Most triathletes with even a little experience have heard the term brick workout, even if you’ve never done one. You can research the origins of the term, but basically it means any two workouts done back-to-back to simulate race day conditions. Most typically this means a bike-run brick, but people also do a swim-bike brick to train that transition or a swim-run brick due to time and space constraints. But what about those other bricks, double and triple, do we need to be doing them too?
Being curious myself, I looked up the term and got a great definition from the National Academy of Sport Medicine for Double Brick.
Double Bricks are bike, run, bike, run sets. They can be key sessions for Ironman training. An example of a double brick for an Ironman prep is a 2 hour bike 2x20 min Ironman pace followed by a 1 hour run, 30 min at ½ marathon pace. Then another 2 hour bike 2x20 min at ½ Ironman pace and a 1 hour run, 20 min at 10k-½ marathon pace. This breaks up the long workout into quality intervals. Each work/rest ratio is one to one. So there is a twenty minute recovery to be performed at endurance pace between the intensity intervals. The purpose of double bricks enables athletes to fine tune their nutrition, hydration and sodium strategies for race day. It also prepares the athletes psychologically for the longer training days, as well as providing physiological adaptations of increasing mitochondria size and density, increasing stroke volume, improving lactate tolerance, increasing capillary development, improving respiratory endurance, and improving thermodynamic regulation.
I think that pretty much explains it, the key point here being the ability to train your nutrition, hydration, and sodium strategies, while providing what I think is a less mentally taxing workout. I mean what “sounds” better, a 4 hour ride followed by a 2 hour run, or a 2 hour ride and a 1 hour run, done twice? Okay, some of you are saying neither and I get that, but if you’re doing an Ironman or Half Ironman distance training workout, these are key workouts.
For anyone training for a half Ironman, these workouts allow you to approach or even exceed the total time of your expected race time, building overall muscular endurance, without the mental beat down of doing a long say 1.5-2 hour run after a longer than race day bike ride. Come race day, mentally knowing you’ve ridden further on a training day and run nearly as far, is a huge confidence boost. Hopefully you’ll get off the bike after riding “only” 56 miles, feeling good, and get a good start on your 13.1 mile run.
Finally, what’s the deal with the triple brick? Well these are less well known, and our friends at the Rincon Triathlon Club are the only group I know that do these, as part of their Ironman distance training. They do a 2 hour ride followed by a 1 hour run, three times, 9 hours total. If that doesn’t prime you for an Ironman, I don’t know what will!
The beauty of how they do it though is this. The rides and run all start and end at the same place, so everybody will ride/run their own pace and then turn around on “time”, not distance. Then everyone can begin the next leg of the brick together, keeping everyone in touch for awhile, allowing athletes of different capabilities and speeds to train together as a quasi-group. Faster riders/runners will cover more distance yes, but it’s the overall affect of the training we’re looking for, time spent training and not just distance covered.
If you look at doing long brick workouts, single, double, or even a triple, while training for longer distance triathlons, remember that these are race day simulations, so start the day just as if it was a race morning. Pack all your nutrition, electrolytes, and fluid as you would have it at the race, and follow your race day plan to pace your training and practice eating and drinking. By the second or last run segment, if you are behind on anything, fuel, electrolytes, fluid, you’ll find out soon enough and will be able to make adjustments in the future.
And when you’re finished? Well you’ll have the knowledge that you can in fact complete such a long workout, that your race strategy worked, or didn’t, and now you can make changes to be ready for race day as needed, and all your hard training wasn't lost on a bad strategy.
If you’ve never done a double brick and have dreaded doing a long single brick, maybe now’s the time to try something different. Good luck and enjoy!