Also check out  So You Wanna Do a Triathlon: Swimming and So You Wanna Do a Triathlon: Cycling

Many first-time triathletes began their racing career as runners (like me!).  For that reason, I think the running leg is the least feared of the three triathlon sports – but the truth is that a triathlon run is completely different than a normal run.


The problem, of course, with the running leg is that it is last.  First, you swim.  Then, you cycle.  And then you run, which presents all sorts of challenges.

Triathalon Relay 031

Even though the run is challenging, I always look forward to it for one reason and one reason alone:  unlike swimming and cycling, I can truly stop and take a break!  Hah!  If I stop swimming, I drown.  And if I stop pedaling, I crash!  But if I get truly tuckered out when running, I can walk – or stretch.  Also, I enjoy the run because I always feel like I have so much of the race behind me.


So – the question becomes:  If a triathlon run is so different than a normal run, how do you prepare?


Do the Brick: A brick workout refers to tackling two sports during the same workout, with minimal interruption in between.  When triathletes talk about doing a brick, they usually refer to a bike/run, but a brick can also refer to a swim/bike or a swim/run.  Personally, I find bricks that simulate race conditions as much as possible are the most effective, both mentally and physically, so sandwiching sports in the order you’ll perform them is best. 

When I first got into triathlons, I was truly surprised at how my body reacted during the transition from swimming to biking and biking to running.  While the swim to bike transition (know as T1) can be rough (especially if you use your legs too much during the swim – ouch!), the bike to run transition (T2) is much, much harder.  Personally, I find T2 to be the hardest part of a triathlon.


It is certainly not necessary to do bricks for every workout (of course, I can only speak to training for a sprint and Olympic triathlon, so I hope readers will weigh in on bricks for half and full Ironmans).  However, I try to do at least one bike/run brick a week, especially in the month before the event.  Ideally, for sprints, my bricks will consist of biking 5 – 10 miles and running 1 – 2 miles, and for Olympics, I’ll bike 8 – 15 miles and run 3 – 5 miles.  Some triathletes (who are probably faster than I am!) choose to do longer and more intense bricks.  This website has some examples of brick workouts.  But – and this is very important – everyone should always slowly integrate bricks into your workouts.  Maybe your first brick will be a 5 mile bike and a 1 mile run.  Just like all workouts, it’s important to eaaaase in so you don’t injure yourself.


Legend has it that bricks are called bricks because your legs feel like… well, bricks… when you do them.  This sensation can be uncomfortable and weird, and I find that starting my run very slowly – or even walking the first 100 yards or so – helps my body adjust. 


Fuel properly:  I’ll be doing a So You Wanna Do a Triathlon:  Transitions post soon, which will talk a bit about how I fuel, but I thought it was worth mentioning that fueling and hydrating during the cycle leg is very important for the run (I usually fuel some during the run, too).  By the time you get to the sprint or Olympic run, you have already been racing for about an hour to two hours.  Breakfast might’ve been eaten two hours before the start! 

Every time I’ve crashed and burned during the run leg of a triathlon, it was because I forgot to eat and hydrate on the bike.  A successful run truly begins on the bike.  Your motto should be eat and drink, eat and drink! 


Know Thy Course:  Last, and not least, be sure to check out the race’s website to learn about the run course.  Since many triathlons are held in parks near lakes, many runs are actually trail runs.  You don’t want to be surprised on race day!  In my opinion, a trail run is a bit more challenging than a road race because it’s usually more hilly, and you have to put more mental effort into your foot steps.  Here are some of my tips for trail running.

I also think it’s important to consider the terrain of the course, regardless of whether it’s a trail or road run.  For example, when I did the Lake Logan Olympic Triathlon, the 10K was an out and back course.  The first 5K was totally uphill, and the last 5K was downhill.  This was VERY important to know beforehand because it strongly impacted how I paced myself. 


Some other running posts that may be helpful:


Did you go into triathlons with a strong running background?  Or did you find running to be the scariest part?  Do you get that ‘bricky’ feeling in your legs?  Please share your advice – I know it helps others so much!



  • Annette @ EnjoyYourHealthyLife January 15, 2012, 8:47 pm

    I agree-the running is a good part! My fav is the swimming, but the running is nice because it’s at the end!

    I think it’s important not to start out too fast in the running part–gotta pace yourself. I MUST remember this when I race my half ironman later this year 😉

    Great tips, lady!

  • Kat @ Balance & Spice January 15, 2012, 9:04 pm

    Thank you so much for this fabulous post. Everything you said was absolutely true. When I trained for half-ironmans, I found that the most valuable workouts were the Bricks, though they were also the most challenging. I found the most important aspect was keep running through the inevitable pain that always occurred in the first mile. After the first mile, the run often because easier than usual, because I was so warm from the bike, but that first mile was absolute torture. It was a great time to use the motto “just keep running. No matter how slow you go, just keep running.”

  • em January 15, 2012, 9:05 pm

    Great post!

    Random question. I am taking a workout class which requires a timed one-mile run this week. I took a long break from running, but have been running consistently again for the past month. When I run, however, I usually take walking breaks as I am running 3+ miles. Any last minute tips to finish this one-mile test without taking any breaks? I know I have it in me, but I haven’t run just one mile in awhile! Thanks! 🙂

    • Caitlin January 16, 2012, 10:39 am

      I find that I can run for much longer if I am distracted by something else. So my advice would be to just try to think of something else entirely while doing it? You definitely have the endurance to run the entire mile, so just keep your mind off the time and distance (maybe cover up the treadmill with a towel, if you’re doing it on the treadmill). And a few motivational quotes to bust out when you feel really bad always help me too!!!

      • em January 16, 2012, 12:06 pm

        Thanks for the tips! 🙂 I’ll definitely keep all of that in mind!

  • Lindsay January 15, 2012, 9:42 pm

    I would just add that you don’t have to run! Not even a little bit! If you are injured or even if you just hate running, you can definitely walk the run portion. The beauty of triathlons for walkers is that if you are a good swimmer/cyclist you can finish in the middle of the pack even if you do walk! Obviously you still need to train by walking the mileage and working on your speed. And you should keep right while racing to allow others to pass but don’t let other’s speed get you down. Doing a triathlon is a major accomplishment whether you walk or run the final leg!

    • Caitlin January 16, 2012, 10:40 am

      Awesome tips, Lindsay!

  • Jes Suazo January 15, 2012, 9:57 pm

    You make me want to try a tri!!

    I have been running since January 2010 & I’m currently focusing on longer distances. I also started cycling recently. Once I get the cycling & the longer distances down–I will try my hand at swimming instead of my current doggie-paddle. 😉

    You are definitely an inspiration & I love these posts!

  • Keri January 15, 2012, 10:08 pm

    I only have a mountain bike right now, and I’d love to do my first tri this year….Do you think it’s possible? Or do I need to start hitting up craigslist for a road bike (which scare me with skinny tires!)? Thanks!

    • Keri January 16, 2012, 8:24 am

      Never mind–I just saw links to your previous post “So You Wanna Do A Triathalon: Cycling”. Thanks–these posts are super helpful and inspiring!

      • Caitlin January 16, 2012, 10:42 am

        🙂 Yes, you can definitely do a sprint with a mountain bike! Have fun! Glad the posts are helpful.

  • StoriesAndSweetPotatoes January 15, 2012, 10:28 pm

    Ok I love your tank top!! These are very interesting posts, thanks!

  • Natalie January 15, 2012, 10:50 pm

    Do you come up with all your own post ideas? I love the race topics. This post is a good one and I also like the other posts you highlighted. I will use this info when training for my 3rd sprint tri this coming summer.

    • Caitlin January 16, 2012, 10:43 am

      Yes I do! I brainstorm a lot and try to answer questions that I knew I used to have!

      Good luck on your sprint!

  • Amber @ Bold, Busy, Blessed January 15, 2012, 11:01 pm

    Love these posts, a tri isn’t in my future… yet. I always read bloggers talk about long distance races and thought that was something I would never do… and now here I am training for a half marathon!

  • Hotpotatokate January 15, 2012, 11:04 pm

    I probably do fewer bricks for a half than I would do for a sprint, because the brick effect goes away so much more quickly in proportion to the race distance. In a sprint/Oly, you feel bricky for most of the run, but in a half IM, it’s only for the first few km. After that, you’re just tired! But still, at the end of my Half IM programmes, my coaches have had me follow long hard bikes with short hard runs, and it’s been great; not so much for the brick effect, but for the race simulation and also because doing a hard workout like that makes the race seem easy.

    Oh dang, you’ve got me all nostalgic for triathlon again! (34 weeks preggie and missing it)

    • Caitlin January 16, 2012, 10:44 am

      I miss it too!!! At least you can do tris this summer 🙁 I’m going to miss the whole season (small sacrifice, of course).

  • Chelsea January 15, 2012, 11:32 pm

    I love the post but *youch* you are so heel stomping in that one picture haha! That just looks so painful to me. & I agree with Keri I only have a mountain bike, but you’ve got me so interested in giving it a Tri ;D!

  • Tara January 16, 2012, 12:03 am

    I have been waiting for the run leg of a tri post, this has been a great series! Unlike most people, running for me is definitely my least favorite and least strong part. (I attribute this to the way my childhood through college sport used running as “punishment”.)

    At the end of last season I made a goal of becoming a better runner and enjoying my time running. I just signed up for my first 10k. After only a few weeks of training I am already so much more confident and I look forward to this triathlon season!

  • Khushboo January 16, 2012, 12:35 am

    Although I’ve never trained for a triathalon, I’ve done a few brick workouts and they are seriously exhausting! I normally do a run followed by a swim only because the latter feels that much more refreshing!

  • Claire January 16, 2012, 1:27 am

    That photo of you in the swim ride run blog top is amazing – check out those legs!

    • Caitlin January 16, 2012, 10:44 am


  • Chelsea @ One Healthy Munchkin January 16, 2012, 7:35 am

    Thanks again for this series! I’m thinking of doing a tri this summer and while I know I can do each of the components separately, I’m so nervous about doing them all at once! These tips will definitely help. 🙂

  • Cat @Breakfast to Bed January 16, 2012, 10:22 am

    I am REALLY good at falling off bikes, NOT riding them.

  • Emily January 16, 2012, 12:15 pm

    great post and definitely a huge help! thanks!

  • Rae January 16, 2012, 12:46 pm

    Bricks for fulls= mandatory! Of course, then you get into ridiculous bricks, like a 6 hour ride followed by a 30 minute run, or a two hour bike followed by a two hour run. Completely agree with the stopping thing though…thats why they put the run last bc if you get tired, you just walk…or fall over 😛 much less risk!!

  • Emilie January 16, 2012, 4:40 pm

    Great tips for a marathon, do you have any tips for somebody who isn’t even up to being able to run. I train daily on my elliptal machine which isn’t an issue. But as soon as I start running even for a few minutes, my asthma causes major problems. I would love to know if you have any advise for a real novice?

    • Caitlin January 16, 2012, 9:24 pm

      I would definitely talk to your doctor about the asthma issue because I have NO idea how to safely address that! But if he gives you the clear to run, I would really recommend the Couch to 5K training plan. It’s a walk/run program that will help you build your endurance.

  • Diana January 16, 2012, 9:04 pm

    I’m a runner, but will be racing in the NYC Triathlon this summer as a new triathlete! Caitlin, this triathlon post series has been extremely helpful – thank you! I was wondering if you’re planning on doing a post on how to creating an appropriate training plan. I’m finding the planning part the most daunting, especially since most tri advice books seem to be focused on year-long training plans for professional athletes. I have six months, and no more than 16 hours a week to train – not 30 hours like some of these books suggest. Eek!

    • Caitlin January 16, 2012, 9:22 pm

      Yes! A training plan post is coming soon!!!!

      I am so excited for you that you are doing the NYC tri – pretty baller!

      • Diana January 16, 2012, 9:35 pm

        Yay! I was planning on emailing you with some questions and then you began this training post – perfect timing. Yes, I’m pretty excited about the NYC tri. My boyfriend did it last year. I was so inspired after spectating, especially some of the disabled triathletes. It was so moving and encouraging. I can’t wait to try it for myself!

        • Caitlin January 17, 2012, 8:38 am

          Definitely let me know how training goes!

    • Shannon January 18, 2012, 5:18 pm

      I’m doing the NYC Triathlon this year too! It will be my second tri (first Olympic distance) and I’m super excited / scared. The training plan is definitely difficult because there are so many elements to incorporate, including (for me!) yoga and strength training.

      Loving the series, Caitlin!

  • Kayla January 16, 2012, 9:18 pm

    Your legs are UNREAL in that running pic of you in the pink top. Wow, girl!

  • Brigid January 17, 2012, 1:42 pm

    I’m planning to do my first (super mini) sprint triathlon in two months, but it’s upside-down — run, bike, swim — because it’s a pool tri. When you talk about transitions, can you include this kind of tri? I really have no idea what to expect! Thanks!

    • CaitlinHTP January 17, 2012, 2:11 pm

      Interesting! I think doing a reverse one would be kind of fun 🙂

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