The Perfect Brick – For Triathlon or Duathlon Training

Duathlon Transition

Duathlon Transition (Photo credit: Oberazzi)

I’ve been experimenting with a few different types of ‘brick’ session over the last year. Mostly they have all served their purpose and worked to varying degrees. Having just done an ‘awful’ brick session this morning I feel compelled to write about these sessions and to tell you that, despite being awful, this morning’s session was useful and beneficial (as brick sessions invariably are for the triathlete/duathlete).

Brick sessions are just two or more sessions tagged together…usually bike and run.

Hopefully you already knew that!

When you first start out training you will wonder why people tell you to do these sessions. Maybe you will ignore them. But after your first triathlon/duathlon you will realise just how awful it is going from bike to run and from run to bike (the latter in the case of duathlon). You might train for swim to run for aquathon or swim to bike for triathlon but it’s mostly, IMHO, the effects of the  ‘run bit’ that your body needs to get to grips with (and the effects of the run on a duathlon bike session AND subsequent run)

Why do we do bricks? I’ve kinda already answered that. The change in ‘sport’ during the race is hard on the body. You are familiarising your body with that.

You might also use a brick to practice your transition skills. Maybe also as a test to see how fast you think you can race at. So let’s say I could average 300+ watts for 20 minutes cycling but I couldn’t do that same performance after just having done a near 5k PB in a duathlon. So you can better guage your du/tri race pace.

I’ll use terminology like RBR to mean Run-Bike-Run. So hopefully you get what RBRBR means! I also train mostly for sprint events but sometimes also standard/Olympic distance. For longer distances you may or may not be able to adapt/extend some of the suggestions I have here.

1. Zone 2 Brick – RBR

For an hour long race I might do a 90 minute brick in Zone 2. I wouldn’t be too bothered about the time it takes to get from one sport to the next. I would look to be high in zone 2 (HR) perhaps moving into Zone 3 (Friel). 10 weeks, or less, away from the event I would NOT do this kind of brick.

2. Race Pace Brick – RBR.

For an hour long race I might do a 10 minute run 25 minute bike and 5 minute run. I would really be trying to do this at or above my race pace goal. Note this is probably going to be at slower than your 5k race pace (as a single event) and slower than your CP30 (as a TT). In reality they will probably be QUITE a bit slower the first few times you try them.

I WOULD be looking to get the ‘transition’ times in a brick down to less than a minute between each sport. Obviously you don’t have to do all the running in T1/T2 as you would in a race but you may have to get your bike in and out of a car or chained to a railing if you are doing this sort of session by yourself in a park. The point is don’t faff about but don’t worry about making it uber slick…yet! But do worry about faffing too much and spending 5 minutes going from one to the next…I’m not sure if tht would lose the physiological gain you are trying to familiarise your body with…I would imagine you WOULD lose it.

I personally would use these as my 4th sunday session in a block of 4 weeks. IE in my easy week!

In my harder weeks I would try the next one

3. Race Pace RBRBR (BR)

As before with shorter individual periods. so say 5+10+5+10+5 (+10+5) minutes.

Personally I would focus on my weakness here. That is getting up to speed at the start of each work period. You might want to work on consistency of pace/power or  cadence or finishing each period strongly.

These are probably all fine tuning details as what you are trying to achieve is the repeated pain and stress of the change in sports. The idea being, as with most training, that your body will adapt and get used to it in time for the race.

4. Strength Brick RBRBR

This is done on hills/gradients.

I would probably try to get this to around an hour and I would use this in the 12 to 6 weeks to go scenario. Trying again to achieve race pace/effort. Although obviously with the hills pace/speed will drop. Cadence will be high. Maybe you can maintain desired power if you have it in you.

5. Skills Brick

With one or two weeks to go I would spend at least 2×1 hours of RBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBR. (Don’t count them! you get the drift). Just trying again and again and again to get the skills right. When you train hard frequently this session feels worthless as it is not physically hard. But making your T1/T2 slick could save 30 seconds but probably only 15 seconds. Still you trying making up 15 seconds on your 5k PB when you next try to do it. 15 seconds is in reality a LOT.

You would accelerate on the run or bike quickly to your race speed and then return to your ‘transition’. Start slowly with the T1/T2 skills and then gradually increase the speed of the changeover.

I would try to know what the transition run surface is like and if the (dis-)mounts are simple. If not I would try to replicate any unusual race specific conditions – I can think for example of one race where you could mount the bike from the path on a kerb.

This gets tricky if elastic bands are involved. You have to improvise (if you don’t understand, don’t worry).

6. Tagalong brick

I train to a plan. And when I feel energised I overtrain to a plan as well 🙂

Just make any single sport session into a brick. At the end of a session add on 30 minutes of Zone 1/2 work in the other discipline. It becomes a very effective 30 minutes as there is little or no warmup required.

It might of course totally mess up a carefully crafted plan.

7. Turbo brick

From December through to February I do all my cycling on a turbo trainer. I’m lucky enough to have the space and to be near a great place or two to run at immediately afterwards. A very effective way to get the exact-planned benefit from the session

8. Bike-Secure brick

Many of us have expensive bikes. It is a worry if they are left chained to railings even as part of short brick. As we know bikes can be stolen in a matter of seconds.

I’m lucky enough to have an estate car+roof rack. I can throw the bike into/out of the boot pretty quickly in a brick changeover. That also accommodates a disk wheel of course.

Other times I will use a MTB and lock it to railings leaving the lock fastened to the railings whilst cycling. Some clubs or people like RG-Active do sessions where they have a monitored/secured transition practice area which is the best solution probably if money or circumstances permit.

Or you could do it with a mate and alternate so that someone is always near the bike. Spoils the point of training with someone … as you won’t be with them!

9. General thoughts

Ultimately you are trying to make a race paced transition as physically UNdemanding as possible. Repetition will make this easier; repetition of the speed will make things smoother; repetition at the ‘correct’ level of fatigue will make it easier.

I would imagine that race paced bricks are more critical for shorter distance races as there is less time to waste getting used to the change of sport. Then again for longer distances you have to be able to get up to your dialled-in speed and be confident that you can hold it.

Warmup. I have recently noticed that if i warm up BOTH running and cycling before I really start then, especially, the BR transition is less physically demanding. I find that I can get the right amount of bike power down MUCH less stressfully. This is worth bearing in mind if all you do is RBR. So what I am saying here is that ONLY a race paced run does not seem to get my cycling legs ready. I guess if that is generally true it makes warming up for a race more interesting as well as somehow I need to warmup on my bike when it is already secured in transition.

Frequency: Once weekly. Unless you do the daily tagalong brick. (former recommended, latter probably not recommended!). You can do less than one brick a week, perhaps alternating with your long sunday run and then with your long sunday bike. Every third week.

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