Created On: 21 March 2012

In this article, Dave Lonnen, running coach and Ex-International athlete, with over 30 years of experience, shares his expertise to help you prepare for the upcoming triathlon season.

If you are one of the many triathletes who just go out and run with no specific goal or focus in mind, then this article is for you.  Your pre-season running programme needs to be structured to improve your olympic distance 10k times, and ideally you should be running a minimum of 3 times a week to improve over this distance.

Over the past 12 weeks your focus will have been on building an aerobic base and strength endurance. To achieve this you should have included threshold intervals of between 800m-2km, at around 85/90% of your max heart rate (mhr) and tempo runs of up to 20 minutes, closer to 80% of mhr.   Assuming your race season kicks off in May, you have 8 weeks to build on your aerobic base and sharpen up.

Interval sessions and tempo running are 2 of the most effective types of training and will improve your running if you practice them consistently.

Interval Running: Interval runs are used to increase anaerobic threshold levels. By repeating sustained hard efforts at near anaerobic condition, the runner improves their ability to run hard without going into oxygen debt.

Interval training also increases a runner's endurance. This means that the runner can continue at a certain pace for an extended period of time.

Finally, interval training builds muscle strength. Typical distance running exercises the leg muscles in a certain range of motion, with the focus on slow-twitch fibers. By running at faster speeds, the runner exercises all leg muscles and improves flexibility during running, both of which will mean improved muscle performance in races. This makes running at a race pace easier and improves top speed for sprint finishes.

Tempo running: This is designed to build strength, endurance and increase your cruising speed, and should be completed on your own or with someone of a similar level. These are of a longer duration and lower intensity than interval runs.  Focus should be on running strong, relaxed and with good form. Do not get drawn into flat out racing with a group, or the objective of the session is lost.

 Developing race fitness.  Some of your intervals should now be completed faster than threshold or race pace and rest should be increased between repetitions to ensure adequate recovery. As we are increasing the intensity of the reps, the total volume of intervals should be reduced.

The following are examples of 3 weekly winter sessions and 3 pre-season sessions:

              Winter (November-February)                      Pre-Season (March-April)

Session 1







Lactate threshold intervals of between 800m - 2km with a fairly short recovery of 60-90 secs.  These should between 85-90% of max or comfortably hard. 

5 x 1.6km (85%),                          

90 secs jog recovery.                                    

3k warm up, 3k warm down.           

Total 14km

Mixture of threshold and max effort intervals of between 800m - 1.5km with a full recovery of 2-3 mins.  These should between 85-95% of max.

4 sets of : 1 x1km  90%)                         

1 min jog recov, then 1 x 600m (95%)   

5 min jog between sets                          

3k warm up, 3k warm down.             

Total 12.4km

Session 2





Steady run with a tempo section.

4 km (70%) 

4km  (80%)

4km  (70%)

Total 12km

Steady run with tempo section.  

4km (70%)

3km (75%)

2km (85%)

1km easy warm down.

Total 10km

Session 3






Aerobic development steady running around 70% of max.

1 hour steady running from October, increasing by 5 mins every 4 weeks to 1hr 15 mins through February. Run off-road working up any hills.

Steady running around 75% of max.

50 - 60 min run approximately 30/40 sec per km slower than 10k race pace.

Brick Sessions. 
I remember my first triathlon 6 years ago. As a runner, with little bike training, I still felt that I could get round on the bike and catch most people on the run leg. I dismounted the bike after the fairly short 20k section, attempted to run but found my legs just would not function.  After I eventually managed to break into a steady jog, my hamstrings then went into cramps, much to the amusement of my watching friends!  I learnt my lesson that day and realised how much time and dedication that triathletes put in to the 3 disciplines. 

Regular running off the bike in training is essential to allow your body to adapt to 'triathlon specific' running.  Your programme should incorporate some form of regular indoor turbo/run sessions or steady outdoor bike/runs. Your cycling and running training should compliment not compete with each other.

Training between races.   Your focus from May to September should be to remain race fit and injury free.  This means allowing adequate rest after a race before embarking on your next interval session.   If you are building up to an end of season Ironman or Half Ironman, do not increase your total weekly mileage or single runs by more than between 5-10% a week.  This also applies to total volume of interval sets, allowing 3-4 weeks to get used to longer interval sets before adding extra reps. Remember, if you keep training through tiredness or a minor injury, you may end up having to take weeks off anyway, when the niggle turns into a serious injury.

To find out more about Dave Lonnen visit


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