In triathlon, the swim and the bike are really just a warm up for the run—an extremely tiring warm up but a warm up nonetheless. The run is where races are won and lost, PRs are broken or not, and where finishers are separated from DNF’ers (Did Not Finish’ers).
Regardless of the distance of race you are competing in, the run takes the largest physical toll on your body for two reasons:
- Running causes a vast amount of muscle fiber damage, tendon strain and neuromuscular fatigue caused by pounding the pavement, and
- By the time that you get to the run, your body is already in a fatigued, depleted, run-down state (no pun intended).
Your glycogen stores are running low, you’re dehydrated to some degree, your back and glutes are cramped up, your mental reserves are waning and your legs and lungs have already been burning for an extended period of time. Because you’re already heavily fatigued when you pull your running shoes on, the strain of the run is magnified two- or three-fold.
We Get it. Running Off the Bike in Training is Tough
The best way to prepare yourself, both mentally and physically, for running off the bike in a race is to run off the bike in training (i.e. the “brick” workout). This logic is simple, yet many triathletes do not incorporate runs off the bike in training on a very regular basis. There are plenty of understandable reasons why they do this:
- It takes extra time;
- It requires extra planning;
- It may be inconvenient;
- You can go faster in a stand alone run workout, which is more exciting; and
- Running off the bike is just plain grueling!
However, if you put the energy into making it happen, running off the bike on a weekly basis will change everything for you.
Start out with one run off the bike per week. The first few may be slow slogs and your legs may feel like bricks, but it only takes a few weeks to start noticing the difference. After a few months, you may find that increasing your off-the-bike-runs to twice per week is not only manageable, but desirable, given the gains that it can give during racing.
A Few Sample Brick Workouts
- If you are just getting started with brick runs (off the bike runs), do a 1-2 hour ride at endurance pace (moderate, zone 2 or Z2), followed by an easy 20 minute run within 5 minutes of finishing the bike to simulate the transition from bike to run. From there, you can build to harder brick workouts.
- Long endurance ride of 3-5 hours in Z2 and Z3, followed by a 45 to 70 minute tempo run. This will replicates the long saddle time of a half or full distance triathlon that causes your low back, sacrum, glutes, and other muscles to fatigue. Being able to run off the bike at tempo (roughly marathon or half marathon goal pace) after such a long training ride will prepare your body and mind for an iron distance or half iron distance race.
- Threshold interval ride followed by sub-VO2 interval run. Either on the trainer or outside, complete a 90-minute to 2+ hour ride with 4×12 minutes threshold (Z4) or 2×20 minutes threshold with 5-10 minute rests. On the run, do a short five minute warm up, then do 4- to 6×1 kilometers at 10k pace (Z4/Z5a) with 90 seconds rest.
- Intervals on the bike, followed by a building run. Do 4×4 minutes at V02 (Z5a) with four minute rests during a 90 minute ride, the off the bike and onto the run, do one mile at endurance, one mile at iron distance goal pace and two miles at half Iron distance pace.
Additional Tips for Brick Workouts
- Try to keep your transition time as low as possible.
- Organize your running clothes and shoes before your run (you can even keep them in the garage and change in there).
- Drink and eat extra fuel while you’re on the bike. An extra 200 to 400 calories may be needed, depending on the intensity and duration of the bike and run workouts.
- For longer runs off the bike on hot days, you may need to take a bottle or two with you.
- Always bring an extra gel on the run, because bonking or having a low blood sugar energy drop is quite easy in the first few miles of a run after a hard ride.
P.S. Need a purposeful training plan that takes the guesswork out of your training and gives you a purposeful structure to reduce risk of overtraining and injury? Check out our training plans for triathlons from sprint to IRONMAN® and running races from 5k to marathon.
Coach David Glover, MS, CSCS has completed 28 IRONMAN distance triathlons, which includes two sub 9 hour finishes and winning Vineman Full twice. David’s passion is helping triathletes and other endurance athletes achieve their dreams through his online triathlon education and training company, ENDURANCEWORKS. David has an MS in Exercise Physiology and is certified as a coach by IRONMAN Triathlon, USA Triathlon and USA Cycling plus has his CSCS from NSCA. After six years of living, training and coaching in the triathlon mecca of Boulder, CO, David currently resides in Southern California.