Triathletes will spend thousands on a set of bike wheels to gain a few watts advantage. Most of the time, this equals only seconds over the shorter distance races. Even on long courses the time savings is often minimal with a high financial outlay.
Here we will talk about a technique that runners have used forever, but is rarely discussed with new triathletes. Running the tangents.
What does running the tangents mean? Essentially it means running the shortest distance possible on a course. In order to do this, you must run in the straightest line possible, and on the inside edges of all turns, or from inside edge to inside edge. On a particularly curvey course there is a significant amount of distance to make up by taking the inside edges, and the straightest course possible. To give an idea, on an 8 lane track, the outside lane can be over 50 meters longer than the inside lane per lap. In Ironman Lake Placid, because of the winding River Road out and back, I have measured almost a quarter mile of difference on the marathon by running the tangents. If you run at 8:00/mi pace, that is 2 minutes in the bank and it didn’t even cost you anything.
The difficulty here is staying focused on the path and not the pain. It is doubly difficult because we tend to run in the shoulder while training, and this has become a habit for many people. So when they travel to bigger races and the shoulder is not the only place to run (often times the full road or lane is closed) there is no thought to adjust course. However, the wider the path the bigger the possible gains. As easy as it sounds though, even for those that are focused, when we tire out towards the end of the race we tend to follow an edge of the road instead of keeping our lines straight. We also drift considerably due to aid stations and passing other runners. This zigzagging costs time and energy.
So practice running more efficiently by taking the shortest and straightest route between points and turns, and when that isn’t possible for safety reasons, visualize it during practice. In your mind review the course map and know where the turns are and be ready when they come. Doing this will help running the tangents become second nature and the results will yield better results for your run legs.