Ask The Experts: How Many Hard Runs And Rides Should I Do?

Q.

Dear Experts,

I have been running and cycling for several years and only recently transitioned to triathlon. As a runner I’ve always been a fan of Jack Daniels’ running formula and the brain training/central governor model. All these plans basically come down to three quality runs per week. From reading some of your articles, it appears that cycling training plans are very similar to running, with three quality sessions—interval, threshold (for lack of a better term) and a longer day—all gravitating to race specificity as the event approaches.

So my question is how do you fit all of these running and cycling quality sessions into a week? I’m guessing it has something to do with the fact that running intervals and cycling intervals stress your body in very different ways.

Dennis

A.

Dennis,

Running and cycling actually stress the body in very similar ways. This has an upside and a downside. The downside is that stress applied in a cycling workout will affect your performance in a subsequent running workout, and vice versa. The upside is that fitness gains in cycling transfer substantially over to running, and vice versa. Because of this combined fitness and fatigue crossover, it is neither necessary nor wise for triathletes to combine all of the key workouts cyclists do and all the key workouts runners do in their multisport training.

Now, prolonged moderate-intensity workouts (whether in cycling or running) and high-intensity workouts do stress the body in different ways. Athletes can handle more of the former, so I do advise triathletes to perform both a long ride and a long run in most weeks. If you’ve never done a long Sunday run after a long Saturday ride, it will take some getting used to, but anyone can adapt to it.

High-intensity workouts exact a greater toll of stress on the body. Therefore I don’t recommend that most triathletes perform two high-intensity rides and two high-intensity runs per week, as they would do if they simply combined convention cycling and running training plans. You need to do some high-intensity cycling and running every week, but it’s important to avoid taking on too great a combined load. The exact combination that’s most appropriate depends on the athlete. Here are some guidelines:

Option 1: One high-intensity ride and one high-intensity run per week. Alternate threshold ride and interval run weeks with interval ride and threshold run weeks. This is plenty for most recreationally competitive triathletes because of the crossover benefits between the two disciplines.

Example

Tuesday: 1:00 bike with middle 20 min. @ 40K race effort

Thursday: 0:45 run w/ 5 x 1K @ 5K race pace

Option 2: One full quality session in each discipline plus a smaller dose of high intensity (e.g. a smattering of fartlek intervals, a 10-minute progression at the end of a ride or run) in one discipline every week. This provides a small but meaningful amount of additional quality without greatly increasing the risk of burnout.

Example

Tuesday: 1:00 bike with middle 20 min. @ 40K race effort

Thursday: 0:45 run w/ 5 x 1K @ 5K race pace

Friday: 1:00 bike w/ 6 x 20-second sprints scattered throughout

Option 3: One full quality session in each discipline plus one smaller dose of high intensity in each discipline every week. This is a good formula for serious competitive triathletes.

Example

Tuesday: 1:00 bike with middle 20 min. @ 40K race effort

Wednesday: 0:45 run + 6 x 10-second hill sprints

Friday: 1:00 bike w/ 6 x 20-second sprints scattered throughout

Thursday: 0:45 run w/ 5 x 1K @ 5K race pace

Option 4: Two full quality sessions in one discipline, one full quality session in the other, every week. Alternate between two quality ride/one quality run weeks and one quality ride/two quality run weeks. This is about the same as Option 3 in terms of balancing stress and risk management.

Example

Tuesday: 1:00 bike with middle 20 min. @ 40K race effort

Thursday: 0:45 run w/ 5 x 1K @ 5K race pace

Friday: 1:00 bike w/ 5 x 3:00 hill intervals

Option 5: Two full quality sessions in each discipline every week. I recommend this formula only for elite short-course specialists and for serious competitive triathletes during brief overreaching periods.

Example

Tuesday: 1:00 bike with middle 0:20 @ 40K race effort

Wednesday: 0:45 run w/ 5 x 1K @ 5K race pace

Friday: 1:00 bike w/ 5 x 3:00 hill intervals

Thursday: 0:50 run w/ middle 0:20 at half-marathon race effort

You may need to experiment a bit to find which of these options works best for you. Good luck with it.

Matt

To learn more about our experts, as well as to read answers to other submitted questions, visit the Ask The Experts homepage. Have a question for Mario or Matt? Submit it here.

[sgi:MattFitzgerald]

Get our best running content delivered to your inbox

Subscribe to the FREE Competitor Running weekly newsletter

Top Stories

Videos

Photos