So you've taken the plunge, signed up, and now the training begins. The early morning brick sessions and the late night foam rolling will all make a difference in the end, right? Here are 5 things you'd only understand if you're training for a triathlon.
1. Now you realise why it's called a 'brick' session
Because your legs feel like bricks afterwards! Running is one thing, cycling is another, but putting both together can be brutal! Not to mention the jelly legs after a tough swim session. But this is why we train!
2. The world is surprisingly peaceful at 5 am
Getting those early morning training sessions in before work or just before the rest of the world has woken up can seem like a chore, but in reality, it's one of the most peaceful and enjoyable parts of the whole process. Those Sunday morning rides when there's no traffic on the road and it's just you against the world give you plenty of time to gather your thoughts, reflect, and mentally sort out anything that's been stressing you lately.
3. Checking training stats is addictive
If you use Garmin, Strava, or anything similar, you'll appreciate how addictive it can be to try to beat your previous performance or to beat your friends on a particular segment. Maximum cycling speed of 26mph on your last ride? Better get that to 30!
4. Triathlon burns HOW MANY calories!?
You never realised just how many calories you'd be burning and how much you get to eat now! Your average run can burn around 600 calories, a long ride maybe up to 1,000, but doing a big brick session can get you closer to the 2,000 calorie mark! That means lots of pizza to refuel!
5. Getting an early night and not drinking so that you can get up early the next morning is surprisingly enjoyable
You used to laugh at the people who went home early to get to bed, but now you're one of them. You definitely don't miss the hangovers, and your new cycling and running friends are super supportive! Who knew that training for a triathlon could be so fun! Enjoy!
If you're training for a multi-sport event like a duathlon or triathlon, you need to be doing brick workouts. We answer all your questions from what they are to why you should be doing them and the benefits.
What is a brick workout?
A brick workout is a training session in which you do two disciplines back to back with no rest. For example, you may do a bike ride followed by a run, or a swim followed by a bike ride. The most common brick workout for duathletes and triathletes is the bike to run brick workout, as this is where the race is won or lost, and running off the bike is the one that catches most people out.
If you have never done a multi-sport event before, your body won't be used to the feeling of doing multiple disciplines back to back. You need to acclimatise your body to this type of stress and also to get accustomed mentally to running with legs that don't feel like they belong to you!
Why is it called a brick workout?
The jury is still out on this one! If you were to ask 100 triathletes why they think it's called a brick workout, chances are you'd get quite a few different answers. The most widely accepted reasoning is because your legs feel like bricks after finishing this type of workout. However, other people say it's because you are stacking two disciplines on top of each other like bricks, or even that it's a fun acronym for Bike Run It Can Kill!
How to do a brick workout
As with everything, it's important to start small and work your way up. If you are going to do a bike to run brick workout, do a longer bike ride of, say, 1 hour, and then do a shorter run of only 10 or 15 minutes. The key is to have as little rest in between sessions as possible, with none at all being optimum. On race day, you want your transitions to be seamless and short, so practising at home is a great way to get used to this.
When doing a bike to run brick workout at home, have your running kit ready to go for when you get back from your bike ride, just like you would on race day. If you are going to practice a swim to bike brick, you could easily cycle to the swimming pool and then cycle back afterwards.
How important are brick workouts?
Brick workouts have many benefits, not only for race day but also for your conditioning and general fitness. Doing two different disciplines back to back keeps things fresh and will really crank up the calorie burn. You will be able to do a longer session without it feeling boring as you won't just be pounding the pavements for 2 hours, you will be changing from one sport to another.
Another benefit of brick workouts is that it will be more of a full body workout and therefore condition your body better. If you go from swimming to cycling, you will be working your upper body hard in the pool and your lower body hard on the bike, therefore getting a more all-round workout and improving your tone all over.
Apart from that, brick workouts are extremely important for multi-sport events. You will need to get your body used to being under stress for a long period of time and to be able to keep your technique sound when fatigued. Running off the bike is a strange feeling and you need to be able to do it without thinking too hard. Brick workouts are also important as they will help you to pace and know what your body is going to feel like on race day.
Brick training for beginners
An effective brick session is more about the transition than anything else. If you are training for a sprint triathlon, you don't need to be doing 3 hour brick sessions and killing yourself. Build up slowly by doing a short cycle followed by a short run and go from there.
Esther entered an Ironman to raise funds for Thrive Fund which provides small bursaries for disadvantaged young people to enter employment. She then went on to found Isle Of Tri with fellow Sundried ambassador and World Champion duathlete Claire Steels. She talks to Sundried about training for an Ironman from scratch and what it meant to her.
What made you want to enter an Ironman? And why full distance rather than half?
A team of us did it to raise money for the Thrive Fund, a fund I founded which provides small bursaries for disadvantaged young people to enter employment. Most people opted for Tough Mudder, Bear Grylls challenges and a few bake sales and dress down days. But one team decided to do an Ironman and they signed me up for it. So it was a case of blind ignorance as I had no idea what one was.
You say you never learnt to swim, how did you find taking lessons from scratch?
Extremely daunting! It turned out not only did I not know how to swim, I was also terrified of the water. There were a lot of tears, a lot of sitting at a table with my head in a bowl of water trying to learn how not to panic underwater, lots of sitting in a bath learning to submerge my head under the water. More tears. Lots of swearing.
If I hadn’t had a compelling reason to do this, it's highly likely I would have given up. Then I met Salim from SwimLab and that changed everything. His love of water and his way of teaching someone like me how to learn to love swimming made all the difference. I also learned that a lot of triathletes don’t like the swim, so I decided to learn how to love it.
My first swimming lesson was 30 October 2017. Eight months later I swam the Brighton Paddle Round the Pier (don’t be fooled by the name - it's a 2.5km open water sea swim!) and a full Ironman swim 11 months later.
What was the toughest part about learning to ride a road bike?
Cycling shoes! I went to Tri UK and was handed a pair of cycling shoes. I looked at the shop assistant who had the misfortune to serve me and I was like “You ATTACH your feet to the pedals? Are you insane?!” More tears, more swearing. You see the pattern here.
How did you fit the hours of training for a full Ironman into your work and home life?
This is possibly one of the most challenging aspects of an Ironman. The last 3-4 months of training I was averaging 18 hours a week.
You have to get up earlier, work smarter, and sacrifice a lot of other things - especially weekends. It is a huge commitment for a year - but I found that everything improved; my health, fitness, strength and because I had to stop working to train, it made me work harder and faster. It was worth it.
What was the hardest part of training for an Ironman?
Self doubt. Having to learn to override the gnawing voice that says, "what are you doing? What were you thinking? How the hell are you going to do this?"
In what ways did you surprise yourself over the course of your Ironman journey?
In every way. Learning to swim, cycle, and run properly from scratch is insane now I look back at it.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
Rob and Hayley Roche. I met them at a Got To Tri Camp in Mallorca. They are an amazing couple who inspire me because they just train. They don’t make a big song and dance about it, but they consistently train, week in week out, they do more triathlon/multisport events than is normal and they are always encouraging and supportive of all my efforts. They keep me motivated.
What advice would you give to others thinking of training for an Ironman for the first time?
I’m not sure coming from total zero to a full Ironman in 11 months is the most sensible thing to do. I think it is really important to be part of a triathlon club and train regularly with them. Training on your own for prolonged periods of time is really hard.
Get a good coach who can give you a real-world training plan – most of us aren’t pro athletes, we have jobs, lives, kids and unexpected curve balls. You have to be able to obsess slightly over training, everyone around you will be sick of you by the time the event rolls around!
Prioritise smart training. It's not just about time and miles; your nutrition, strength and core work and transition practice are all as essential as swimming, cycling and running. Try to make some of it fun - I think I left a part of my soul on the turbo trainer of doom by putting in three hour sessions on it.
Have accountability partners who won’t allow you to slide when you are struggling to find the motivation.
Avoid the trap of spending a small country’s GDP on equipment. It is a never-ending money pit! You don’t need a £12k Cervelo bike - it isn’t going to make you go two hours faster - no matter how much lighter it makes your wallet.
Don’t train over injury; if your body is hurting and not in a good way, listen to it. Ignoring this was my biggest mistake and I paid a high price for it.
How can people support you now that you've completed your challenge?
Triathlon has completely changed my life. Starting Isle of Tri was all about how to inspire other women to give it a go. The best part of the journey so far has been the number of women who have got into triathlon because of me.
If I can do it, anyone can. I came from nothing; I have asthma, hypermobility, dyspraxia and I’m left handed - none of these things are conducive to athleticism! But I did it anyway and it was worth it.