Dr. Dan Interview 2: Running
Dr. Dan Plews is a world class endurance sports scientist and coach. He’s one of our founders and leading minds behind the TRIQ app and also happens to be the IRONMAN® Kona age-group course record holder. In our 6-interview series we will try to ask him as much as possible about the triathlon sports, his personal journey and the science that allows the TRIQ app to plan triathlon training in a truly dynamic way.
What are the first long-distance runs you remember growing up?
I’ve been running for a long time, so I guess long is relative. I remember I used to run a hilly 5 km loop when I was younger, and at the time it felt like a very long way! I think I was about 10-11 year old the at the time
Running motions are highly individual. What should everyone learn about running technique?
Hips forward and run tall is a good and simple tip.
What can and can’t be changed when it comes to running motions?
I think you can almost change anything with enough persistence. Foot landing (pronation, etc) is really hard to change. I think everyone should try and run with somewhat of a natural style though.
What is the role of running in triathlon training from a physiological standpoint?
Running is often where the race is won and lost, so it plays an important part in the overall outcome often. Especially over longer distances I’ll repeat the saying again: „cycle for show and run for dough“.
What are the longest type of training runs you regularly did in preparing for Kona?
I did a couple of 3 hour runs, which were around 35 km. One of which was in Kona itself.
How many marathons did you run in your life?
Six. Five in an IRONMAN® and 1 on a treadmill (crazily).
What do you enjoy about running?
The simplicity, all you need are running shoes. It’s also really time efficient, a 1 hour run is a good workout!
Do you listen to audio during your runs and if so, what do you listen with?
I never listen to music when I run. I just like to disconnect (no phone either).
Have you had running injuries? How do you prevent them?
I’ve had a lot of achilles and calf injuries. The best way to prevent them for me is to keep on running all the time. I’ve found, if I have time off and start running again I can often get injured—this is even more the case as I have gotten older!
Can you shortly explain Critical Run Speed and how to test it?
Critical run speed is around threshold running speed. Which (for most) is around 10-15 km race pace. You can do this by running an all out 5 km, then there are formulas that extrapolate the result to threshold running speed.
Could you give us a short introduction to carbon plate running shoes and when to use them?
How long have you got! This is a massive topic. On every step, the stiff carbon fibre plate helps the foam compress and expand more quickly, returning more energy to the runner. The general consensus that this technology is best left for racing, and then training should be done in normal shoes. I however use them all the time. I find they help me to generally run more, which has to be positive.
Did you ever run into fatigue issues during a race or have to quit?
Can you share some personal insights regarding cycling to run transition and clothing?
If I’m training, I will actually always get changed from cycling to running shorts. However, for racing, triathlon suits have thin shammy, so you can run more easily. If I’m doing a bike/run/bike/run session, I will wear triathlon specific bike shorts.
Were you always a good runner? What areas did you specifically work on?
I was always a pretty good runner, even from an early age. But I also discovered I was much better at running in IRONMAN® events and distances rather than the Olympic distance. I didn’t work on any areas specifically, I just kept training, and managed to not get injured.
What is your favorite time of day and scenery for runs?
Always the morning and I like to keep off-road on gravel trails if I can. I have a gravel trail from my house than runs along the coast line here in NZ.
What are your thoughts on brick sessions regarding when and how to do them?
A brick session to me consists of multiple bike/run/bike/run combinations. It was actually named after a friend of mine in Auckland Matt Brick, a former world duathlon champion. These are great sessions to do in the build-up to a race to practice the bike to run transitions. This type of training is more important to shorter distance races, as the bike to run transition is important, and athletes need to adjust fast. Generally it’s encouraged that brick OR specific, cycling to running sessions are done once per week during the competition phase of training.
How important is strength training for triathlon running and what exercises are important?
Specific strength training is really important (hill running, over-gearing on the bike), but I’m not a big fan of going to the gym and lifting heavy weights with sets and reps. Using exercises that focus on stability and functional movements is the key for triathlon rather than increasing maximal strength.
What are your thoughts on speed training in running and what part should it play?
Speed training is a funny word, as it typically means faster than race pace. If you’re doing a Full Distance IRONMAN® this isn’t very fast! But of course, Sprint and OD is a different story. Every athlete should incorporate some speed work into their running. Typically I like to start the training season with shorter reps of higher speeds, and then extend the duration of the reps as the race approaches.
What are your thoughts on cadence and ground contact time and how to improve them?
A reasonable target for most athletes in terms of running rpm is 90 rpm (1 leg, so 180 in total). Many athletes run at a cadence that’s too low, and it’s definitely something worth working on. The best way to work on it is to be more conscious of it. There are also some specific drills that can be done to ensure you have a short ground contact time. Also don’t over exaggerate movements that cause the stride sequence to be slow (e.g. too high knee lift).
What should athletes be aware of when using a treadmill for training?
Treadmills put more forces through the calf and achilles. So that is something to be careful of and too much treadmill running should really be avoided (less than 40% of weekly running volume). However, I love the treadmill and think it’s a great training tool. It really helps athletes to focus on form and being efficient. E.g. simply by keeping the treadmill at the same speed and then trying to reduce HR. Using treadmills for specific runs off the bike is great. I typically perform 75% of my off the bike runs on the treadmill which is typically once per week in the early phase of training, and moving to 2 times just before peak competition. When I do use the treadmill, I connect it to Zwift via a footpod.
Are you someone who also runs with a training partner and has conversations during running?
I run on my own mostly. But if I do run with a training partner it’s great to have a chat when running. Many of the world’s problems are solved on a long run with a mate.
What are some good tools to analyze and improve running technique and stability?
I don’t have much for you there. You can do Gait analysis with cameras, but this requires expertise and a trained eye.
Do you use Strava, do you give kudos and if so what runs do you give kudos for?
I don’t really use Strava. I am a member but rarely look at it. I tend to use Zwift more and give lots of „Ride Ons“, but they have to be either really long or really fast (or both!).