Podcast, Training

Melanie McQuaid | EP#430

 April 15, 2024

By  Bernardo Gonçalves


Melanie McQuaid - That Triathlon Show

Melanie McQuaid is a triathlon coach and veteran professional triathlete. In 2023 she became the first ever 50-year-old to qualify for and race in the professional field in the Ironman World Championships in Kona. In this interview we discuss that feat and Mel's general thoughts on longevity in the sport and on maintaining performance at an older age. Then we go into a long Q&A segment, answering listener questions on a large variety of topics.

In this episode you'll learn about:

  • Training considerations with older age, and how to maintain and improve performance as you get older
  • Testing, training zones, and training prescription
  • Shift work and training
  • Use of heart rate in training
  • Balancing "aerobic base" training and intensity
  • Are brick sessions necessary?
  • VO2max intervals
  • ...and more

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Melanie's background

06:10 -

  • I reside in Victoria, British Columbia. As a former professional mountain bike racer, I spent a decade competing in XTERRA events, securing three world titles in the Cross-Triathlon discipline. Transitioning to Ironman racing in my 50s, I've achieved podium finishes last year. I became the oldest individual to qualify for Kona.
  • Outside of racing, I'm deeply involved in coaching through my Melrad coaching business. Whether they're seasoned professionals or beginners, I guide athletes one-on-one, nurturing their growth and performance in the endurance realm. 
  • It's a small but dedicated squad, and I find fulfilment in helping others reach their athletic goals.

How Melanie qualified for Kona at the age of 50

07:49 -

  • Setting goals is essential, but the real magic happens when I forget about them and focus on what motivates me to improve. Every year, I sit down and debrief with myself, acting as my coach. I analyze what went well, what didn't, and how I can improve. 
  • Then, I identify opportunities for growth and excitement in the upcoming season. Seeing a chance to close a gap or address a weakness gives me something tangible to work towards.
  • I emphasize the experiences gained along the way. My coaching philosophy revolves around training for a rad life, balancing fun and long-term health. 
  • I'm not just concerned with short-term performance; I'm thinking about my athletes' future selves and how our decisions today impact them down the road. I aim to cultivate a mindset and habits that promote athleticism well into old age.
  • My approach to professional Ironman racing is not about winning world championships or being at the front of the pack. 
  • It's about pushing my limits, year after year. I'm on a constant journey of self-improvement, always looking for ways to extend my career and redefine what's possible. I believe age is just a number, and I'm determined to keep going strong and inspire others to do the same.

Maintaining fitness vs improving fitness

13:47 -

  • I'm motivated to stay in the sport because I've benefited from having athletes slightly older than me, and her presence provides a sense of security. I believe staying longer could benefit younger athletes five years younger than me. However, what makes me slow down is the inevitable consequences of ageing. 
  • My primary objective is to address the limits on the human body by ageing.
  • As athletes age, they may have maximized certain areas of performance when they were younger, leaving fewer tools for improvement. Yet, advancements in coaching science, nutrition, hydration, and strength modalities have led to better coaching and potentially better athletes. Working with elite juniors has shown me the potential of current coaching methods compared to a decade ago.
  • Around age 50, menopause becomes a significant factor for women. Poor sleep affects recovery, hindering the ability to carry training volume and create stimuli for improvement. 
  • This age brings strength and muscle loss issues for men, particularly in the lower limbs. Sarcopenia, or muscle wasting, becomes more pronounced, requiring focused strength training to combat. 
  • Additionally, managing muscle loss while training for triathlon presents challenges in periodization and maintaining glycogen storage and aerobic capacity.
  • As we age, our bodies change, and we must adapt our training accordingly. Three key areas come into play: strength, tissue quality, and nervous system engagement.
  • First, strength is crucial—not just brute strength but functional strength that supports performance and helps prevent injuries. 
  • As we age, maintaining and improving strength becomes even more critical.
  • Then there's tissue quality, like tendons and ligaments. These body parts degrade over time, affecting our speed and agility. So, we must focus on exercises that improve tissue quality and keep our bodies agile.
  • Our nervous system may not fire as quickly as we age, impacting our speed and reaction times. 
  • So, incorporating exercises challenging our nervous system can help us maintain our speed and agility as we age.

Listener questions

Setting training zones

20:49 -

  • Early in the year, I generally focus on helping athletes achieve a decent fitness level before diving into benchmarking. When you're not in top shape, benchmarking can feel discouraging. So, most of our training early in the season is about establishing a baseline and understanding how our bodies respond to different efforts.
  • Benchmarking is all about comparing our performance to our current level of fitness. We don't conduct exhaustive testing after heavy training loads. Instead, we ensure athletes are adequately rested, fueled, and hydrated before benchmarking sessions. This approach allows us to set training zones based on realistic data.
  • If an athlete can access lactate testing, I like to conduct a maximum aerobic power test. This involves incremental steps until exhaustion, allowing us to estimate lactate thresholds at various intensities. It provides valuable insights into an athlete's aerobic capacity and delineates different energy systems.
  • So, when it comes to testing, I like to take a hybrid approach, combining elements of a step test and a ramp test. 
  • The steps in the test are like short intervals, lasting a few minutes each, during which we monitor lactate levels. However, I'm also interested in pushing athletes to exhaustion to determine their maximum capacity. 
  • This allows me to understand their anaerobic threshold and an overall ceiling for performance.
  • I often use a step test with intervals around five minutes long for cycling. I pay attention when the athlete reaches a point where they're clearly past a sustainable power level, typically around steps four or five. 
  • This gives me insight into their anaerobic capacity and helps tailor their training accordingly. Additionally, ramp tests to failure can reveal valuable data about an athlete's maximum power output.
  • When it comes to running, most of the athletes I work with simply run a 5k or 10k. While lactate measurements can be helpful, predicting paces based on race times is more practical for pacing and rhythm. The difference in performance between a 5k and a 10k can also indicate an athlete's VO2 max capacity, which informs training strategies.
  • I rely on established race times and predicted paces for running prescriptions for various intervals. This old-school approach and techniques, like Daniel's VDOT method, are practical for triathlon training. 
  • An easy pace, however, is more subjective and based on the athlete's feelings than a specific pace.
  • I prescribe effort-based training using RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) in swimming. Triathletes often hit the pool exhausted, so paces can vary significantly depending on their level of fatigue. 
  • Occasionally, we'll conduct a 1000m test to assess sustainable pace, but most training is based on perceived effort and repeatable workouts.
  • I encourage athletes to benchmark themselves against previous performances throughout the training cycle, especially in the race lead-up. This helps build confidence and provides valuable feedback on training effectiveness. 
  • That's generally how I approach it. If athletes don't have lactate testing available, I suggest doing a 20 to 30-minute all-out effort to estimate their one-hour pace. 
  • I take 92% of their 20-minute effort to gauge their one-hour pace. Especially for athletes with strong, high-end power, it's beneficial to occasionally push hard up a hill for a full hour.
  • Some athletes may question why they must do a full hour when they've only done 20 minutes before. 
  • But the truth is, there's a significant difference in muscular strength required for a full one-hour effort. Workouts meant to be just under their one-hour pace can easily lead to overcooking and straining.
  • I'm conservative with one-hour pace estimations because progressing the time under tension is crucial. It's about building the muscular strength to sustain that desired 20-minute pace for the full hour. 
  • Like threshold tests, numbers derived on a fresh day may not hold after a long ride or when fatigued.
  • I use wide ranges in my training plans to accommodate fluctuations in performance. Sometimes, athletes import these ranges into platforms like Zwift, but the single number they get doesn't reflect the variability. 
  • I often advise starting at the lower end of the range to ensure they don't push too hard.

Cycling training zones

31:02 -

  • When training in different heart rate zones, there's always that temptation to push a little harder, especially when aiming for zone two. 
  • But here's the thing: relying solely on heart rate to gauge intensity can lead to overtraining. Your heart rate takes time to catch up with your effort, so if you're pushing into zone three territory while aiming for zone two, you're likely overdoing it.
  • Most of my athletes tend to push too hard rather than too easy. They're eager to make the most of their training time, which often means they want to go harder than they should. 
  • But pushing too hard too often can lead to burnout and longer recovery times.
  • So, when it comes to endurance rides, like those in zone two, I emphasize that they should feel comfortable for the most part. 
  • Sure, you'll start to feel tired toward the end, but that's the point – you're challenging your muscles and building endurance without pushing to exhaustion.
  • I often describe endurance rides as lasting just long enough to start feeling the challenge, typically around 30 minutes to an hour. 
  • That discomfort signals that you've hit the sweet spot of training stress. Then, when it's time for more intense workouts later in the week, you'll be ready to tackle them effectively.
  • I've often discussed the concept of trying to stick to specific numbers during races, but I've realized that sometimes, this approach can hold me back. Despite training meticulously, tapering, and loading up on carbs, there have been instances where I've felt ready to push harder than planned. I've witnessed this with multiple athletes as well. 
  • They set a target power output for a race, only to find themselves capable of riding well above it once they let go of the numbers and ride by feel.
  • I remember a specific experience during a junior camp with a coach I worked with in 2003. He emphasized not panicking when going fast because it's easy to inadvertently restrict ourselves by fixating on predetermined expectations.
  • Sticking to prescribed metrics can hinder performance in certain moments. By being too focused on what should be, we risk missing out on what could be. 
  • Racing isn't always about hitting predetermined targets; it's about listening to your body and pushing beyond what you thought possible.
  • For me, pacing in a full-distance race is all about patience. Understanding that negative splitting of the effort is critical, especially in the bike leg. 
  • It can be tempting to push hard when you feel great in the first part of the race, but that can lead to exhaustion later. 
  • With experience and proper training, you learn to gauge your effort and anticipate the demands on your muscles, especially towards the latter stages of the bike leg.
  • Preparing well in training helps you understand what to expect and how to manage your effort throughout the race. Even if your numbers don't match your plan, feeling strong on the day can make a significant difference. 
  • Sometimes, super compensation even boosts performance, especially among age-group athletes. When you can tap into that extra strength and dial the right effort level, you set yourself up for a successful ride and run.

Irregular work schedules

40:01 -

  • Over the past three years, I've worked with both a firefighter and a nurse and encountered the unique challenges of shift work. The limited time available for recovery from work-related stress is a significant concern. 
  • For example, with one athlete in her 60s, we focused on mobility and light strength training on workdays, allowing her to recover adequately. Given your demanding work schedule, it may be too taxing to train effectively during work weeks.
  • Training involves subjecting the body to stress to facilitate adaptation and improvement. However, when work demands are excessively high, training becomes impractical. 
  • Therefore, I suggest adopting a strategic approach to training that aligns with your work schedule. 
  • When you have more time during the three weeks, focus on high-quality training sessions. However, prioritize recovery and maintenance during busy work weeks rather than intense workouts.
  • These challenging work weeks are akin to navigating unexpected obstacles before a race. Just as you would adjust your approach to accommodate unforeseen circumstances, such as travel delays or adverse weather, modify your training during demanding work weeks. 
  • Instead of feeling compelled to maintain your regular training load, focus on activities that promote recovery and maintenance without adding further stress to your body.
  • For example, incorporating short strength sessions and gentle running drills or plyometrics can help maintain muscle function and reactivity without draining your energy. 
  • Additionally, commuting to work by bike at a high cadence during the summer can provide a low-stress stimulus to your muscles while offering a skill-building opportunity.
  • On days when time permits, brief swimming sessions or pool exercises can serve as refreshing activities to alleviate stress without taxing your body excessively. 
  • Remember, during demanding work weeks, the goal is to prevent further exhaustion, not to push your limits.
  • By accepting the constraints of your work schedule and strategically managing your training load, you can ensure that you make the most of the weeks when you have time for structured training. 
  • Remember, recovery is a crucial aspect of performance enhancement, and accommodating your training to your work schedule will ultimately benefit your long-term progress.

Monitoring HR while training

48:37 -

  • I find heart rate to be a bit delayed as a metric for measuring stress on the body. When monitoring an athlete's heart rate during a session, I pay attention to real-time feedback rather than relying solely on averages. 
  • For instance, if their heart rate is lower than expected for the effort, it could indicate fatigue or stress. Conversely, it might suggest a fitness improvement if it doesn't rise as expected, but they feel good.
  • The terrain and type of activity also affect heart rate averages. Uphill efforts may increase the heart rate, while downhill sections or breaks can lower it. So, I consider these factors when analyzing heart rate data.
  • However, heart rate alone isn't always definitive. It needs to be paired with other metrics like power or pace for a more comprehensive assessment of effort. If an athlete's heart rate is unusually low and they feel fatigued, it could signal the need for rest. Triangulating heart rate with perceived exertion and external load provides a clearer picture of an athlete's condition.
  • Experience plays a crucial role in interpreting heart rate data effectively. Understanding an individual's heart rate trends for different types of sessions is critical. While heart rate variability is common, baseline understanding helps identify anomalies.
  • Reflecting on heart rate averages after a session can offer insights into overall trends and comparisons between workouts. However, immediate feedback is more valuable at the moment for making decisions about training intensity.
  • I look at heart rate when evaluating harder workouts, especially during intervals. For shorter intervals like VO2 max, the highest heart rate reached in the session can be a useful proxy. 
  • If there's a significant decrease from previous sessions, it's noteworthy. I also consider the perceived effort and ask athletes how the workout felt.
  • For longer intervals like threshold efforts, the heart rate stabilizes towards the middle or end. I look for where it plateaus, as it can indicate if the effort is unusually low or if the athlete is pushing too hard for the intended intensity.
  • I can estimate my lactate levels based on my heart rate, and I'm usually accurate. Understanding how heart rate correlates with lactate levels helps me gauge intensity and adjust training zones accordingly.

Aerobic training for Ironman

56:18 -

  • Training for an Ironman distance event doesn't solely rely on doing base miles. While building an aerobic base is crucial, focusing solely on long, steady efforts may not optimize performance. Think of your body's capacity like a pencil: you want it to handle short, intense, and long, steady efforts.
  • Doing too much of one type of training can limit your overall performance potential. For example, excessive endurance training can decrease muscular efficiency, reducing your ability to generate speed. Additionally, transitioning fast-twitch fibres into endurance fibres can compromise your ability to generate power.
  • Balancing different types of training, including durability work and speed-focused sessions, is essential. 
  • This approach helps improve aerobic capacity while maintaining speed and power. Without incorporating varied training stimuli, you risk limiting your performance potential at shorter and longer distances.
  • Oscar has been focusing more on intense training in the past and is now seeing good improvements with a shift towards base training for the 70.3. 
  • It's normal to experience rapid adaptation when introducing a new stimulus to the body. While his high-end intensity might not be as prominent, the overall aerobic improvement benefits performance across different distances, from sprints to Ironman.
  • However, solely sticking to long, slow-distance training may lead to stagnation. Finding a balance between base training and intensity is critical. 
  • Periodizing training to include phases of base building and more intense work can optimize performance. This approach isn't one-size-fits-all, as it depends on individual goals and athletic profiles.
  • Incorporating maintenance intensity while improving can be effective, but it might be time to shift emphasis and introduce more variety when progress slows. It's essential not to become too attached to one training method but to focus on the desired outcomes.
  • While the question seems more bike-oriented, the principles also apply to running. Long, slow running alone may not suffice for optimal performance; incorporating strides and other dynamic exercises can maintain tendon health and overall running efficiency.
  • I've been discussing the benefits of incorporating hilly bike rides into training with one of my athletes. 
  • It adds many variations compared to riding indoors on the trainer, especially getting stuck in that erg mode. Even if you ride outdoors but only have flat roads available or choose to ride on flat roads, it can limit the stimulus your body receives.
  • For the past six months, I've been intentionally adding variation to my indoor endurance rides. 
  • Instead of riding in erg mode, turn off erg mode and choose a hilly route. Having variation in power within the ride, like touching zone three for a few minutes going up a hill, then dropping to zone one on the downhill or flat sections, keeps the stimulus fresh for the body.
  • I have athletes in pancake-flat locations and encourage them to ride hilly courses on Zwift. Even if they end up in zone three, having that variation is beneficial. 
  • Understanding the limitations of erg mode is crucial. Without it, you miss out on developing the skills of accelerating on the pedals and using gears effectively, which are essential in races. Riding outdoors, especially on varied terrain, helps develop these skills.
  • Living in a hilly area myself, I sometimes appreciate the monotony of riding flat courses for long stretches, like during Ironman Arizona. It's a different kind of challenge. 
  • So, while specificity is essential, sometimes we need to train for what we can't replicate at home. Ultimately, adding variation and developing diverse skills in training prepares us for the demands of racing.

Mentally preparing for a session after a workday

1:08:55 -

  • When it comes to warm-ups, I see them as more than just physical preparation. Sure, they prepare your body for the main set, but they also serve as a mental transition into the workout. I like to use warm-ups to focus my attention and leave the distractions of the day behind. 
  • For example, I often encourage athletes to concentrate solely on the warm-up without worrying about the main set. This helps narrow their focus and mentally prepare them for the training ahead.
  • I find it beneficial to incorporate dryland activation exercises for the thoracic spine in running warm-ups before jogging. This helps to gradually ease into the session and feel more connected to my body. 
  • For technical sports like swimming and running, drill work during the warm-up can help improve technique and body awareness. It's all about using the warm-up to centre yourself and mentally prepare for the workout.
  • It can be challenging to find the motivation to train, especially after a long day of work. That's why I emphasize the importance of hydration, nutrition, and short breaks throughout the workday. 
  • These habits support overall well-being and make the transition to training smoother. I set myself up for a more focused and productive workout by staying hydrated, fueling properly, and incorporating movement breaks.

Recovery between intervals

1:13:30 -

  • Recovery is all about finding that balance where I can adequately recharge to maintain the same intensity in subsequent bouts of exercise. 
  • When working below my critical power or FTP, I typically aim for rest periods ranging from 10 to 20 minutes, needing only about three to four minutes to maintain the same power output. 
  • The idea is to simulate the stress of longer-duration efforts like hour-long rides or runs.
  • On the other hand, if I'm targeting VO2 max efforts with five-minute intervals, I keep rest periods relatively short. 
  • The goal here is to spend as much time as possible at VO2 max intensity, so I aim for minimal rest to maintain that level of exertion. 
  • With VO2 max intervals, I want to experience the specific coordination and strength required for high-speed efforts rather than focusing solely on heart or breathing rates.
  • When aiming for a strong cardiovascular response to high intensity, I adjust my rest periods to continue stimulating that response. This might mean shorter rests of two to three minutes between intervals, allowing me to sustain high effort over multiple repetitions.
  • Ultimately, the rest intervals should align with the specific objectives of the interval session. 
  • Whether it's maintaining a cardiovascular response, practising high-intensity power output, or running at a race pace, the rest periods should support the intended training stimulus.
  • When it comes to VO2 max intervals and pushing the cardiovascular system, the rest intervals matter. Depending on the activity, I follow specific ratios, like a one-to-one or two-to-one work-to-rest ratio. For threshold and below intensities, though, I'm not as fixated on recovery times. 
  • As long as there's enough recovery to maintain the quality of the work, I'm not too concerned about how short or long it is. For instance, I might design a longer session with fewer but longer intervals, even if their recovery is extended. 
  • The focus is more on the overall workload and effort rather than the precise length of the recovery period.
  • I've found that this approach can still yield practical training sessions. Take, for example, a two-hour ride with several longer intervals at or close to the threshold, separated by generous recovery periods. 
  • Even with longer recoveries, it can still be a valuable threshold session. Of course, this doesn't mean I prescribe this type of session frequently, but it's an option that can work.
  • Regarding recovery times between shorter sprints or efforts within a session, I agree that it's often more about feeling ready to go again rather than strictly adhering to a specific time frame. 
  • Individual variability plays a significant role here, and athletes must adjust based on their feelings. Also, when training for race-specific scenarios like Ironman bike simulations, the recovery strategy might change to more closely mimic race conditions.
  • Some outdated practices in swimming can conflict with practical training principles. 
  • To maintain the quality of the session, it's crucial to ensure that recovery times match the intensity of the efforts. Ultimately, it's about balancing pushing hard and allowing adequate recovery to sustain performance throughout the session.

VO2max specific intervals without raising VLamax

1:23:48 -

  • If you're not intentionally trying to raise your VLa max, you wouldn't want to focus too heavily on VO2 max training. VO2 max work doesn't immediately change your overall metabolic profile, so frequent VO2 max sessions won't necessarily shift your VLA max. 
  • Instead, you might include some VO2 max intervals within mixed sessions to maintain running economy and capacity above your threshold.
  • For example, you could start a session with VO2 max intervals, like 6x400m repeats at VO2 max pace, to work on running economy. 
  • Then, transition into longer intervals, like 3-4x1200m or mile repeats at a pace closer to your one-hour effort, to focus on threshold training.
  • Similarly, for cycling, you could start a long ride with two-minute repeats to target VO2 max, then include quality work below your LT1, perhaps in Zone 2a, straddling that first threshold. 
  • Finish the ride with some sprints to maintain recruitment.
  • The key is maintaining specificity in your training to build endurance while incorporating mixed workouts to maintain intensity. This approach helps preserve your ability to hit high-intensity efforts without necessarily changing your metabolic profile.
  • Knowing your metabolic profile and differentiating between short and long efforts is essential. Being better at short efforts doesn't necessarily mean you have a high glycolytic capacity. 
  • Mixed sessions, prioritizing more extended efforts, can still be beneficial. Additionally, VO2 max intervals might not significantly raise VLA max, so there's less concern from a physiological perspective.
  • The more interesting question is whether I have a power duration profile or pace duration profile that shows I'm better at short efforts and worse at long ones. 
  • In terms of functionality rather than physiology, I'd focus more on what I'm not so good at while still doing some maintenance on my strengths.
  • For example, if I'm preparing for a marathon and it's just five weeks away, constantly training at a 5k pace during that block of training might not be the best approach. 
  • It's like asking my endurance-trained fibres to switch gears back to speed work, which could compromise the efficiency I've built up for the marathon.
  • Having a low VLa max is ideal in marathon training, meaning I want to be economical at the marathon pace. 
  • So, to maximize my endurance potential, I'd focus on specific distance intensities slightly below the marathon pace.
  • While some VLa max-specific training can help with maximum strength, doing too much of it without specificity could erode my endurance potential and speed. 
  • It's all about understanding what each type of training brings to my toolbox and being intentional about its purpose in my overall training plan.
  • Specificity is key in triathlon training, especially when performing at or below the threshold. While VLa max has its place, it should be used sparingly and strategically to avoid trading endurance for speed.

Threshold swim sessions

1:33:09 -

  • Why are we doing this session? Are we aiming to maximize our cardiovascular response to high-intensity swimming or focus on maintaining our rhythm, coordination, and timing while preserving speed for each interval?
  • I believe that maintaining rhythm, feel, and coordination at high speeds is crucial in swimming. Therefore, it's important to structure our rest periods to ensure repeatability at that speed.
  • Swimming differs from other sports in that it can require exponentially more power to achieve marginal gains in speed. Going too hard too soon can lead to early fatigue and decreased performance. Thus, designing sets with appropriate rest intervals is essential. Active rest, like jogging between intervals, adds a bit of stress and keeps the heart rate elevated, which can be helpful in specific sessions. 
  • However, full engagement for each rep is critical for maintaining high-speed swimming, even if it means taking complete rest periods between intervals.
  • While recoveries may matter less than we think in terms of getting the work done, they become more race-specific as we approach competition. 
  • For example, before an Ironman, incorporating short, race-specific recoveries between intervals mimics the demands of the event. 
  • As race day approaches, sessions can be tailored to match the specific demands of the target race, whether it's an Ironman or a shorter event like a 70.3.
  • Regarding session design, starting with longer rest intervals and gradually reducing them as fitness improves is effective. 
  • For instance, beginning with 10 fast 200s with three minutes rest and gradually decreasing rest periods as fitness increases builds the capacity to sustain high-speed swimming for longer durations.

Brick sessions

1:39:58 -

  • I recently had the opportunity to assist at a junior camp focused on the ITU triathlon, and during a brick session with the juniors, one of the older, more elite girls asked me when was the last time I did a brick. 
  • I hadn't done one in about 14 years! Bricks are particular workouts, especially in ITU racing.
  • Transitions are critical in ITU. We simulated T1 and T2, emphasizing the importance of swift transitions from swim to bike and bike to run. 
  • In ITU, every second counts, so being efficient in transitions can make or break your race.
  • However, the transition component is less critical in longer races like Ironman. 
  • It is still essential but not as pivotal as in sprint distance races. Similarly, pacing differs between sprints and longer distances. In a sprint, maintaining appropriate intensity from swim to bike to run is crucial to avoid burning out too soon.
  • Practising these transitions and understanding pacing at different intensities is vital. Learning your limits in training is better than hitting a wall during a race. Bricks are an excellent way to hone these skills and prepare for various race scenarios.
  • It's been 12 years since I last did a brick session, but that's not because I don't see the value in them—quite the opposite, actually. 
  • I've competed in numerous races and clearly understand pacing for different distances. Occasionally, though, I'll still incorporate a hard bike followed by a quick run, even if it's just for 10 or 15 minutes. 
  • It's a way to prepare for my discomfort during the race mentally.
  • This practice aligns with the concept from Alex Hutchinson's book "Endure" – giving my brain small doses of discomfort in advance helps me cope better during races. 
  • However, I believe brick intervals are best reserved for the final phase of race-specific training, not during the offseason when I focus on building overall fitness.
  • Transition practice, on the other hand, is crucial during the offseason when I'm piecing together the components of my training. 
  • Once I transition to event-specific training, I integrate all these elements to ensure I'm well-prepared for race day.
  • In the month before a race, I find it beneficial to include a couple of specific brick sessions. These sessions help me validate my pacing, nutrition, hydration, and equipment choices for race day. 
  • It's not about improving my running off the bike but confirming that my race strategy is on point.
  • For age-group athletes like myself, these brick sessions are invaluable for fine-tuning race-day preparations. However, I agree with Mikael that elite athletes may not prioritize brick sessions as much since they've already mastered pacing and transition skills through years of experience and focused training.
  • At this youth and junior camp, participants are honing their skills, and the experienced athletes at the top level of the sport race frequently gain valuable practice. 
  • With a long season and extensive travel commitments, there's limited time for standalone sessions. 
  • While they may not always be necessary for seasoned athletes who understand pacing, fueling, and hydration, they still play a role in developing less experienced athletes. 
  • I often opt for what resembles a brick workout simply to increase frequency. Getting off the bike and immediately running may not be the most efficient use of time, but it adds volume and can be beneficial for age group athletes with extra time to spare.


Bernardo Gonçalves

Bernardo is a Portuguese elite cyclist and co-founder of SpeedEdge Performance, a company focused on optimising cycling and triathlon performance. He writes the shownotes for That Triathlon Show, and also produces social media content for each new episode.

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