Triathletes: Why Do So Many of You Hate Running?

Do you hate running or is it just your least favorite tri leg?

Yes, I know saying you hate running is a pretty strong sentiment, but many of you triathletes out there have to admit that the running leg of your triathlon is your least favorite part of the race.

How do I know? Because you have told me time-and-time again over the years. You have come to me for running coaching advice or training because:

  • You don’t like to run at all.
  • You got the swim and bike down, but this run is an absolute killer.
  • You have a cycling or swimming background.
  • It hurts when you run.
  • You’re slow, in your opinion.

I’m going to put on my pop-psychology hat and give you my reasons why you love triathlons but extremely dislike running. Again, I know there are triathletes out there who actually enjoy the run, but I truly believe you’re in the minority…

This proverbial shot across the triathlete boat bow is for those of you who have a slight disdain for footed endurance disciplines.

Cycling kits are just too cool!

Being a life long runner, I have to admit that running shorts and a singlet aren’t the coolest couture off the shelf, but throw on a pro cycling kit and BAM! You are looking something fierce! Even if you’re not the fastest cyclist, putting on that cycling kit makes you feel fast, aerodynamic and sleek as all get-out! Add on some angular tinted eye wear and you are The Terminator triathlete.

No pounding, brother!

Yes, those of us over the age of 35 know that the pounding our body takes on the run versus swimming and cycling is quite disproportionate. Swimming, there is little to no impact whatsoever. Once you get your breathing and stroke down, you’re on your way to aquatic success with consistent hard work. Cycling, as well, has you pedaling a smooth cranked machine, with different types of stresses on your back and arms definitely, but not the same sort of forceful impact that your body is taking with each step your foot initiates with the road on a long run. If you’re new to all three of these endurance disciplines, then most definitely running takes more toll on your body then swimming or cycling.

You’d rather be swimming or cycling

I maybe biased here, but if you’re a runner first, then I think it’s kind of cool to transition from being on the roads with your feet to being on the roads on a bike. You get to go faster and farther on a bike – which endurance runners like. And unless you’re petrified of swimming (which some of us are), it’s a nice break to jump in the pool as a runner and get a tremendous cardio workout without the pounding.

Now, if you’re a cyclist or swimmer first, I can see why you may not warm up so quickly to running. As a cyclist, you now need to get accustomed to greater impact, using opposite muscle groups, not going anywhere nearly as fast as you could on your bike and you can’t even coast down a hill when you’re running – feet need to be always moving if you want to move forward. As a swimmer, you need to be out on the roads almost as long as you do on a bike, but again, not going nearly as fast and with a lot more impact upon your muscles and joints.

Running is hard

I’m not stating that swimming or cycling is easy. To be great in any of these three areas of endurance takes a lot of hard work, dedication, proper nutrition and training. What I am saying is for a certain segment of endurance athletes who are non-runners, running is extremely physically demanding on them.

I know some of you (as I stated previously) are quite scared of the water and being able to swim for long distances without drowning. This is absolutely a real fear for some. But, I think once you get over this fear of swimming in oceans, lakes and having teems of people around you in the water, the actual idea of training for long distance swimming isn’t as distasteful as having to go on a 20-mile run for those of you who aren’t runners first.

Why you should try to embrace running a bit more

I’m not a triathlon coach and don’t claim to be. I know there is a difficult and delicate balance in being a triathlete and having success in all three areas on a given race day.

I will say this though because I am a runner. If I were to ever train for a 70.3 or 140.6, I would run a lot less than I do now and focus more on the cycling and swimming aspects of the race because I’m not naturally strong in those areas.

What I have come across a lot over the years is that many of you who do triathlons and aren’t strong runners, tend to still veer away from running training and focus more on the bike or the pool. Yes, the bike leg of a 140.6 will be on average 48% of your total race and should be focused on more than the running (39%) and swimming (11%) – with remaining 2% for transitions, but I would wager that many of you are cycling more than 10% (in regards to time, not distance) than your running hours.

Breaking it down

The chart below shows how an average triathlete would train, who didn’t like running as much as the other disciplines off of 14-hours training per week. The average triathlon times I have here are based off numbers found on site from Ironman Canada result analytics.

In the top part of the chart we have this triathlete spending 7 hours per week on the bike, 4 hour per week running and 3 hours per week swimming. And while the 50% training time spent with cycling is about right for the 48% of the time he will be racing on the cycle in the 140.6 race, the 29% of the training time for running is too low. And I think that is what is occurring in the training to many of you who dislike the running portion of the triathlon.

The bottom chart shows by adding 1.5 hours to the triathlete’s run training, that he ups his weekly mileage by nearly 40% without losing any miles on the bike.

While swimming 1.5 hours per week seems a bit light, one has to understand that in a real training plan, hours and mileage ebb and flow between the three endurance areas.

hate running training chart

So while you may not have an affinity to the running section of the triathlon, make sure you are training appropriately to get the most out of all your legs.

Happy Training!

Athlinks Staff
Posts by the Athlinks Staff are authored by our in-house group of athletes and subject matter experts in the fields of performance sports, nutrition, race organization, and training.

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  1. Interesting to hear this. But as someone who has trained and competed in Australia, the UK and China, I can say that without a doubt most people will say swimming is their least favourite and most despised leg. Personally I think this is obvious from these reasons alone: 1. Swimming is anti-social. You can’t talk while your training. It’s head down and away you go. Cycling and running are great for socialising. 2. Swimming race events and background athletes are in the smallest proportion. This relates to number 1, but basically there are fewer people coming from swimming backgrounds to triathlons than from cycling and running. Hence the disproportionate numbers. 3. Winter training is difficult, even if the pool is heated. Just from a mindset point of view, most people will stop swimming through winter first, while running is usually the one that is the easiest. 4. Swimming is the least important leg percentage-wise. Of course you can’t win without being a good swimmer, but look at the time spent competing – Olympic – swimming (16%), cycling (50%), running (34%) – Ironman – swimming (10%), cycling (55%), running (35%). Therefore most people will consider swimming training the least important.


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