The Brick

The word "brick" works its way into the language of several sports discussions this time of year. It's most common usage is in reference to a poorly made shot in a game of basketball. Shots that careen hard off the backboard or rim due to far too much force and not enough grace are often to said to be "bricks". Players with notorious lack of finesse in shooting the basketball can be said to be "laying a foundation" due to his knack for lobbing bricks. With March being the pinnacle month in the sport of basketball -- high school championships, the NCAA Tournament, and the waning days of the NBA regular season -- it's a term you don't want to hear on the hardwood.

There are two other uses of the word that come up this time of year, and both relate to triathlon. Many triathletes wind down their season in November and use the winter months to recover from injuries, reintroduce themselves to their spouse and children, and generally goof off and take it easy. Of the triathletes I have known and trained with, few ever swam during the winter months. So, come spring, with the hopes of a succesful season on their mind, triathletes everywhere return to the pool and try to regain their stroke. The self-effacing of the lot will often comment that they swim like a "brick". As in there stroke is completely gone, they're horribly slow, and they struggle to keep afloat. Of course, nine times out of ten, the people who say this about themselves are really just being modest or trying to be funny. But nevertheless, many triathletes will comment that they swim like bricks.

The third use of the word -- and the one I really want to talk about -- is the one that refers to a certain type of multisport workout. In triathlons and most every duathlon, there is a certain order to the events. You swim first, then you bike, and then you run. Duathlons are often run, bike, run, but it's the bike-to-run transition that is the focus here. Stepping off your bike after a lengthy bike ride leaves most everyone with jello legs. Immediately embarking on a foot race anywhere from 5 kilometers to 26.2 miles in length with wobbly legs only serves to compound the effect. It's a weird sensation to say the least.

Triathletes help prepare for this transition by incorporating what are commonly called "bricks" into their training regimen. In short, it's a workout that includes both biking and running and, preferably, with no more than 5 minutes from the time you dismount the bike to the time you start the run. The term is said to originate from the fact that most people's legs "feel like bricks" when beginning the run, but I've also heard many people attribute it to simply a combination of the words bike and run. Obviousy, whoever coined the term didn't care for running much and only borrowed the "r", but nevertheless should you mention to a triathlete or duathlete that you did a "brick" today, he or she will know exactly what you're talking about.

Today, I did my first brick in nearly 4 years and it felt great. For years they were a weekly part of my workout regimen and it felt great to have that crazy-legs feeling again as I headed down the sidewalk after my run. I loved the way each stride felt so purposeful and how my muscles were twitching and how their memory of spinning the pedals was conflicting with the lessons my brain was trying to now tell them. My legs wanted to keep spinning, and I wanted them to drive forward. It took about a mile, but eventually they complied.

With my first off-road duathlon of the season just days away it was high time I got a brick in. I've had a couple two-a-days but not like this. I needed to do a brick and I needed to make it a smart one. One of the great parts about doing such a workout is the feeling of accomplishment that comes along with it, and sometimes it's easy to get overly ambitious with the mileage. I was sure to keep this first one to no more than 75 minutes in length. Another possible hang-up is getting the right blend for it to be effective. I've always believed that the ratio for a good brick should be 4:1 between the biking distance and running distance and definitely no more than 5:1. It's funny how these little lessons one learns over the years come rushing back into one's consciousness as if they never left.

Maybe they didn't leave? Maybe all those miles logged and races completed didn't leave either? I went out and rode a 13.5 mile loop on the road bike, with just under 1000 feet of climbing (will that climb on Snoqualmie Parkway ever get any easier?) and immediately changed shoes and shorts and was out the door on a 5k run less than 3 minutes later. The run felt good and, despite just totally doing it for a nice casual workout, I finished just over a minute slower than my 5k time trial earlier this month. It's all coming back.

Of course, the nice thing about doing off-road duathlons is that the bike geometry and riding style inherent in mountain biking makes the transition to running not nearly as awkward and painful as road biking does. Also, on raceday, I won't have to change shorts cause I'll be wearing special tri-shorts. But today was about getting a good workout, not necessarily about approximating this weekend's race or about practicing my transition. It was about feeling good and sweating a ton.

Mission accomplished.

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