Forget the saying “The hay is in the barn”. Around here we deal in bricks. Hard, heavy, and strong bricks. For those not initiated into triathlon yet, a brick is what we call a bike / run workout. It is meant to simulate the last two legs of the race, and is very effective. It is aptly named a ‘brick’ because your legs feel heavy like there are bricks tied to them when you start the run.
As fun as it sounds to run with bricks tied to your feet, this workout is a cornerstone in any triathlon program. Or I should say that it is in any successful program? The fact is that not everyone does bricks regularly. This is very shocking to me, and it can only be because they don’t understand just how important, but moreso how effective a training tool they are.
Admittedly I have been sans bricks for the past few months. In my defense though it has been what would normally be the off season and I turned over to a run focus based on trying to get faster. However, my coach has been peppering them back in, smaller for now, but starting to lay the foundation for the months to come.
My workout last night consisted of a challenging 60 minute bike followed by an easier 120-130 bpm heartrate run. The idea wasn’t too kill it the whole time but more to wake to legs up to the shift of usage that comes in T2. The bike was tough, and I think I rated it a 7 on my Traininpeaks report, but the run felt pretty relaxed which it was supposed to be. Since it was one of my first bricks of the new season, keeping the transition light is better to play it safe and stay injury free.
During the season as training ramps up so do the bricks, and towards the final builds of an Ironman training block one can expect to do 4-5+ hour rides with another 1-1.5 hour runs immediately after. Followed by a long run of 2+ hours the following day. But getting there takes time, energy, and patience. Competing in Ironman races definitely comes with some bragging rights among your sedentary friends, but there is a lot of work that goes into it.
There are some shortcuts though, and while they don’t replace time put in, they can simulate a physical reaction that takes alot of time to get to. One tactic my coach uses is multiple bricks in the same session. For example combining 3 x (40 minute cycle 20 minute run) for 3 hours in total. It speeds up the timing because you are able to push a little harder each time, making the last set feel like you have been riding for the 5 hours and are at the end of the long run. You deplete the energy quicker, still have good volume, and can simulate the experience without having to put in all the time. For those with a treadmill this type of combo is perfect over the Winter. It breaks up the monotony of stationary exercise into bite sized chunks, and you come out of your caves in the Spring ready to push even harder.
Something I always wondered was how quickly athletes need to go from a bike to a run in order to reap the benefits of this type of training. If you have to change or secure your bike before you can run it will take time, does that diminish the results of the workout? In my experience it does not. If you are able to plan ahead properly, and establish what you will do before hand it doesn’t typically take more than 10-15 minutes at max do do a transition at home or in a parking lot. But this is another opportunity to practice part of the race that doesn’t get a lot of attention which is transition. If you are home and can setup a race simulation of T2, go for it. If not, practice putting your shoes on quickly especially when tired and sweaty. Lay out some nutrition, and eat it on the go. It is the little things like this that can wind up making a big difference during a race.
Triathlon boils down to strength and endurance. The more you have of both the more successful you will be, but like anything else you need to hone your skills specific to your sport. The closer you can mimic the swim, bike, and run aspects that you encounter on race day, the better the results. So stop breaking up the bikes and runs and make sure you do at LEAST 2 bricks a week. Build that strong foundation on bricks now, and it will be there for you all season.