 45 minutes for the run.” Running fast off the bike is one of the seemingly great enigmas in triathlon.

The ability to run quickly off the bike, ironically, begins on the bike. Given two equal runners, the person who is more efficient on the bike will run faster every time. There have been many incredibly talented roadrunners who thought they could conquer the triathlon world only to find they are unable to replicate their fantastic runs during a triathlon. More often than not, the limiting factor for them or anyone struggling to run off the bike is the amount of energy spent on the bike. Runners who do not have a background in riding are inefficient on the bike, consuming valuable energy that could be otherwise used on the run. sponsor
This also helps to explain the emergence of crossover athletes like Steve Larsen. Larsen is extremely efficient on the bike and as a result, he has more energy left for the run portion of the race. His lack of experience in running is more than compensated for because he is able to ride quickly and, more importantly in triathlon, efficiently. So, if you are looking to improve your run, then don’t solely focus on running farther or faster, but also look at your riding efficiency. Improving your efficiency on the bike will allow you the opportunity to lay it all out on the run, rather than struggling to survive.

What follows are some thoughts on pedaling efficiency that you can use to help increase your ability to run fast off the bike. Using these techniques will also help you ride faster – a great win-win situation!

Pedaling Technique and Efficiency
Using a power meter we can determine the wattage a cyclist produces over any portion of a race or training ride. What is more interesting to see is how his/her power delivery fluctuates. Some would say 500 watts is 500 watts, no matter how you get it, but I think there's an important element they are not considering.

If you take a look at graphs of power delivery through a pedal stroke, you see that the vast majority of a cyclist's power is produced in the down stroke portion of a pedal stroke. Power production falls drastically as the pedals approach and pass through the top and bottom of the stroke. The power of the down stroke is so great that it negates the opposite leg's capacity to produce any power during the upstroke. The best a cyclist can do is to unweight the upstroke leg, or try to get it out of the way of the pedal coming up at it. In some senses, the upstroke leg can be seen as working against the rider. A portion of the force being applied in the down stroke is going to lift the opposing leg instead of propelling the bicycle forward.

Biomechanical efficiency is the element people miss when they say a watt is a watt, no matter how it is produced. For example, an inefficient cyclist needs to produce 350 watts to stay with the leading cyclists in a race, who are efficiently producing 300 watts. The inefficient rider is fighting his own forward progress from within his pedal stroke. In the final 10km run, he/she did not have the energy to stay with the leaders, whose superior efficiency allowed them to go the same speed with a lower sustained power output, thus saving their legs for the run. Through training, the inefficient cyclist’s mechanical efficiency can improve to the point where he/she can afford the energy cost of matching the race leaders pace, and have enough left to attack during the run. sponsor
The way to improve mechanical efficiency is to learn to apply force through as much of the pedal stroke as possible, especially through the top and bottom. Over geared, high-power, low-cadence workouts are essential. Climbing hills, seated, in a big gear forces a cyclist to keep force flowing to the pedals over the top and through the bottom of the stroke. It is the only way he/she can maintain enough momentum to keep the bike moving forward. Later on we add sprints up steep hills, again in a big gear and with slow, rolling starts.

During these workouts, the cyclist has to accelerate through increasing resistance. In races like the Ironman Canada, with unpredictable weather and many steep climbs, poor pedaling economy results in a spinning rear wheel, followed immediately by a dismount and a run in equally slippery cycling shoes. To avoid this scenario you need to learn to pedal efficiently. One way to do this is through getting out on your mountain bike occasionally.

Mountain bike racers were the most biomechanically efficient pedalers in recent tests done at the US Olympic Training Center. Their efficiency comes from having to apply high force in a 360-degree manner so the rear wheel won't break loose in steep, loose terrain. Doing one of your rides every couple of weeks on the trails instead of the road will help you master this technique. This in turn will aid your cycle efficiency in triathlons, which will leave you feeling fresher and ready for the run. So remember, the key to fast running in triathlon doesn’t always lie in doing more miles or more intervals; sometimes it comes down to the bike.

Happy training.

CTS TriathlonGold Head Coach Lance Watson is the personal coach of triathlon stars Simon Whitfield, Lisa Bentley, and Greg Bennett, to name a few. He can be reached at; or







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