Half Ironman 70.3 Brick Workouts

Remember that song by the Commodores, "Brick House?" Well, if you're a triathlete, your "brick house" is going to be built with a lot less dancing and a lot more pain.

In the last post, I talked about gear and how much you should borrow. Today I'm covering brick workouts, or bricks, as most of us call them. And just like the Commodores, I "ain't holding nothing back."

Bricks were one of, if not my biggest, sources of anxiety when I was training for my Half Ironman. How many bricks do I do a week? How long should my bricks be? Are they all going to feel terrible? Will this ever get easier? Am I really going to be able to run a half marathon after a 56-mile bike ride?

10-30 minutes

If you go back to my post on a 20-week training plan, you'll see my actual training plan, and you can see the brick workouts I did. I did a short brick during the week and a longer brick on the weekends. Everyone you ask will have a different opinion on the effectiveness of bricks. I think they're a must, otherwise your legs are not going to understand what you're asking them to do when you get off the bike on race day.

Scene: Race Day, mile 55 of bike course
Legs: WEEEEEE! One more mile to go. That wasn't so bad. You're welcome!

Scene:  T2, changes into running shoes
Legs:  Wait. What are you doing? Why are you changing shoes? You want me to do what? Bitch, I just rode 56 miles!

Because there are so many different schools of thought on bricks, I thought I'd bring in reinforcements. These are the people I went to during my training, to ask about bricks, and at least a hundred other things.

Also, you know if you're riding your bike this much, it needs regular tune-ups, right? Red Kite is my bike shop. In addition to keeping Truffle Butter (my bike's name is Truffle Butter) in tip-top, Shannon suggested purple handlebar tape for my race, which is hands-down the smartest thing anyone recommended to me. Out of 3,500 racers, I was the only one with purple handlebar tape, which A) made it easy to find my bike in transition, and B) afforded me lots of "Good job, purple handlebars!" during the bike portion. And if you know me, then you know how much I needed people to talk to me during that race.

Okay, on with the show.

Patrick Harkins
Co-Owner, Red Kite Bicycle Studio
Ironman Chattanooga 2014

As amazingly sucky as bricks can be, we need them for a couple of reasons. First, you just have to get your body used to running off the bike. That sensation you get the first time you run after riding - super heavy legs, like something is wrong, or that you've just made some terrible life choices? That actually goes away. Well, it gets better - much better. But, like anything else, you have to do it to get used to it. One thing that not a lot of folks realize about triathlons is that it doesn't matter how well you run. It matters how well you run off the bike. You may get close to running as fast off the bike as you do normally, but you have to practice and let your body adapt. 

The second, and maybe more important argument in favor of bricks has to do with energy allocation. A triathlon is an exercise in allocation - the more energy you use on the bike, the less energy you have left for the run. I learned this lesson in a very painful way while training for IM Chattanooga with my girlfriend, Wendi. Wendi is... let's just say she's the athlete in the family. She's an accomplished ultra-runner, but less experienced on the bike. We'd go on long training days together, and I learned that, if I tempered my effort VERY CAREFULLY on the bike, I'd be able to just barely hang on to Wendi during the run afterwards (seriously - barely). But if I went too hard on the bike, a couple of things would happen: 1) I'd be too tired to run well afterwards, and 2) Wendi would be mad, which made #1 a whole lot worse. I won't lie, there were tears. Luckily for me (and our relationship), I eventually learned my lesson and it served me well on race day. So - you need bricks because... if you learn to ride like there's a run afterwards, you'll be a lot happier. Just ask Wendi. 

Marne McLyman
Ironman Lake Placid 2008
Ironman Louisville 2009
Ironman Florida 2012
Ironman Chattanooga 2014

The term "brick" couldn't be more accurate for this type of workout. You hop off your bike after riding several hours, ready to run with the grace of a gazelle in the African plains. Your foot makes contact with the pavement and you start running only to discover that you are running more like a hippo in a mud bath versus that gazelle on the plains. THIS is a brick workout. It is evil. It is necessary. A traditional brick workout consists of a bike ride immediately followed by a run. The combo of distances will vary depending on what you are training for, but the bottom line is if you are signed up for a triathlon, a sprint distance to an Ironman, you should do at least one brick workout a week. I'm currently training for Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga. I do my brick workout on the weekend as part of my long training days. I'm about a month out from race day, so my brick workout is about a 55 mile bike ride and a 2 mile run. In the past when I've trained for Ironman races, I have done shorter rides with longer runs to mix it up. The main goal of a brick workout is to get used to that feeling of running right after you finish your bike ride. These workouts are also great for mental training because 9 times out of 10 your legs will feel like bricks... that hippo running through mud. You need the mental toughness training to gain the confidence that you can get through those first few miles. Your legs will wake up and that inner gazelle will come out. And if it doesn't... don't sweat it. Just put one foot in front of the other, one mile at a time. Ain't no shame in the Ironman shuffle!

Daniel Hudgins
Coach, X3 Endurance
Ironman Wisconsin 2013
Ironman Texas 2014

Brick workouts provide some benefits in training for any distance triathlon. Three great reasons to do them: 1) physical adaptations, 2) an understanding of how to run once you get off the bike, and 3) mental toughness. The cycling portion should contain periods of aerobic and anaerobic work. This will really provide some good strength since cycling requires a little more muscular strength than running. Reaching a high heart rate and high gearing combine to create a great cycling workout. The run portion will teach your body to transition properly from the very quick turnover of the legs in cycling to the slower turnover in running. A lot of triathletes tend to get off the bike and run too fast. I encourage people in training to start out much slower than they think they should on the run. Then pick up the pace. Aim to negative split the run, and you will do it in your race as well. In terms of mental toughness, cycling combined with running creates a really gritty mindset, too. It will leave you feeling like a champion just knowing you can run - and run well - once you get off the bike. 

I typically give my athletes one or two brick workouts a week.  

When: Mid-week
What: Bike to Run Brick
The Workout:
45-75 minute hard cycling session (preferably indoors on the trainer to ride hard enough consistently)
20 minute run, negative split (run faster the last 10 minutes than the first 10 minutes)

When: Two or three times near the middle and end of a 20 week training period.
What: A multi-brick workout on the weekend in place of a single long ride and a single long run. 
The Workout:
(3x brick) 
Try to ride and run smart - slightly increasing the pace each time.
Ride 20 miles, Run 3
Ride 20 miles, Run 3
Ride 20 miles, Run 3

Meg Willoughby
Ironman 70.3 Augusta
Ironman 70.3 Muncie
Beach2Battleship 140.6, 2013
Ironman Chattanooga 118.4, 2015 (inside joke alert)

Bricks are definitely not fun. No one looks forward to them. But I think it IS important to do them for whatever distance triathlon you are preparing for. People new to triathlons just don’t realize how odd it feels to get off a bike and start running. Your legs don’t know what to do. You’ve been sitting and using a certain set of muscles for the bike, and suddenly you are running and engaging another set of muscles to run. And your legs feel like jello. EVERYONE’S legs feel like jello. But doing bricks helps you to prepare for this feeling (and not mentally FREAK OUT) and learn how to push through. Because after about 10 minutes, your legs start to work again and you can find your stride. Bricks teach your leg muscles to transition, but they also give you confidence and the mental training to push through that crappy feeling on race day. Even running 10-15 minutes after a ride is good for a shorter distance triathlon. For a half or full IM, 30min - 1hour is good.


I hope this helps! I know bricks are what people have the most questions about when training for a triathlon, or at least I did. Post your questions and comments and I'll make sure you get the answers and information you need. And go get your bike tuned up!

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