Racing, That Triathlon Show, Training

How to improve your running with sub-4 minute miler Sean Jefferson

 February 8, 2017

By  Mikael Eriksson

That Triathlon Show - Episode 18

Run like sub-4 minute miler and pro triathlete Sean Jefferson

Triathlon running with Sean Jefferson

Sean Jefferson is a former professional mid-distance runner with a mile personal best of 3:56. After suffering from many injuries while training and racing for the Nike Elite team, he turned to triathlon to keep fit, and quickly got so good that he qualified for a pro card. Sean joins us today to talk about triathlon running and how to become faster in the deciding leg of the sport. 


Sean's background

1:00 -

  • Sean grew up in Florida, playing sports like soccer (primarily) and baseball growing up.
  • He got into running in middle school and high school, and went on to compete at the college level at Indiana University.
  • After college he joined the Nike running team in Eugene, Oregon, to run professionally.
  • He spent 3 years with Nike, but didn't have the success he wanted and had had at college level. Sean had a lot of injury problems, and couldn't get into consistent periods of running.
  • As cross-training during injuries he was swimming and biking, and he also started racing triathlons while injured to stay in shape.
  • Just a year after starting racing triathlons in 2009 he became eligible to turned pro, and decided to pursue triathlon and ITU-racing instead of running.
  • ITU-racing is very difficult without a strong swim background, and after missing out on going to the Olympics, he's now turning his attention to 70.3 racing.

Sean's triathlon run training advice

6:55 -

  • The kind of run training that has worked best for Sean (the kind he was doing at high school and college level when he was extremely competitive over a variety of distances) was based around threshold running.

    His training was more similar to a 5k or 10k runner's training than a milers. 

    His mileage was in the region of 75-90 miles per week, depending on the time of year.
  • At Nike, his mileage remained the same, but he did a lot more higher-intensity training (three track workouts per week), but that resulted in his persistent injury problems.
  • In his triathlon run training, Sean now employs a similar strategy to his earlier days, with more threshold running and only sprinkling in a little higher intensity running.
  • ​A favorite threshold workout of Sean's is a moderate intensity 6-mile progression run, cutting down from 5:30 per mile pace to 5:00 pace.

    It's a strength building workout that he typically does a bit earlier in his season, and then it progresses to become longer over the course of the season.
  • Sean is the run coach of Holly Lawrence, Ironman 70.3 World Champion in 2016, since May 2016.
"The biggest thing for triathletes of any level is knowing paces and how to pace themselves."
  • Your run training progression must be one that you can handle without getting injured.
  • It should also fit into your schedule your priorities with regard to your specific needs - if you're already a great runner, then running more just to hit a certain number of miles is a waste of time, and you might be better off doing more swimming or biking.
  • Scheduling in two to three quality sessions per week and a long run is a generalized model that works for many triathletes. But there is a lot of individual variation.
  • Sean doesn't try to correct the running form of the athletes he coach. This might cause them to run less efficiently instead of more efficient.

    He prefers to use running hills and strides as methods to help improve running form. The most important thing, though, is being consistent and building up volume in a smart way. 

Sean's swim training advice

19:35 - 

  • When Sean first got started in triathlon he just joined a masters' swim club to train with.
"I didn't know the difference between a 50-meter pool and a 25-yard pool."
  • Sean says that his baseline level was "not even being able to hold a 1:30 per 100 m pace" (which by most age-group triathletes' standards is still very fast).
  • He didn't have a lot of technique coaching. He just jumped in with a couple of other pros and tried to do what they were doing. 
  • He then joined a high school team swam with them to get more technique work and more swim training volume. 
  • While useful in many ways, there were still a lot of aspects to that training that wasn't specific enough for triathlon swimming, and eventually Sean started working with Gerry Rodrigues (who's been on That Triathlon Show to talk triathlon swimming).
  • During his first years with Gerry, he swam 50 000 - 60 000 yards per week, swimming twice three days per week and once a day most other days.
  • For Sean, the open-water swim training was one of the things that helped him the most, and really taught him how to race triathlons. 
  • Other than that, consistency and having Gerry as a coach who held him accountable were the most important things that helped Sean improve his swim so that he could race at the highest level.
  • Sean says that if he could go back in time, he could have saved two years by getting a coach immediately when he started swimming. Someone who could have helped him with his specific swimming needs, and not just given him a paper plan.

Rapid-fire questions

26:55 -

  • What's a personal habit that's helped you achieve success? Getting 8 to 9 hours of sleep per night plus a nap during the day.
  • Favorite piece of gear or equipment: Paddles in swimming, and his bike in triathlon.
  • Favorite book, blog or resource: The Tower 26 Be Race Ready podcast

Connect with Sean

Learn more about That Triathlon Show

That Triathlon Show is a weekly interview show from Scientific Triathlon. It’s designed to help age-group triathletes discover ways to train smarter, race faster and achieve their triathlon and fitness goals. 

You can check out the schedule of upcoming episodes and the complete archive of previous episodes here.

Mikael Eriksson

I am a full-time triathlon coach, founder of Scientific Triathlon, and host of the top-rated podcast That Triathlon Show. I am from Finland but live in Lisbon, Portugal.

Please contact me if you have feedback on the podcast or want to make suggestions for improvement or send in a question for a Q&A episode.

If you are a long-time listener and appreciate the value the podcast brings, please consider taking a couple of minutes for leaving a rating and review on iTunes/Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you can think of leaving a rating and review.

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