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A Bike/Run Brick for Triathlon Power

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You may not have heard of Matt Dixon yet, but if you follow the sport of triathlon then his is a name you will begin to recognize with increasing frequency.

Having done his first triathlon in November 2000 "for fun and a bet amongst friends," Matt barely even qualifies as a newcomer.

But qualifying is what he has been doing ever since, with top 10 finishes at both the Blackwater Eagleman and Half Vineman in 2001 (which earned him a slot in Kona's Ironman — he turned it down, feeling he was still too new to the sport).

Matt finished as the top amateur at the competitive City of Los Angeles Triathlon, beating several seasoned pros, and was the second-place overall finisher at the prestigious Nautica Malibu Triathlon, behind veteran Mark Lees.

With a masters degree in exercise physiology, Matt is getting serious about designing a triathlon training program. Currently working with Bob Forster at Phaze IV in conjunction with Ian Murray's ACME personal training system, Matt is creating a triathlon workout schedule that he hopes will put him in the winner's circle at Kona next year.

It is the first time he is relying on formal coaching in his training, having previously been somewhat of a free spirit (which has certainly served him well so far).

A mild-mannered, lanky guy whose party-animal wild side is concealed by a disarming sense of humility and a crusty British accent (he was born and raised in London and attended school in the States), Matt agreed to share his favorite "brick" for the World-Class Workout column.

He's on the verge of several sponsorship deals and an inevitable debut on the Ironman circuit next year, so look for Matt at the top of the race charts. You saw him here first!

Matt explains the basis of his unconventional brick workout, and why he enjoys it:

"I have found — talking to most triathletes — that one of the hardest parts of any race is getting off the bike and getting into the run. In my first triathlons I found that I could be as fit as I like, but when hitting the run it would feel like my body was 10 feet in the air, and my legs 6 feet under.

"I believe the only way to get better in this transition area is PRACTICE. So basically this workout is better than a simple bike/run (brick), as you go through the feelings and physiological adjustments more than once."

Matt warns that this workout is best attempted with a secure training base and should be done in an area conducive to executing transitions safely, quickly, and without distractions.

Warm-up:

10 minutes of easy jogging, followed by 4 x 2 minutes of running with 1 minute rest.

"The intervals are a warm-up and I would descend the effort in the runs to where the last one is only about 80% effort ... not hard! Then stretch, hydrate and make sure everything is set up for your brick set."

Main brick workout:

Run 5K at pace
Bike 40K at race-pace cadence
Run 5K at pace
Bike 40K faster than first 40K
Run 5K at fast pace

"The main set is continuous and completed how I like to think about racing," Matt explains. "Ascend the effort to maintain a fast pace (things are always easier at the start of a race). In this workout, the run ‘loop’ and bike ‘loop’ should be the consistent each time, to provide feedback on how you do in each section.

"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 150 - 155."

(Check out Gareth Thomas' article for more on what "lactate threshold" and "anaerobic threshold" mean.)

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!

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 #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 Matt’s 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 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."

Another option is to adapt this style of "brick" workout between swimming and running.

"I swim 1 mile in the ocean, then run 1 mile back, swim 1 mile again, run 1 mile back, swim 1 mile, run 1 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.

It can't hurt to try this brick if you're considering a swim/run biathlon. I have tried something like this:

Swim/run brick:

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 — as such 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 warm-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.

    The bike/run combination has worked wonders for Matt Dixon, and we'll undoubtedly be hearing more from him in the future.

    A swim/run brick workout is also a great way to strengthen your endurance while acclimating your body to the oft-overlooked T1 transition.

    Get fit with top coaches! Check out Training Bible

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