running technique

Pre-Hab for Triathletes


Do you like being injured? Do you look after the little things as well as you could? Massage, nutrition, sleep, relaxation, balanced lifestyle etc?

One of the key areas outside of training & sleeping to enhanced performance for me is something called ‘Pre-Hab’.

What is Pre-Hab?

Pre-Hab (Pre Habilitation or doing things to prevent injury) is often low down the list of priorities for most people trying to balance training with the rest of their lives.

This is normal; we have jobs, families, and lives and are simultaneously trying to get better at three disciplines (and transitions). However, as a coach one of the most difficult scenarios I come across is the athlete struggling mentally due to long-term and sometimes short-term injuries.


One of the biggest problem areas for triathletes is the lower limb; calves, shins, Achilles and feet. Why?

Because our lower limbs are the only weight bearing area we have in triathlon (ignoring saddle sores for Ironman athletes!). A 75kg athlete will have 13,500kg (180 steps per min x 75kg) coming down through their legs every minute, so if it takes them 40mins to run 10km that’s 540,000kg going through the lower limbs. The numbers get significantly bigger over the Ironman marathon, of course.


Some of the body’s natural counters to this force coming down through your limbs are the fascia, muscle, tendons and ligaments throughout the body. These amazing structures provide elasticity to our running and will generate nearly half the energy required to provide your next foot strike. This is called the Stretch Shortening Cycle (SSC) and you will see this in action with most elite runners/ triathletes.

Running well

Progression and overload

One of the other key training principals for lowering injury rates is the correct progression and overload used throughout the year. For example if you are new to running and you chose to go out and run every day for the first month due to your new found love of running, it’s highly likely you will get injured. At the other end of the spectrum, if you are an elite athlete and you decide to take your running from 100kms per week up to 130kms per week without progressing slowly with around 10% increments per week, again guess what?

Running surface

The type of running surface can also make a massive difference to the lower limb injury rate of athletes. I don’t know how many runners I have spoken to who swear by the cross-country season ‘strengthening’ their running for the summer. I agree with this, however not only does it strengthen them, it also enhances their proprioception (your sense of where you are in the world) and balance as they struggle in the mud, up and down hills and through wood/ forests etc. Importantly keeping them off hard running tracks, roads and paths and on softer fields and grass areas.

If you can get to it sand is also a great surface to run on


The type of training shoe can also increase your risk of injury not only through turning an ankle if you are wearing thick/ cushioned trainers (clodhoppers!), but this type of training shoe also lowers your feeling for the ground and reduces your proprioception. If you run well, some more natural shoes or light racing flats will enhance your feel for the ground and improve your running.

Importantly, they are not overly cushioned so don’t allow you to slam your heel into the ground when you run. Heel striking sends masses of force through your bones, not through the ligament, tendons, fascia and muscles as it naturally should.

Weak signals

Weak signals are things like that tight calf you had the other day after your run, but you didn’t think it was bad enough to stop and it felt ok the next day so you didn’t get it treated… sound familiar?


Muscle Energy Techniques describes a broad class of manual therapy techniques directed at improving musculoskeletal function or joint function, and improving pain. These are simple techniques that can be applied by a therapist/ physio or can be done as self treatment or by a coach/ parent.


Foam rollers are a great addition to your pre-hab routine, but in my opinion the effect is not as specific as using the MET’s especially on the calf area. Moreover, I feel very uneasy when I see athletes rolling up and down a muscle because we know that veins have valves to stop back flow of blood and this rolling back and forth could cause damage to the valve.

Stop stretching (so much)

It was always my routine years ago; back from a run, spend 20mins stretching and not just regular stretching but ‘developmental’ stretching i.e. taking the muscle group to its fullest range and holding the stretch for 30 seconds+. This form of stretching can take functionality/ elasticity away from the muscles. Therefore if you run again the next day or more importantly if you do static stretching pre-event/ workout this could lead to muscle damage or injury as you start to run.

I am not saying DON’T do stretching but it needs to be strategically placed into your training week and 100% doing more ballistic movements pre event/ workout will help lower your risk of injury.


I have been working with flushing since the early 2000’s and there are two key benefits to flushing.

  1. It gently puts the muscle fibers under tension for four to six seconds around three times, to ensure they are elongated and re-aligned (muscle soreness arising from micro tears).
  2. Putting the circulatory system, for that particular muscle group, say hamstrings, through vasoconstriction/ vasodilation. The thinking behind this is to increase the blood flow into that specific muscle group, thus increasing healing properties (new blood).

Importantly flushing is all done while walking back to your car/ home after a hard session and so you are never static/ still getting cold in winter or reducing your time to post-event fuelling.

Happy training

Done in an hour: Run


The third in our series of “Done in an hour” articles is looking to give you three run sessions specifically targeting skills and technique, technique and aerobic capacity and finally lactate tolerance and strength.

Running is by far the predominant area in which triathletes pick up most of their injuries and this can be caused by poor technique, over training (as it is the only weight-bearing discipline) or conducting brick type sessions thus running tired off the bike (again poor technique/ poor economy of motion).

It is also the area where if you are not strong physically or mentally, you will always end your triathlon experience on a low.  How nice would it be to be coming in off the bike thinking “I have worked hard on my running over winter, I can’t wait to get on the run and put it into practice” That said, if you have just hammered the bike to try and get a good time, thus worked above your functional power threshold, no amount of run training is going to save you from the pain!

Before we start, remember we are not runners, we are triathletes.  Therefore, we ride before we run and when we ride we rely heavily on our quads, they (our quads) then become very tired, so we do not want to over use them on the run.  Instead we want to utilise our hamstrings and only use our quads as stabilisers.

Session one

I find the introduction of a treadmill really speeds up the learning process when coaching athletes. You see when you increase the incline, the athlete naturally has to run with soft knees and as you increase the speed the athlete is forced into recruiting the running muscles in the correct pattern (with some coaching!). I have seen some dramatic results using this technique and it negates the need of long sessions on the track trying to teach athletes (especially juniors) optimum economy of motion.

Skill/technique: the aim is to improve the neural firing patterns of your running muscles.

Equipment required: skipping rope, treadmill, mirror, video camera (use your mobile phone), friend/ partner.

Warm up: Skipping for 5mins (you can build this until you can skip for the time it will take you to run 10km), do not increase duration of skip by more than 10% each week and use single leg skipping not just double feet. (Time 5mins)

Main set: Put the treadmill up to about 10-12% and at a speed that is around your 10km race pace.  Straddle the treadmill, test the pace of the treadmill with one foot, keep holding onto the side and the jump on. Keep hold of the sides until you are comfortable running then let go.

Set 1 = 4 x 1min with 3mins recovery between (jump off treadmill once finished first run and just walk around) Set 2 = 4 x 30 secs (increase speed + 1km per hour, ie if on 10kph go to 11kph) with 3mins recovery between each rep. Set 3 = 2 x 15 secs increase incline by 2% and increase speed by 2kph with 3mins recovery between each rep. (Time 43mins)

Cool down: 5mins easy spin on bike. (Time 5mins)

(Total session time 53mins)

Ask a friend to video your running so you can let your coach see it or try to do some self analysis. Here are some points to focus on while watching.

A Stay tall and lift the chest. Limit the twisting of the shoulders and arms crossing the midline. Drive arms forward and back like a sprinter (not such big movements!).
B Centre of gravity constantly moves forward stabilised by glutes, quads and trunk muscles. Body has a very slight forward lean.
C High heel lift uses hamstrings (which are not so tired off the bike!) to accentuate recovery and flow. Watch Tim Don running to see how well he does this!
D Knee does not so much lift as drive through/ forward with a mid/ forefoot strike. Skipping will help to strengthen this stance. This optimises the stretch/shortening cycle. Foot does not go forward of the knee prior to strike which reduces the load on the quads to a stabilisation process - they are tired after the bike.
E Legs cycle in a continuous flow under the hips. Lift the heel and the knee at the same time.

NB: It takes the mind and body (neural pathways) around six weeks to develop/ learn a new skill, so persevere; you’ll soon be injury free and flying!

Session two

Technique/aerobic aim: to develop running skills while developing aerobic capacity

Equipment required: running track, HR monitor, video

Warm up: 10mins easy jogging (Time 10mins)

Drills: about 5mins of different running type drills, ballistic stretch (ask someone if you don’t understand this term) (Time 5mins)

Main set: 6 x 1mile reps at 10k race pace (ie off the bike run pace) – on laps 2 and 4 focus on the above running skill points and on laps 1 and 3 ensure you maintain the correct pace. Take 90 seconds to 3mins (depending on fitness) recovery between each rep but do not just stand around go through running drills. This is not a stressful session and as you complete the reps think “could I maintain this pace in a race”? If you work too hard you will not be able to focus on good form on laps 2 and 4. (Time 30/ 35 mins)

Again try to get a friend to record what your running is looking like; visual feedback can paint a thousand words.

Cool down: 5 – 10mins easy jog and static stretch (Time 5 mins)

(Total session time 55 mins)

Session three – SUPER-SET

Lactate tolerance strength aim: to increase the rate of lactate dissipation from cells and increase run specific strength.

Equipment required: strong heart and mind, track, HR monitor

Warm up: do four laps of the track: first is easy, second medium, third is building from medium to hard and finish with one lap as pick up’s (50 hard 100 easy etc) then do some ballistic stretching (ask someone!) (Time 10 mins)

Main set: this set is done at maximum effort throughout. As you go through 200m into 400m the build up of pyruvate and proton accumulation at cell level ensures you will not be able to keep up the 200m pace and it's the same for the 1km. This is a fantastic session to increase the mental strength of the athlete, as they have to hold onto form as they endure the pain, it makes running off the bike a doddle!

Start with a 200m run, straight into a 400m run then straight into 1km. There is no rest between each distance. Recovery is waiting until HR drops below 120 bpm or for around 90 secs to 3mins depending on fitness. Repeat this 1 to 6 times (Time 30 – 35 mins)

Depending on your fitness you will start to get jelly legs as you head into the second half of the 400m phase (600m) and it is at this point you will need to be mentally strong to hold good form (the first 2 to 600m is where you will develop run specific strength). As you get into the 1km part, you will not be running fast, but just trying to hold good form and a moderate pace. It is during this phase you are training the body to dissipate the lactate from the cells. As you improve your fitness/ strength you will be able to run the last km at closer and closer to race pace.

Don’t worry so much about the times you take to run each segment, just try and keep working at your maximum intensity for the specific distance.

One of the main limiting factors of white (as opposed to African endurance runners is their lack of strength endurance, improve your specific run strength and watch your run times tumble.

Cool down: do at least 10 mins of easy jogging – when you get home do hot and cold contrast on your legs; get in a shower (or bath with ice in) and run cold water over your legs for about 5mins – then put it to hot and repeat the process (try and cover all of the major muscles from the hips down) repeat x 3 to 6. (Time 10 mins)

(Total training time 55 mins)