Doing More With Less Since 1972

Tag: half-ironman

The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Brick Workouts


Yesterday’s post started a little bit of an interesting discussion about bricks over on Google+. At the same time, this thread over on Beginner Triathlete was going on talking about the same thing. There seems to be a wide spectrum of opinion out there about the value of bricks for 70.3 distances and beyond. I see the points on all sides, but I think I fall some place in the middle.

What I have to say on the subject is a little long for posting in either of those places. Luckily, I have this venue. Now, I’m by no means telling anyone else what they should do. I’m not a coach, and I’ve probably given out more bad advice than good over the years.

Like everyone else, I used to swear by bricks and ran a 10% run after every bike ride. Why did I swear by them and do them so religiously? Well…because everyone else did. Now I’m not so sure that was a good idea, but it fit into my general training M.O. back then–empty the tank every single time you train. If you aren’t willing to empty the tank, don’t bother training.

Needless to say, I skipped a lot of workouts back then.

Remember, these are just my observations and opinions about what seems to work for me. I’m using “I” and “me” everywhere I can. Feel free to collect your own test data.

The Good

  • For beginners. I think bricks are vital for two reasons when you are first starting out. First of all, you need to know what you’re legs are going to feel like coming off the bike. Secondly, you need to know how long it’s going to last. If you don’t know these two things before your race, you’re in for a really big shock. But really–if you’ve been doing this for a few years, does that feeling freak you out any longer? It’s like a horror movie–really scary the first time, but when you already know what’s coming and have watched it over and over…meh.
  • For sprint training. I get the upside of “learning to run on tired legs” if you are going to need to go hard for the whole race. It kind of goes back to the first point of knowing how long the feeling is going to last and being able to mentally push on through that and keep going hard until it’s gone.
  • For testing a nutrition plan. A run of a few miles after a long bike ride will let you know pretty early on if you ate enough and hydrated right while riding. This can be pretty hard to figure out, and it may take a few sessions to dial it in. I actually think this is a HUGE upside to doing VERY EASY bricks for long distance training. But I don’t do any more of these than I have to.
  • For squeezing in a couple of workouts on limited time. Sometimes I have only one chance to workout on a day, but I need to get two in. This is an effective way to squeeze it in without having to prepare twice. Might as well make it a transition practice while you’re at it.
  • A race rehearsal. Not the entire race, just what you plan on doing out of T2. For me, that means thinking about cadence, form, and keeping the pace down. Yeah…I said keeping the pace down. A one mile run is more than enough distance for me to do this.

The Bad

  • For building aerobic endurance. Maybe there’s no detriment here either, but I don’t see any real value. If that’s the goal of the workout, why not get in the pool and swim instead? I’ll get all the benefits of the aerobic work without any of the pounding I get while running. Not that I recommend that either–swimming after cycling is probably begging for your technique to be destroyed. On second thought, that’s probably a benefit in my case. Aerobic and Anaerobic aren’t the same thing, and that’s important to remember for the second point.
  • “Learning to run on tired legs” for anything longer than an Olympic distance race makes no sense to me. For 70.3 races and up, why not  “learn to ride a bike for a few hours without tearing my legs up” instead? That means staying aerobic on the bike instead of deliberately trashing myself so I can go out and run a bunch of *ahem* shitty miles with bad form and throwing myself into anaerobic zones just to maintain some pre-determined pace I think I ought to do. Not casting stones if you do this. I’ve done it. A lot. I just don’t think it paid off for me.
  • Trashed isn’t just for today. I pay the price for a few days. I have to think of what a long hard brick does to me going forward. If I go out and do a 60m/10m brick on a Sunday and intentionally trash my legs during this workout, I’m sacrificing Monday completely, and probably at least part of my Tuesday, and maybe Wednesday as well. And what do I get out of it really? Maybe I prove to myself that I could do it? I’ve already done that. Again, I do try to get in a couple of long bricks in the middle of my training plan to test my nutrition plan, but I make sure the run is super easy–like “holy crap, I’m embarrassed by this pace and don’t really want to post it to DailyMile”  easy.

The Ugly

  • They take a really long time. I’m lucky to have the best and most supportive girlfriend* in the whole world. She gives me Saturday and Sunday mornings to do what I need to do to train. A 2-3 hour workout means that I’m usually home by 9:30 or 10:00 at the latest on both Saturday and Sunday. She’s never complained once. She’s even ok with me turning that into a 5 hour workout occasionally if it’s a nutrition test day. But I’d feel guilty about leaving her to deal with our three heathens for a whole day every single weekend. She does it all week already…weekends are when she has a chance for some help, and I don’t want to deny her that.
  • “What do you mean ‘all day’? Five hours is not all day!” Well, it would turn into all day if I went out and bricked it hard. Sure, I may be gone for only 5 hours, but I’m definitely going to need a nap that afternoon. And I’d be pretty worthless (bonked) even when I’m awake–basically one more heathen to care for. I know how I end up on the afternoons after a race–not fun for her.

So there you have it. I’ve learned this stuff (for me) mostly by experience and reading what coaches (love Coach Brett) have to say about it. Go ahead and rip it to shreds.

But before you do, consider this one little tidbit…

After tapering, you have ~2,000 calories worth of glycogen in your liver and muscles. You cannot process food fast enough to replace these calories at the rate you’re burning them while racing, no matter how much or what you eat. If you go out and “trash your legs” by going anaerobic, you’re going to be using those calories instead of using your fat stores for energy. Every notice how it seems like so many people hit the wall at mile 20 in a marathon? That’s why. Once those calories are used up, you are bonked.

For me, it’s mile 18, probably because I’m a little bit heavier and much more inefficient, so I burn the same amount of calories to go 18 miles most people do for 20. Another hard lesson (hopefully) learned.

So it makes complete sense to me to stay aerobic in most of my training (with some intense intervals thrown in here and there) and teach my body to burn the fat better. It’s just a simple math problem. In the perfect race, I’d start burning that stored up glycogen about 2,000 calories from the finish. The perfectly executed race plan would see me start my run on legs that aren’t tired and make sure they stay that way so I can finish on strong legs. So even in a brick, there’s no way I want to go hard on a bike and “learn to run on tired legs”.

The only benefit I see there is that you get to bonk. And from that, you learn that you never EVER want to bonk again if you can help it.

*Yes, we’re married, but we still like each other a lot, so I still call her my girlfriend.

[Image Credit]

Tweeking 70.3 Training Three Weeks Out

I’m three weeks away from my big (for me) race, and am having to make some pretty major training changes. Realistically, I know anything that happens from here out is going to have very little affect on what happens race day, provided I’m rested. “10% under trained is better than 1% over trained”.

Oh, and injuries could make a difference too. That’s the reason for the training tweek.

I pulled up with a cramp in my calf at the end of my brick on Sunday. I’d dug a nutrition/hydration hole I couldn’t get out of, and I thought that was the main cause. It was still a little tender on Tuesday, so I bailed on the run scheduled for that day and gave it a shot again for a quality run on Thursday. Pain was almost instantaneous, so I guess it wasn’t just a cramp. I’m self-diagnosing as a Grade 1.5 strain. And I’m self-treating it by taking a solid week off of running. That means I’ll miss one long run. No biggie. I still will have one more. If I have problems on that run I’m not going to push it…I’ll stop running entirely until a day or two before the race, just to test it out.

That means last night’s swim, which is one I usually take very easy, was a hard one. I really pushed to see what I could handle for a race pace, and the good news is I’ll probably be about three minutes faster than I was last time I did this distance. Shooting for 35:45.

It also means I’ll be spending a lot more time on the bike. I think I can bike enough that I won’t lose any run fitness, even if I don’t get another long one in before the race.

If all goes well, I’ll be pain free going into the race and can just manage my pace on the run to keep this from cropping back up again. Even if it becomes an issue, once I’m in the race I’ll be able to fight through it.

If this persists, well, that’s when it will get fun. If I’m going to the start line with any kind of pain at all, the race strategy will change completely for me. I will push the swim a little harder, and I will bike like the race is 57.2 miles long. Drop the hammer. Empty the tank. I’ll assume my run is already bonked and go for broke on the bike, getting every second out of it I can.

Florida Ironman 70.3 Triathlon (As a spectator)

Florida Ironman 70.3 2010

I went over to Orlando yesterday morning with one of my buddies to watch another friend compete in the Florida 70.3 triathlon put on by IronMan at Disney. It was absolutely amazing. I’ve done triathlons myself, but I’ve never gone to see one as a spectator. When you are competing, you’re pretty focused on yourself and what you need to do, so it’s hard to take in the whole event. Even if you aren’t personally into endurance competitions, it’s something I’d recommend going to see once in your life.

It was completely inspiring.

It’s hard to say what the best part of the race was. It may have been watching competitors complete the 1.2 mile swim just before the cutoff time–one lady exited the water with a huge smile and obvious sense of accomplishment on her face, and stopped and broke into tears as soon as she crossed the timing mat.

It was also great to see so many people of different ages and body types doing the race. There were very few elite athletes in the 2,000 person field. They were mostly regular people who have decided to sacrifice a lot of time and effort to take on a race this size knowing they’ll have to make it work around the rest of their lives. As my buddy who went to watch with me noted, “I bet there are so many great stories here.”

After seeing another competitor with only one arm exiting the swim, and yet another getting ready to run with two prosthetic legs and 1.5 arms, you realize that anybody can do a this. All that matters is whether or not you think you can.

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