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The Beginners Guide To Duathlon Training

You’ve probably heard of a triathlon, the famous all-around fitness test of swimming, cycling, and running in one event.

It can be daunting, especially the open-water swimming portion. A duathlons, triathlon’s slightly less-daunting cousin, is a great introduction to multisport competition if the swim makes you nervous or you don’t have a place to train in the water. 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.

Please note: duathlon is quite different thing from the aquabike. That tri race is only swimming and biking, no running. 

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 beginners, advanced athletes, and anyone in between.

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. Your gear needs to be easily accessible, allowing you to spend the minimum time possible transitioning. 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.

As a runner, you know the importance of pacing yourself well at the beginning of a race. 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

Don’t 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. During training, you will learn very quickly how your legs react to getting off the bike and starting a run. The first couple times, it can be a bit of a shock. With the right training, you will get used to the feeling, no matter how hard you push it in the bike leg.

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 back into your running 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), just make sure 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 at a running race. It’s important to know them and 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 put on when you hit T1 and the last 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. 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)

Exeperienced cyclists know that the best way to conserve energy during a ride or race is to draft. You ride close behind another rider, or tucked into a pack, to greatly reduce the energy spent moving air out of the way. In mutlisport races, though, drafting is almost always illegal. Even in cycling, a team sport where drafting is standard operating procedure, doing too much of it can be seen as poor sportsmanship. Duathlon is an individual sport, and riding behind someone to make it easier for yourself isn’t just poor sportsmanship – it’s a rules violation that can incur time penalties.

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 kit. 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). Cycling for 10k or 20k in running shorts should be no big deal. But once you start riding longer distances, you will appreciate the comfort cycling shorts or multisport shorts provide.

Must-Have Gear

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

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 aerodynamic as a triathlon bike. But it’s a great option if you’re going to do a duathlon or triathlon every couple years. They are designed for speed and comfort over long distances, and are great at riding uphill.
  • Triathlon Bike: This bike is specifically designed to give you an aerodynamic posture that will reduce wind resistance (read: increase speed), since drafting is usually not allowed.  It’s not the most comfortable posture, and controlling a bike in an aero position takes practice. But if you are serious about multisport races, these machines are the gold standard for individual speed.

Nice-to-Have Gear

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

Clipless Pedals and Cycling Shoes

Virtually all serious cyclists ride with clipless pedals and stiff cycling-specific shoes. “Clipless” is a bit of a misnomer at first glance, because your shoes actually clip onto your pedals, attaching your feet to your bike much like a ski binding. The rigid shoes then become the platform you are pushing down on, rather than the pedal itself.

When your feet are clipped to your bike, you can put power into both your upstroke and your downstroke. This greatly increases the power you put into the pedals. If you are wearing flexible-soled running shoes and riding with platform pedals, you will only be able to push down, and the flex in your shoes will rob you of pedaling power.

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, consider purchasing 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, 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.

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. Cycling fitness is much different than running fitness, and race day is not the time to discover this very important distinction

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).

Later in your training cycle, you need to start incorporating the all-important brick workout. This is a workout that combines both disciplines, so that you get used to how your body feels jumping off a bike and starting a run.

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.

Practice your transitions during your brick workouts, too. Again, 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.

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.

Race Day Tips

Congratulations! Race day has finally arrived. Here are a couple 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 for an easy start on the second leg. After you are settled in, use the bike portion to fuel and hydrate. Eating on a bike is far easier than trying to fuel during a run.

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 runs. 

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! 

Rachel Basinger
The Wired Runner
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