Brick training: swim-to-bike gear

secret bunker

Brick training is a concept that is popular in triathlon circles where you combine two different disciplines in one continuous training session. It is a good way of working different muscle groups (e.g. going from a swim straight onto the bike) or preparing yourself for some of the weird physiological sensations you might expect to experience in a race (e.g. going from the bike straight onto the run and your legs might feel quite rubbery).  It is also a really good way to feel like a proper triathlete, walk around muttering to people about “the importance of brick sessions”, and hope they are suitably impressed. In case you were looking for that.

For me, summer is the best time to do this kind of training, because (a) it’s warmer, so it’s not as big a deal to get onto the bike dripping wet; (b) brick training is good, race-specific training that should be done as you get closer to doing your races, usually held in the summer; (c) it can require a lot more time to do such a long session, and so it’s good to have lots of  daylight hours to fit it all in safely.

My big brick sessions this year have involved open water swimming with Swim for Tri, 7:00 – 8:30am on Saturdays (but, I have to admit that I am one of the coaches and rarely swim a full session at anything resembling race pace), then hopping on the bike after the session and riding with a few like-minded folks for 2-4 hours (again, allow me to confess that I religiously stop for hot chocolate and cookies offered up by the fine people at SFT, before getting on the bike).

Over these past few months, I have found a few really simple bits of equipment that have helped me tremendously during these sessions:

– The first one is probably familiar to lots of sports people, the Under Armor long-sleeve crew-neck top, which I have taken to wearing with my cycling bib shorts underneath my wetsuit.  I wear it under the wet suit, because I figure it would be impossible to put on a compression top like that if I were wet. And, incredibly, I have found that the top dries very, very quickly (10-15 minutes) and keeps me warm, wet or dry, the whole time. Given that we have been doing these open water sessions since April, and given that we have not had the balmiest summer weather here in London, this has been a life-saving piece of equipment.

– The second one is perhaps familiar to swimmers out there, the Speedo microfiber towel. It is tiny enough to carry in the back pocket of a cycling jacket or top, but powerful enough to dry off your whole body in a few quick swipes. Then, when you’re dry, squeeze out as much water as you can, fold it up, stick it in your back pocket, and you’re a lot drier and more ready to cycle off into the Essex countryside (past the Secret Nuclear Bunker).

– Finally, I have become a big fan of taking on calories while on the move. These Saturday morning sessions may appear to some of you to be relaxed, undemanding training sessions, what with my cups of hot chocolate and pieces of bread pudding (thank you, again, Mrs. Bullock!). But, when you get up at 4:30am to lead a group who want to ride out for 75 minutes to the swim session at a leisurely 18 mph pace, you learn a lot about getting your nutrition on the bike.  In addition to the bananas and granola bars that I eat on the way out the swim session, I have found that Clif Shot Bloks on the longer rides back give me the perfect combination of carbs, electrolytes, and tasty chewy candy texture that make them soooooo much nicer than gels.

And then we stop for more hot chocolate and cake in Epping Forest (well, I say “we”, but so far, it’s always been my idea, so… you get the idea). So, that’s important, too.

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