This article is in the context of triathlon but the content is helpful for most multi sport events.
triathlon term: the act of running immediately after finishing a bike ride.
Synonyms: brick run
Running after a bike ride feels strange or awkward, at least initially anyway. Yet it’s a crucial component or skill within multi-sports like triathlon and duathlon. Improving your ability to run off the bike is multifactorial; it goes a little deeper than simply improving your stand-alone running. Although that will certainly help too!
Why is it exactly that running after cycling is more challenging?
- Body position – cycling is performed in a very compact (aerodynamic) position with the hips and spine flexed and the head held low. This is quite different to the upright posture needed for efficient running. Therefore the transition between postures can take a little while (often worsened by longer duration cycling and/or the more aggressive aerodynamic positions on the bike).
- Muscle activation and blood flow – both swimming and cycling are completed with bodyweight supported however during running we are subject to landing forces and much greater eccentric muscular activity (muscles lengthening as they contract). Also the major muscle groups producing power for riding the bike are a little different to those employed for running. The redirection of blood flow and activation of different muscle groups needs a little time.
- Pacing & Fatigue – The run is the final of the 3 disciplines, the one that takes you across the finish line. As such it is the most likely to be affected by what has gone before. Within any race there will be an element of building fatigue from swimming and cycling and this will be made much worse by any errors in pacing, i.e. going too hard when swimming and/or cycling. Although you may have great split times for these 2 former disciplines it’s possible to lose much more time on the run portion than you gained if you don’t pace the event correctly. Remember, there is no prize for the fastest bike leg only the fastest swimbikerun.
- Energy demand and nutrition – similar to number 3 above; we only have so much energy available when working hard (mainly from muscle glycogen stores). Use that up too quickly and you risk blowing up on the run (a.k.a bonking). Therefore to run well, especially in longer races, you will need to consider race nutrition to top this up.
How do we specifically work to improve running off the bike then?
- Practice (familiarization) – enter the “brick session”! Here we typically ride the bike and then transition quickly into running. For short distance race prep this could be repeated numerous times over within one session. Broadly speaking brick sessions can be done from an endurance perspective or performed specifically at goal race intensity. Once or twice per week in the final race prep phase is sufficient. These will give you confidence and realistic expectations in your ability to run off.
- Build muscular endurance, strength and stability – this can come in many forms:
- “Traditional” strength and conditioning in the gym – squats, deadlifts, leg press etc…
- “Functional” strengthening using movement patterns that are similar to running - often single leg (unilateral) exercises that emphasise the posterior chain (high weighted step ups, single leg deadlifts, Bulgarian squats, box jumps).
- Run-specific muscular endurance – trail running and hill reps (both up and downhill) will strengthen both muscles and connective tissue, improve co-ordination and stability too.
- Improve your swimming and cycling – this one may sound a little odd at first but if you can improve your race pace for swimming and /or cycling you may both get to T2 quicker and less fatigued. Improving your position on the bike in terms of comfort, power production and aerodynamics is a big factor in my opinion here.
- Pacing and nutrition – with mindful training and racing you’ll develop knowledge and indeed a ‘feel’ for the optimal pacing strategy. This needs to get you to the end of the bike leg as quickly as possible but allow enough remaining energy for the run. Nutrition both before and during the race is likely to be crucial to the success of you run off the bike (although beyond the scope of this blog).
So, if you think your multisport running could be better then consider these issues as you seek to improve it.