Triathlon is swim, bike and run, right? Well, yes and no. While the three disciplines are the core of triathlon, training for each in isolation may not be the best ingredients for that great race performance.
Your body needs to become used to biking after a swim and running after a bike, as the longer it takes to adapt to your new form of motion in a race, the longer you’ll be at a sub-optimal pace.
Just as the perfect chocolate gateau requires a layer of filling between the sponges, a great triathlete requires brick training to facilitate smooth transitions from swim to bike to run. Get this right and it could be the icing on that proverbial cake! So what’s happening in your body? Well, it’s a clever machine. Firstly, it will automatically direct blood to where it’s needed. Secondly, your muscles will respond to any demands put on them. In short, an athlete who isn’t practised in the art of transitioning will be slower and less efficient to respond.
The first issue is blood ‘shunting’. If you eat, blood diverts to your stomach (hence that 2pm low you hit after a heavy lunch). Conversely, if you use your arms or legs, it will divert blood, and therefore oxygen and energy (in the form of nutrients), to them instead. So an athlete skilled in transitions will be used to shunting the blood to where it’s needed in a hurry. So, for example, after the swim, blood needs to be shunted quickly and efficiently from the arms that were pulling you through the water and the legs that were kicking, to primarily just the legs for pushing through the pedals.
Then there’s changes in muscular demands. From swim to bike to run, trunk muscles that kept you horizontal and high in the water are then bent at the waist to hold your aerodynamic position on the bike, before holding you up tall again on the run, maintaining a solid base for arms to swing again to drive your run forwards.
If we focus solely on the legs, in moving from bike to run, leg muscles are expected to support weight and propel you forwards while absorbing impact. This takes time but, importantly, it can be trained and quickened by all triathletes with brick training (see above for sessions).
When considering bricks in your programme, think about the aim of your session. If you’re just trying to get your legs used to running after a heavy bike ride, then this can be done weekly by a short run off a longer bike ride. If you want to maintain or develop race pace through the run, then higher intensity bike/run repeats could be the order of the day. In this case you may wish to use it as one of your high-intensity sessions of the week and provide suitable rest and recovery both before and after the session.
The following sessions are designed for athletes looking to improve their bike-run performance at their goal race distance…
Aim: To deliver a good-paced run from the start.
Time taken 1:15hrs (including a 10min warm-up and 10min cool-down).
Session 4 x [5min bike at race pace, 3min race-pace run, 5min easy spin]. Get into your race pace on the run quickly. When running hard off the bike, drive relaxed arms to get legs moving quickly.
Aim: To run strongly despite having a tiring body.
Time taken: 2:15hrs including 15min warm-up and 10min cool-down.
Session: 20min run (steady)/30min bike (hard)/15min run (moderate)/30min bike (hard)/10min run (hard).
Aim: Develop and improve running off the bike at race pace.
Time taken: 2:10hrs including 15min warm-up and 15min cool-down. Session 2 x [30min bike (15mins easy, 15mins race pace), 20min run (3mins quick feet, 14mins race pace, 3mins just above race pace)].
Aim: Practise running when tired. Possibly a little out of left field for some but running when tired is an important skill for long-distance races. Adding a swim before the run not only helps the body shift blood from arms to legs but increases the session duration by adding an hour of low-impact exercise.
Time taken 3hrs.
Session 1hr swim to 2hr run.