"Run the first 5K at tempo, thinking about quick steps and being light on the feet—below threshold effort but still feeling like you are working," Matt says. "My running threshold [heart rate] is 164 bpm, and I try and be around 150 to 155."
The first cycling leg of the workout should be at similar intensity, at the cadence you want to keep during competition.
"When completing this bike, hop off as soon as possible and make the transition to the second run as quickly as possible, as if you are racing," Matt says. "This will condition you to better attack your transitions in a race."
The second run needs to be at least the same pace as the first. If you pace yourself correctly, this should be no problem, but be aware of your capabilities when you start this workout and leave yourself some room!
Make Improvements to Your Run
For Matt, this is where the benefits of this workout really start to kick in:
"I try to pick up the effort on this run, and start to feel like it is getting toward race pace, but not all-out. You should still be below threshold."
Immediately following this run, get back on the bike and repeat the 40K at least as fast as bike No. 1.
"This will be quite hard," Matt cautions, "and I try to think about keeping the upper body completely relaxed, pedaling perfect 'circles' and keeping it steady."
Indeed, one of Matts advantages in these early stages of his career is his discipline in keeping proper form, even under the duress of competition. He is usually always careful to train while paying attention to his technique, rarely faltering or getting sloppy. Always try to maintain good form, be it on the bike, run, or during a swim workout. The better you can keep your technique when you're fatigued in practice, the more natural it will be to maintain your form during competition.
The last 5K run should be finished at all-out effort, while making sure your feet are moving light and quick as they were in the first 5K.
"My heart rate is high on this run, and I try to imagine racing here," Matt says. "This run needs to be the fastest of the three, but if you have your intensities correct (with practice), it will not be by much.
"Overall the workout ends up being very productive to providing the feeling of mixing the two disciplines and maintaining good effort. It will also aid in learning your comfort levels at different paces. My strongest leg is the swim, followed by the bike, then the run. I have found this workout to aid my weak point the most."
Finding Your Feet After the Swim
Another option is to adapt this style of "brick" workout between swimming and running.
"I swim one mile in the ocean, then run one mile back, swim one mile again, run one mile back, swim one mile, run one mile back this really helps that dizzy feeling of finishing the swim and going from prone to upright and it hurts too!" Matt says.
Remember, in a triathlon you are required to finish the swim and then run a certain distance to the transition area before mounting your bike. The less shocking this swim/run transition is to your system, the better equipped you will be to have a decent start on your bike. Also, it can't hurt to try this brick if you're planning to do a swim/run duathlon. I have tried something like this:
- 1,500-meter swim
- 5K run
- 1,500m swim
- 5K run
- 1,500m swim
As in Matt's run/bike example above, approach this workout with the intention of maintaining threshold pace in your swim and hopefully dropping your time with each 1,500-meter distance. The runs should be descending by time and increasing in effort as well.
I have done this brick several times, and find it very helpful in simulating race conditions by the last run/swim repeat. By this time I am fatigued, and find that the last swim is a lot more challenging after a total of 10K running (a brick can work in "reverse," too, even if the transition is out of order).
By this last repeat, I am forced to swim 1,500 meters while exhausted, and thus my stroke has a tendency to fall apart and get sloppy. This is the most crucial part of my workout, since I have to force myself to maintain proper technique when it counts the most.
Matt stresses the importance of a proper cool-down after the suggested brick set, making sure to stretch out sore leg muscles with light easy jogging or cycling. Also, he points out a few things to remember while training:
- "Do not take too long on the switch-over points in the workout, as you want to mimic the transitions of a typical race, where you need to do them quickly and efficiently."
- "This is an individual workout. While you can do it with someone else, you need to do the sections at your own pace."
- "Do not try to go all out at the start. Be sensible and build into it.
Brick workouts are a great way to cross-train more than one discipline while simultaneously improving your transition skills. A swim/run brick workout is also a great way to strengthen your endurance while acclimating your body to the oft-overlooked T1 transition.
A former swimmer at Stanford University, Alex Kostich has stayed strong in the sport at the elite level even while maintaining a day job. The three-time Pan-American Games gold medalist still competes in—and wins—numerous open-water races around the world each year, as well as competing in the occasional triathlon and running race.
Matt Dixon now works as a coach and owns Purple Patch Fitness.