Triathlete, duathlete or just someone who likes to be first in line at the café stop. We can all agree that there’s nothing quite like that wobbly-legged sensation when you first shift from two wheels to two feet. Today I’m going to share a few tips and tricks from my own training and racing experience to help you beat the Bambi legs and get you running strong off the bike, ready for next season’s races.

Adjust the effort to finish strong

Overcook the bike – walk (or crawl) the run. Multisport is all about being able to nail your pacing so that you put together the fastest performance over all three disciplines put together. It’s no good smashing out a really impressive-sounding bike split, if that means you’ve got nothing left for the run. You’ll end up losing far more time than if you’d held back a touch on the bike and left yourself some beans for the final stages of the race.

If you’re finding that you consistently get off the bike and your run legs aren’t waiting for you in T2 it could be worth having a play around with your effort levels. Think “comfortably-uncomfortable” while you’re on the bike. You want to be working hard, and in that zone of  “this is tough, but I can maintain it” – not eyeballs out, but also not cruising. It takes discipline – especially if you’re a strong cyclist. But it might be that going just 1 or 2 minutes slower on the bike could actually save you 5-10 minutes later on in the race, because you can actually hold your pace on the run until the finish.

Get your rear into gear

Let your butt do the talking (okay, not literally #DontTrustThatFart) and make sure you’re making use of all of your leg muscles, not just your quads. Think about using your glutes and hamstrings by “pulling up” on the pedals rather than just stomping down – you should find your legs feel that bit fresher when you hit the run.

Increase the cadence

Get your legs ready for the run by just slightly dropping the gearing and increasing your pedalling speed during the last little bit of the bike. I find this helps to get the blood flowing, and gets that muscle memory kicking in for the higher leg turnover of running vs biking.

Don’t be a dinosaur: Run “tall” to stay efficient

We’ve all got them. The race photos where your run form – which in your head resembled that of a graceful gazelle – looks more like a T-Rex who has been at the shandy. Your lower half is sitting on an invisible chair and your upper body is all scrunched forward. When you’re tight and fatigued after the bike, it’s easy to fall into T-Rex mode so really think about running “tall”. It’ll make you more efficient so each stride counts, and you’ll be able to get that all-important oxygen in better. Open up through the chest, keep your shoulders relaxed and down and think about keeping your hips underneath you.

Smile and be your own cheerleader

By the time you get to the run leg of a triathlon, it really is a case of mind over matter – or head over heels. Your brain will start trying to tell you it’s too tough and it hurts too much, way before your body is actually at that stage. Start by smiling – it forces you to relax your face and there’s some research that suggests it actually tricks your brain into thinking you’re having a merry old time. Smiling also usually prompts the loudest cheers from the marshals and the spectators as you run by, which is a great mental boost when things are getting tough. You’ll be amazed by how much more enjoyable the run feels when you spend it smiling and waving instead of frowning.

Your internal dialogue comes into play here too. If you tell yourself that it’s too hard and you can’t do it, your body will start to believe you. Change the narrative. Instead of ‘this is too hard’ switch it for ‘this is tough but that’s what makes it worth doing’. Even if you don’t feel like it, tell yourself that you’re doing an awesome job. It might sound all a bit rainbows and unicorns but having a mantra to repeat when you’re in a dark spot really helps. Mine tend to be “yes I can” and “strong, capable, determined” – but it can be whatever helps you through. “Beer at the finish.” “Running for cake”. “The faster I run the sooner I get to go home.” All totally valid (and all things I’ve said to myself during races).

Brick by brick: practice makes perfect

As much as I wish there was a special potion or a magical spell I could share instead, there’s no getting away from the fact that if you want to run well after riding – you’ve got to practice running after riding. Brick sessions (back-to-back bike and run workouts) are a great way to get your body tuned up and on board with transitioning between the two disciplines. If you’re new to the sport or coming back after a while, start by just tagging a very short run on the end of your bike ride – even if it’s only a jog around the block – to get used to the sensation. Once you’ve done this a few times, you can then start to build up your ‘off the bike’ run distance and even layer up to repeat the bike-to-run a few times to really get the legs going.

I’m not a triathlon coach – but I do train with a coach and spend a lot of time triathloning (a 100% not made-up verb), so below I’ve given examples of a few of the sessions I tend to do. Rated by ‘spice level’ (aka how difficult they’re going to feel) so you can choose when the best time is to try them, depending on your other sessions and how you’re feeling.

Sample training sessions to improve your triathlon run

Session 1: Feel the rhythm (spice level: chicken korma)

This one is all about building that trust within yourself that you can run off the bike, and that however horrendous those first couple of minutes feel after switching your cycling shoes for your running shoes – your body will find a rhythm. Don’t give up, until you’ve warmed up.

The actual distances will all be relative to your race distance, but the idea of this session is to bring together a slightly longer ride and run to build your endurance, test out your fuelling strategy and practice settling into your run after a bit of time in the saddle.

For sprint and standard distances, I’d opt for around 45 mins – 1hr on the bike, followed by 20-30 minutes of running. Stepping it up to middle distance (or half ironman as it’s sometimes known), aim for around 2hrs on the bike and an hour run. And then for full/Iron distance, depending on where you’re at in your training phase, this could be up to 3-4hrs on the bike followed by 1.5-2hrs of running.

Whatever distance you’re training for, this session is all about keeping the pace nice and easy. Getting time in the saddle and time on your legs. Play around with how much fuel you’re taking on during the bike so you can work out how much you need to feel energised on the run, and what your stomach can tolerate.

Session 2: Ramp it up (spice level: tikka masala)

A bit more intensity than the session above, but not quite as full-on as the one below. Tag a “negative split” run (starting off nice and steady, then gradually increasing your pace as you progress through the run) on to the end of a steady/endurance bike ride.

This session is a great way to practice building into a race effort, without burning all your matches within the first 5 minutes of the run. With the adrenaline pumping it can be easy to set off way too fast at the start of the run. You’ll feel like you’re flying, until it catches up with you. Remember, especially in Iron distance racing, what feels “easy” at the 1km marker will feel anything but a couple of hours down the line.

You’ll find a lot of people start to drop off during the closing stages of the race. So if you can practice the discipline of pacing yourself well at the start, you’ll have enough left to work your way through the field like a little triathlon Pac-Man and finish strong.

Again, distances really do depend on the event you’re training for. As part of my long-distance training, I’d typically go for around 2.5-3hrs on the bike and bring it home with a 10-12km progressive pace run.

Session 3: Deja vu (spice level: pass the milk)

Okay, warning: this one can feel a little bit spicy and it’s something to build up to if you’re new to the sport – so don’t be put off! This is a great higher intensity session for building a bit of speed, while also getting your legs used to moving between bike and run smoothly under fatigue. Set up is key here: I’m fortunate enough to have both a turbo trainer and a treadmill in the garage so I often opt to do my brick sessions indoors purely for the logistics. You could also set up a “transition zone” in your back garden with your kit laid out, or bribe a friend with cake and ask them to guard your bike while you’re running if you’re doing this away from home.

The below is aimed at more of an endurance focus – typically I’ll do the main bike-run set 4-5 times. If you’re racing shorter distances you might want to reduce the length of each set. For example, 10-minute ride, 5-minute run or even 8-minute ride, 2-minute run to really work that explosive power. You can also drop down the number of times you repeat the bike-run set if you’ve not done this sort of session before. Start off with 2 repeats, and build up over time.

Warm up: 10 mins easy spin on the bike – start to build up the effort for the last 2 minutes to get you ready for the main set.
Main set: Bike, run – repeat!
15 minutes ride, 10 minutes run back-to-back (no faffing!) – repeat x 4, taking 1-2 minutes rest between sets.

Aim for around a 7/10 for effort on the first set, and then up the ante on the following two/three – practicing the way you’d (ideally) build your effort through a race to be able to finish strong.

During the last couple of minutes on the bike, try to focus on maintaining the effort (or your power output if you’ve got a power metre) while upping your cadence to get the legs ready for the run.

Cool down: 5 mins easy jog or easy spin on the bike, letting the heart rate gradually come down. Don’t forget your post-workout snacks!

This type of session also provides you with a really good opportunity to practice your transitions – getting your helmet and bike shoes off and your running shoes on as quickly as possible while working at close to race intensity. It might sound basic, but when your heart rate is up, and the adrenaline is rushing through your veins all rational thought can go out the window. Which is why you’ll sometimes spot people heading out of T2 on to the run still wearing their bike helmet, or putting their shoes on the wrong feet! This sort of repetitive practice helps to consolidate the transition into your automatic muscle memory, so you don’t even have to think about it come race day.