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The Beginners Guide To Duathlon Training

You’ve probably heard of a triathlon, but have you ever heard of a duathlon? For runners who are looking to compete in another event but aren’t quite ready to make the jump to a triathlon, a duathlon is a great option.

We’ll tell you everything that you need to know about training for and competing in your first duathlon. This includes common race distances, the breakdown of the race, some training and race day tips, and clothes and gear you might want to purchase.

What is a Duathlon?

As the name implies, a duathlon is two events rather than the three events of a triathlon. It is just running and biking with no swimming section. 

Running and cycling are completed in three stages: run-bike-run. You’ll start with a run and finish with a run. In other words, the first run replaces the swimming slot for a triathlon.

For runners who want to ease into another event or triathletes who want an option for the colder winter months when it’s hard to get in open water, it’s a great option.

Common Duathlon Distances

  • Super Sprint: 2.5k run, 10k bike, 2.5k run
  • Sprint: 5k run, 20k bike, 5k run
  • Standard: 10k run, 40k bike, 5k run
  • Long: 10k run, 150k bike, 30k run

Just like triathlon distances, the variety of duathlon distances make it a great race for both beginners and more advanced athletes.

Breakdown of a Duathlon

As any triathlete knows, there are actually more than three parts to the race if you factor in the transition times, which can make a huge difference in your overall finish time.

Duathlons are the same way in that there are really 5-6 components, depending on how you look at it:

Pre-Race

This is the time to set your stuff in the transition area so that it’s easily accessible, allowing you to spend the minimum amount of time possible transitioning. Make sure that you pay attention to your race numbers to know where to rack your bike and put other stuff.

First Run Section

The race has officially started! For longer distance duathlons, the first run is longer than the second run. However, in shorter distance duathlons, it may be the same length as the second run. Typically, duathlons in the United States start with everyone at the same time.

Although you know the importance of pacing yourself well at the beginning of a race as a runner, it’s especially important for a duathlon. You still have a bike ride and another run to do, so don’t push too hard in this section.

Transition 1 (T1)

After you finish the run, you’ll race to the transition area to get ready to bike. The first thing you should do is put your helmet on so you don’t forget it. Then change into cycling shoes if you’re using them and walk your bike out of the transition area. Don’t ride it.

Bike Portion of the Race

You do not want to mount your bike until you reach the designated area where you are allowed to do so. You can obviously push a little bit harder in this section because you have one run down, but don’t overdo it because that last run could be killer.

Transition 2 (T2)

Again, as you switch from biking to running, there will be a particular area to dismount. Get off there and walk your bike to the transition area. Take off your helmet once your bike is racked and change into running shoes if you switched shoes.

Second Run Section

This is the last leg, so give it everything you have! Obviously, depending on how long this run is (due to the type of duathlon you’re participating in), you’ll want to make sure that you have enough steam to get to the finish line.

Finish!

Congratulations! You did it. Pat yourself on the back and celebrate with your family and friends that came to watch you. 

Duathlon Race Rules

Duathlons have some unique rules that you might not have experienced for a race that you ran, so it’s important to keep them in mind.

Keep Your Helmet On

Whenever you are holding onto your bike, you need to have your helmet on. This is why it should be the first thing that you should put on when you hit T1 and the first thing to take off when you hit T2.

Walk, Don’t Ride Out of Transition

You are not allowed to ride your bike out of the transition area. You must walk it and mount your bike in the proper area. Similarly, you can’t ride back into the transition area. You must dismount in the proper area and walk it to the transition area.

Keep Your Clothes On

Nudity in the transition area isn’t allowed, so you shouldn’t be trying to change clothes in the transition area. Some races don’t allow exposed torsos, meaning that males can’t run with their shirts off if they get hot and women can’t run in sports bras.

Know Where to Ride

If you’re competing in a duathlon in the US, you’ll be riding on the right side of the road and passing on the left. You need to let other riders know that you’re passing by saying, “On your left!”

In the UK and other countries with similar highway laws, you’ll ride on the left side and pass on the right. And again, let others know that you’re passing by saying, “On your right!”

Turn Off the Tunes

Race rules for listening to music can vary when you’re running, but it’s often not allowed. For duathlons, it’s not allowed at all, including the run part and not just on the bike part. So, leave your tunes at home.

Avoid Drafting (Typically)

Often, it’s illegal to ride close to another cyclist in order to let him or her deal with the wind resistance instead of you. This makes it much easier to ride. However, some races are draft-legal, so make sure you know the rules of your race before race day.

Duathlon Race Clothing and Gear

As with running, there is certain clothing and gear that you need to have in order to be successful. We’ll also give you some suggestions about nice-to-have gear too.

Clothing

Your best bet for clothing is a triathlon (or tri) suit. It’s a piece of clothing that is either one or two pieces and dries quickly. It gives you an extra layer of padding in the shorts so that it’s more comfortable during the bike portion.

If you’re planning to compete in more duathlon or triathlon events, it’s definitely worth buying this clothing. You can also purchase tri shorts if you just want the bottom half and plan to wear one of your anti-wicking running shirts.

However, if you’re new and aren’t sure about shelling out money, any clothing that will be comfortable running and biking is totally fine. Just make sure that it works for both biking and running (especially the bottoms).

Must-Have Gear

You must have three items in order to compete in the race: running shoes, a bike, and a helmet. You will not be allowed to participate if you do not have a helmet for safety reasons. 

If it’s your first duathlon, you don’t have to buy a fancy new bike. You can complete the race with a hybrid bike, a mountain bike, a road bike, or a triathlon bike. It will be harder and take more energy with the first two, but they are legal for the race.

Types of Bikes

  • Hybrid Bike: This is a general-purpose bike that combines elements from road bikes, touring bikes, and mountain bikes. It tries to give you the best of all worlds.
  • Mountain Bike: This is designed to be used for off-road cycling and challenging terrain. It’s not designed as much for a triathlon/duathlon and speed.
  • Road Bike: Because your body is up a little bit higher for a road bike, it’s not as powerful as a triathlon bike. But it’s a great option if you’re going to do a duathlon or triathlon every couple years.
  • Triathlon Bike: This bike is specifically designed to give you a powerful posture that will help you power through the bike portion.

Nice-to-Have Gear

You don’t need any of this gear, but it could make your race and training that much more comfortable. 

Cycling Shoes

For example, cycling shoes are designed to allow you to power your stroke on the down and up portions. You can only power on the down portion with running shoes.

It might seem like you’re wasting time in the transition area changing shoes, but you’ll make up for all the lost time and then some with cycling shoes. If you’re planning to run a lot of duathlons/triathlons, it’s worth investing in a pair.

Quick-Tie Laces

These fast-tying laces are essential if you’re going to wear cycling shoes because you want to make it easy to get your running shoes back on. This can save you valuable seconds in the transition area, making them well worth the investment.

Sunglasses

Sunglasses are helpful for running when it’s super sunny outside, but when you’re cycling, they can provide an added benefit of protection from flying bugs and other debris. If you want to keep your eyes safe as you’re powering through the bike portion, sunglasses are a must.

Warm Race Gear

If you’re running a duathlon in the summer, you don’t need to worry, but if there is any case of the weather getting cold, be prepared. 

For example, have a jacket and gloves ready in the transition area for the bike portion if the weather suddenly drops in temperature or is super windy.

GPS Watch With Multisport

A GPS running watch is great, but if you’re planning to run more duathlons, you’ll likely want to purchase a GPS watch with multisport. Then you’ll have a watch that is designed to calculate information for a variety of events and can best suit your needs.

Training Tips

If you’re new to a duathlon, you’ll want to plan to train for 12 weeks. While you might feel super comfortable about the run portion if you’re a runner, you still need that time if you’ve never done a duathlon before.

Focus on Your Weaker Link

While this is likely not your first inclination, you’ll want to practice the sport that you’re less comfortable with. This is likely biking if you’re reading this article on a running blog. While you might want to spend lots of time training for the runs, you need to be prepared for the bike section.

If you decide to do three workouts a week, do two in the sport that you’re less comfortable with (for example, biking) and one in the sports that you feel more confident in (for example, running).

Practice, Practice, Practice

It’s important to get the transition time down pat, so you should practice it. Set up a fake transition area and practice switching from run to bike and then from bike to run. Think about how you’d like to lay out your gear in your area. Practice racking and unracking your bike, if possible.

You’ll also want to incorporate some brick workouts into your duathlon training. These workouts include both running and biking to get prepared for race day. You’ll likely want to start doing run-to-bike brick workouts and then do bike-to-run brick workouts.

It’s important that you start to train your legs to transition from biking to run and avoid the heavy leg feeling that can be common for duathletes and triathletes. 

Don’t Forget About Rest Days

As with running, rest days are important. Even though you might love to run, you need to have at least one full rest day a week of no training activity. You need to give your body a chance to heal and make the muscle repairs that it needs to.

Race Day Tips

Congratulations! Race day has finally arrived. Here are some tips that you’ll want to keep in mind. Don’t overdo it on the first run leg; go easy as you get used to the race and get your body warmed up.

For a warm-up, you should plan to run instead of bike to avoid pre-race bike malfunctions. The last thing you want is to be stressed at the start line. Finally, leave your bike in low gear to start easy on your bike and use the bike portion to fuel and hydrate.

Conclusion

In the end, a duathlon is a great gateway event to the triathlon as you just have to incorporate a biking section in between two running sections. 

If you take the time to train properly and make the most of the transition time, you’re sure to have a great time at your first duathlon.

Just remember to start off easy, follow the rules especially during the biking section (like no drafting), and finish strong! 

The Wired Runner