Triathlon is an endurance event that consists of three separate sports. This is obvious for those that train and participate in the sport. However, most triathletes don’t condition themselves well enough to actually “race” a triathlon. For the most part, they train to complete a swim, bike or run session but on an individual basis. “BRICK” workouts can be used as a key endurance build in your training plan and race preparation. It also can be used to maximize time constraints and help reduce the chances for injury.
The traditional and standard “BRICK” is the Bike-Run. This helps simulate what it feels like on race day to transition from the bike to the run. Moving from one sport to another is what makes triathlon so different than performing the sports on an individual basis. Mastering this feeling allows for breakthrough races because the time from struggling to running freely is cut down to hopefully just the first mile or two of the event. The more you become accustomed to the feeling, the better you will be with adapting and overcoming it. For some triathletes, half or even all of the run seems like you have legs of stone and are just plodding to the finish line. If you work at this type of “BRICK” on a routine basis (at least 2x per month), you will eventually become a better runner off the bike. The Bike-Run ‘‘BRICK” should be in proportion to the distance of the race to you are competing in. If you are doing sprints and Olympic distance races consider doing half to ¾ of the event as close to race pace as possible. For an Ironman and Half Ironman, after a ride close to race distance, consider having a focus on running about 7-10 miles for the half and maybe 13-15 for the full distance.
Another type of “BRICK” to consider doing is the Swim-Bike. This “BRICK” is race specific for triathlon and also if you are considering an Aqua-Bike event. This is popular with those participants that don’t want to run or are dealing with a run related injury. You still are able to swim and bike as a competitor with a separate category and starting wave. USA Triathlon even has a designated National Championship for this multi-sport race. Without the run, it allows an athlete to really push the swim and cycling to their highest level since running off the bike is not required. Training for this is as simple as completing your standard swim session and after changing over consider doing short intense sessions or an extended ride right from your swim location. For those that are competing at a high level, it is common for triathletes to do multiple swim then bike sessions (poolside on a trainer) in order to replicate the intensity of short course racing. This is especially true with draft legal events where the pace is at a maximum for the entire race.
Another “BRICK” often overlooked is the Run-Bike or Run-Bike-Run (Duathlon). This workout has a big plus side for several reasons. First you are able to have a typical run that is higher quality because you are running on fresh legs. When you move to the bike session your body is already warmed up and you will be able to have a more intense ride in a shorter period of time. Second, the real positive of this “BRICK” is that you don’t need to be on the bike as long as a stand-alone ride because you have some cumulative fatigue from the first run. Also by combining the two sessions you are able to do both sessions in a shorter period of time with an equal or greater benefit. If you decide to add an additional run (just like a Duathlon) you will experience the Bike-Run “BRICK” feeling just like a triathlon. This type of “BRICK” may also reduce your chance of running injuries because you can divide your long run into two parts with a recovery period in between while you are cycling.
Six-Time Hawaii Ironman Winner, Dave Scott recommends the Run-Bike-Run “BRICK” especially for Ironman competitors to avoid injury that occur from the traditional long run. He explains, “during long runs, the repetitive eccentric load is what causes joint and muscle damage. You probably know it well: that stiff, sore leg feeling. Whether you realize it or not, as your legs fatigue during a long run you risk altering your normal gait. This can lead to injury. By splitting the long run in two session within this brick, your legs can rebound during the bike, you can finish the workout with a biomechanically solid run and recover faster. You’ll be tired on the bike. This is good! By running first you’ll pre-fatigue your legs for the bike. This is beneficial because you’ll need to focus on maintaining good form while cycling. This means activating your glutes (not your quads!) during the bike. Ultimately run-bike-run training will improve your strength and get you to the starting line with less chance of injury”.
Any type of “BRICK” will help you transition from one event to another. Of course racing is the best form of “BRICK” training but this is not always possible or positive to go an intense level week after week. Most importantly, a “BRICK” will take you from a single session to multiple sessions strung together that will develop a strong endurance foundation just like a race with less intensity (and less cost). Think of it as a true Brick Layer would when he builds a wall, brick by brick and row by row. Eventually you have a strong base foundation. Training is really no different. So if you don’t currently have some type of “BRICK” scheduled into your training plan you are missing a key component that will make you better than your competition.
By Doug Marocco
Doug is a 9X Hawaii Ironman finisher and a former USA Age Group National Champion who likes to work out (a lot).