Two weeks ago you read about bricks. You'll be doing them occasionally from here on in, but not too often. They're good for reasons previously discussed, but too much of a good thing isn't always good. Bricks are hard, and they take you to a higher level of pain and stress than your garden-variety run or bike. I don't want you to work too hard too often.
But there's more than that. There's a psychology to racing that is different than during training, especially when it comes to cycling. I'd like you to challenge yourself during your training rides. You've got to always ride in control, with a good cadence, while climbing and descending properly, all that stuff (which is discussed in a wide variety of articles on Slowtwitch.com). But that doesn't mean you always have to ride easy.
I ride one group ride every week, so that I'm riding with people better than me. They challenge me. They give me something to shoot for. They make me better. This means I'm riding pretty hard, and I like that. These sessions are responsible for my improvement.
In a race, the psychology is different. You aren't thinking "go hard" while during the bike segment. You're thinking, "relax and conserve." Yes, you want to go fast, but you want to go fast at a reasonably low effort, or else you'll blow up during the run.
The bike ride during a triathlon is, then, both a physiological and psychological exercise in control. The secret to riding well while also riding reasonably relaxed is to be in good cycling shape. That means the occasional -- perhaps weekly -- ride with those who are better than you or, failing that, a solo ride you take at a pretty stiff effort level. During this ride I don't want you to save a lot of effort for the run, as you might in a brick workout. I want you to expend your effort during the ride.
There is another element to being a good rider, and the same is true for running and swimming as well. Good things happen when you pile several single-sport workouts on top of each other. For example, you might want to spend more days riding than running in a particular week, and then reverse it in a following week. Why is this a good idea? In coaching parlance, it's called supercompensation, and it means that you throw yourself into an activity -- for a sustainable period of time -- to a degree that exceeds what you're likely to face in competition.
Long-distance pro triathletes have been known to ride in excess of 700 miles in a week. They might only average 250 to 300 miles a week during their base training -- which is already a lot -- but they'll throw that big week in there to help push them to another level.
These same athletes, averaging perhaps 40 miles a week running, may double that in a particular week. While they wouldn't be able to sustain 80-mile weeks for months on end, they'll do that mileage for one week out of every two months (while lessening the mileage in the other disciplines).
We're going to make this a big run week, and we'll follow that with an easier week, then with a big bike week. That will take us close to the event for which you're training, at which point I'll write about your taper for the race.
During this week of running supercompensation, you'll cycle less. This will actually save you a bit of time, because an equivalent amount of riding -- from a physiological perspective -- takes about twice as much time to achieve as in running. Likewise, when you do a big bike week you're going to have to find some extra time. That's why you're doing the big run week now -- so that you have two weeks to arrange our schedule for your big bike week.
Next week is an easier week, but you'll not be lounging around. You'll be swimming. This segment of triathlon is fairly low-stress on the body, so be prepared to feel like a piece of soaked driftwood at the end of next week.
Do your running off-road if you have the opportunity. Are there trails around your area? Get out a map of your surroundings and look for blank spaces. Why are they blank? That's how you find good running trails -- especially those others don't know about.
Feel free to do one brick, but your bike riding this week ought to be low stress and easy. But what about the group ride I spoke of above, where you're supposed to be working pretty hard? That notwithstanding, during this particular week do not cycle very hard. This week belongs to your run.
One caveat: If you've already prepared yourself for a big week of cycling -- if you've got a big bike trip planned with friends, or something like that -- by all means proceed. Just swap your big run week (the one I have planned for you this week)with your big bike week (which I've scheduled two weeks from now).
Ready to catch the swim-bike-run bug? Check out our Give it a Tri section
Check out the full beginning tri-training guide