Learn the secret of every good triathletes running performance: The Brick…

The Brick

You know that pained expression you see on the faces of people running at triathlons? Ever wondered why people at running races don’t look quite so distressed? It’s all down to the very special feeling of running off the bike.

It’s this problem that most troubles seasoned runners who turn to tri. They will often expect to be able to hop off the bike and run at their usual 5k or 10k pace, but after even half an hour on the bike their bodies will have other ideas. You might think that cycling is a good warm-up for a run, and in terms of getting your heart rate up gradually and your legs moving, it is, but in every other respect it’s very different. On the bike, you’re placing more load on different muscles in your legs, so your blood is pooled in the wrong place when you get off and start running. Your hips will have been compressed into a forward tuck, so you’re feeling stiff and unable to stride out properly. Your upper body will have been virtually motionless, so suddenly having to use your core to stand up tall feels like a gargantuan effort. To top it off, your feet have been fixed on the spot in stiff cycling shoes, so they’ve gone numb. The effect all this has is to slow you down, bringing your morale crashing to the floor.

If this sounds bleak then don’t worry. There are two solutions. The first is to accept that you’ll never run quite as fast in a tri as you would in the equivalent distance road race. The second is to do brick sessions whenever you can. These bike to run sessions help prepare you physically and, perhaps more importantly, mentally for the run part of your tri. They take a bit of planning as the sessions are only effective if you can get from bike to run as quickly as possible. That means setting up a mini transition area somewhere. The easiest way to do it is from home, leaving your running shoes just inside the door and being ready to throw your bike into the hallway. For a slightly longer transition, you can use a light lock to set up a transition in the park, using a light backpack to stow your kit. Or use the bike and treadmill in the gym for ultra short transitions. Whatever you do, don’t allow yourself to sit down for a rest in between disciplines.

If you’re still struggling after training with bricks for a few weeks, then have an expert look at your bike set-up. It could be that you are adopting too aggressive a position, which is going on to hamper your run; or it could just be that your bike doesn’t fit and that’s leading to biomechanical issues. It also helps to do a quick form check as you start running, straightening up to run tall and ensuring you bring your legs through a good stride cycle to get their range of motion back. Some people find it helps to actually sprint out of transition just to get into running mode as quickly as possible.

Four brick sessions for every ability

1. The mini brick

This is a great session for shorter races. Use a gym bike and treadmill, or a turbo set up in your garage with a short circuit around the block, to complete three or four mini bricks in a row, cycling hard for 15 minutes before running hard for five.

2. The long brick

The length of your run isn’t especially important in a brick as you’ll have adapted to the run after about 10 minutes. But the length and intensity of your bike does matter, so after your long ride each week aim to hop straight off and run a mile or so.

3. The build brick

Do a 30-minute ride as a 10-minute warm-up, then build your intensity by 5-10% every five minutes until you’re riding really hard. Jump off and start running as hard as you can for five minutes, gradually easing off every two minutes after that until you’re at cool-down pace.

4. The commuter brick

Regular bike commuters can make the most of their habit by turning one ride a day into an easy brick. All you need to do is leave your trainers somewhere handy at home, ride home in your tri kit and do an easy five or 10-minute jog as soon as you get back. This will just help your body to expect a run after you ride – you’ll be master of the changeover come race day.

WORDS: Elizabeth Hufton IMAGES: Joby Sessions

Carry on your triathlon training with our dedicated section filled with all you need to know about the three disciplines.