The Keys to Having Your Best Run off the Bike

By Coach Mike Stout

Running off the bike can be where the race is won and lost. When I first started doing duathlons and triathlons, I thought the run was going to be my strongest discipline, especially since I came from a running background and considered myself a strong runner. 

Was I ever wrong!

During my first duathlon, on the last run I felt like I was running a marathon with concrete blocks as shoes; yet, it was a 10K. I barely made it across the finish line. I was cramping and hurting so bad. At the finish line, my friends were asking me what happened. 

What happened is that I made every mistake in the book. I learned some hard lessons that day.

Running off the bike can require more effort than stand-alone running for the same speed and distance. Studies have shown that the energy cost during a run off the bike is 1.6 to 11.5% higher than running alone (Millet and Vleck 2000). The energy cost is dependent on the bike intensity, drafting or non-drafting conditions, and the variability of power output. The same study showed an 8% decrease in run efficiency when running off the bike in an Olympic distance triathlon. The decrease in run efficiency can be partly contributed to poor running form. 

Given these challenges, how do we train and race in order to have a successful run off the bike?


Incorporate bike-to-run (BRICK) training sessions in the build up to your race. This allows you to experience the feeling of running on fatigued legs. The goal is to develop the neuromuscular system so that it quickly adapts to running off the bike and transition to your most efficient running mechanics. The runs can be as short as 10 to 20 minutes to see gains but the closer you get to the race the more race specific the bricks should be to race intensity and training stress. This incorporates the principle of specificity into our training and is vital to success.

Including consistent BRICKs into your training regimen has shown to improve the ability to quickly transition to more efficient running mechanics, leading to less fatigue and greater run performance (Howard et al 2010).

Strength Training 

Including targeted and specific strength training into your routine produces significant improvements in running economy & efficiency, form & biomechanics, and overall run performance. A strong runner makes you a faster, more resilient runner off the bike. Strength training can incorporate numerous forms of resistance training including the use of dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, sandbags, weight machines, or body weight.

Hill repeats are another great addition to a program to build run-specific strength and more efficient run form. As an added bonus, strength training not only makes you a stronger runner it also helps you get stronger on the bike. 

Hydration and Fueling

Fueling and hydration are often referred to as the fourth discipline of the triathlon because of how important they are to perform to your full potential. You can do great on the swim and bike, but if you mismanage your fueling and hydration strategy then the run performance off the bike is going to suffer. Developing this strategy starts during training and is developed over time.


A triathlon is a single sport, and pacing each portion impacts the next discipline. A pacing strategy includes all three disciplines with the goal of having a successful finish at the race. If you do not pace the swim and bike correctly then your run will be impacted. 

Knowing your race specific measurement(s) of intensity that you can sustain AND be able to run is critical. Testing and verifying those metrics during training confirms what works best for you to have a good run off the bike.

 Race Day Pacing Strategies: Triathlon describes triathlon pacing strategies for the different distances. The article describes how to use intensity factor (IF) and training stress score (TSS) to establish race day metrics. Determining these metrics early during training allows you to ride at an intensity that will produce an optimal bike split and best possible run off the bike. 

The table below sets some parameters to determine what your IF and TSS for the bike should be for an IRONMAN race. This needs to be verified during training but can serve as a good guide.

Run Form

Running after swimming and biking means that we are running in a fatigued state. Poor running form will be magnified throughout the run. Now is the time to work on improving your running form so that when you get off the bike you know what “right” for you feels like. Maintaining good running form will help you run faster and avoid injury. The more resilient your running mechanics the better you will run off the bike.  

Run Form Basics & Correctives addresses some of the basics of run form and provides some drills and strength work to help analyze and improve run form.

Running off the bike is challenging and can be very uncomfortable both physically and mentally. But by applying these keys and incorporating some of these techniques now, you can have a strong run and a successful race.


Haworth, Joshua & Walsh, Mark & Strang, Adam & Hohl, Jeff & Spraets, Sarah & Wilson, Michelle. (2010). Training for the Bike to Run Transition in Triathlon. International Conference on Biomechanics in Sports.

Millet, G. P., & Vleck, V. E. (2000). Physiological and biomechanical adaptations to the cycle to run transition in Olympic triathlon: review and practical recommendations for training. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 34(5), 384–390.


The Keys to Having Your Best Run off the Bike
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