As part of our most recent rewrite our entire triathlon training plan suite (OutSeason, Half and Full Ironman), we decided to eliminate brick workouts (runs off the bike) as a “special” workout. After years of reviewing results and the feedback of our athletes, customers, and comparing both with our own training and racing experience, we have come to the conclusion that brick workouts hold little if any benefit.
In fact, they should be entirely avoided unless your daily schedule requires you combine your bike and run workouts! Here’s why we think you should consider making the same change.
It’s about Race Execution, Not Fitness
The triathlon space is culturally conditioned to seek out a training or money solution to a perceived problem or issue: I had a bad run at Ironman® X. In order to fix this, I must train more/harder/differently to fix it.
However, our experience says that 95% of the time failure to run to your potential on race day is a race execution issue — usually riding or running too hard, especially in the early stages of each leg.
As athletes we have over 40 Ironman® and half-Ironman® finishes between us. As coaches we have nearly 20 years of Ironman-specific experience, having coached over 400 Ironman® finishers in our years as one-on-one coaches before founding Endurance Nation in 2007. Endurance Nation is now over 500 athletes strong, with over 1000 full and half Ironman® finishes in 2011 alone. Finally, Rich and/or Patrick have been at every US Ironman® since 2007 to witness how the race plays out for front/middle/back of the pack athletes in all age groups.
This is a LOT of data about what works and what doesn’t work. Our conclusion is that while a poor run is often determined to be a caused by a lack of training or fitness, the truth is that it’s usually a race execution issue:
- The Bike: Riding the first 45 to 90 minutes of the Half Ironman® or first two hours of the Ironman® bike too hard, specifically hills and headwinds.
- The Run: Running too fast in the first 3 to 4 miles of the Half Ironman® or the first 6 to 8 miles of the Ironman.
There is No Magical Run-Off-the-Bike Fitness
A run off the bike is nothing more than another run on tired legs. Before we go further, let’s be clear that there is some value to running off the bike on tired legs:
- Mental Value: Feel it, taste it, experience it so that your first experience with running off the bike isn’t on race day.
- Pacing Value: Specifically, the disconnect between Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) and Pace. You’ve just been pedaling a bike for hours and now you are running. It’s very common for you to feel like you’re running at Pace X, only to actually be running at Pace Y. Generally, Y is faster than X and, because everyone around you is running too fast, you are getting a lot of feedback that Y is the correct pace, that you’re not running fast enough and that X, the slower (correct!) pace, is wayyy too slow! A brick run will help you experience this disconnect and build your confidence to run your pace vs the pace that everyone else is running in the first critical miles on race day.
But once you get these two points above…you get it. Continuing to do brick after brick after these lessons have been learned is the training equivalent of hammering a nail that’s already in the wall: easy to do yet causes peripheral damage and yields minimal results. As coaches, we’ve learned that the key to becoming a faster runner is to create opportunities for you to run faster on fresher legs.
Bricks and Running Off/Near the Bike in Endurance Nation
So, for 2012, this is how our squad, and our training plan customers, will be executing their runs “near” their cycling sessions, in order from most to least preferred:
- Separated by Several Hours — An AM bike followed by a PM run. For example, rather than doing a hard 1hr bike followed by a 25-30’ run, you can now do that 1hr bike and then run later in the day or evening for 30-45 minutes, very likely at a faster pace and with better form than that traditional AM brick run.
- Run First, then Bike — Coach Rich experimented with this in 2011 while training for Ironman® Wisconsin. Coffee then run 45-60’ at Easy to Marathon Pace. Have breakfast then do his normal Saturday or Sunday ride. Observations:
- Was able to run MUCH faster, in cooler temps and on fresher legs vs the traditional post long ride brick.
- The run had very little impact on the quality of his bike.
- However, nutrition did need to be carefully managed for rides over about 3hrs: you’re burning ~700-800 calories before breakfast, then eating about 600-800 calories before jumping on the bike to burn another 2000-3000+ calories. As a result, you really need to pay attention to properly fueling yourself during the ride. This is a good thing as every long ride should be an opportunity to practice your nutrition!
We realize that two triathlon coaches telling their athletes and readers to not run off the bike…is very unusual! We’ve received some “colorful” emails and we welcome your comments below!
We look at it this way: We can do what everyone does, giving you what you think you need because it’s just how things have been done, or…
We can reflect on what we’ve learned in our nearly 20 years of Ironman® coaching, over 40 personal finishes, thousands of athletes coached and dozens of races observed.
What we’ve learned and how we apply it:
- The vast majority of the time, under-performing the run is the result of overcooking the bike or the first quarter to one third of the run.
- If you want to run fast you need to create opportunities to run fast. We do that by creating for you more opportunities to run faster, on fresher legs, vs slowly on tired legs.
- The address the mental and proper pacing issues by:
- Putting “big days” into your training plan. A “Big Day” is a 30-60’ swim followed by a 3-4hr bike and a 30-60’ run. “This is what it feels like to put it all together across a long day, this is what it feels like to run on tired legs. I get it. Done.”
- Teaching you how to execute the half and full Ironman® bike and run. With over a thousand race day data points this year alone…TeamEN has a well-honed race execution system and every EN athlete races on the shoulders of the hundreds who’ve gone before him.