Duathlon really is a different beast than triathlon, even though both are generally hosted on the same weekend and are often thought of as being interchangeable. Swapping that swim out for a run completely changes the dynamic of the race, and those who have experienced both can assuredly tell you that it is a different sport entirely! New duathletes need to be prepared for this shock as they navigate their first season of du’ing it. And what’s the point of having experience if you don’t share it and pass it on! Here are some tips from me that I have been sitting on for weeks and hope can help you, whether you are preparing for your first duathlon or looking for a personal best in your tenth one!
Find your limit on the first run
I always hear the advice “Don’t start too hard” given to new duathletes. And you’re going to hear it here again…if your goal is to accomplish the distance, this is definitely the best strategy for you. The first run scorch the legs no matter how much you keep in reserve, and too many matches burned on the first run could lead to a difficult ride and more difficult second run. However, I do think it is valuable to refer to this as a guideline with room for progression. As you grow as a duathlete, the harder I believe you can press on that first run. As you complete more and more du’s, you will get to know what your limit is on that first run for different distances, the point where you can maximize time savings on the first run while still keeping enough in reserve for a strong bike and second run. You can then focus on getting closer to it every time. Either way, take the first 500m-1km to get your bearings, gauge your position in the race, and work yourself up to your goal pace. There is still a long way to go to be burning a match in the opening stretch!
Just like triathlon is not the simple sum of a swim race, a bike race, and a running race, duathlon is much more than the sum of its parts. From start to finish, duathlon is very much its own unique sport, and should be treated as such. That means supplementing your cycling and running workouts with combination brick workouts. Brick workouts for duathletes can be as simple as heading out for a short run before or after your cycling workout, or even both! As you progress through the season and as a duathlete in general, you will want to start injecting some pace into these runs to better simulate a race situation, but even just a jog around the block will suffice until you feel more comfortable with brick workouts. The point is just to get your head and your legs around the idea that you will have to bike after running, and run after cycling.
Sweat the small details
Additional time can EASILY be shaved by taking the time and the care to sweat the small details. That means considering elastic laces in your shoes for easy on/off in transition, simplifying and meticulously planning of your transition procedures and set-up to minimize the number of things you have to think about after that first run, and jogging (instead of walking) your bike in and out of transition. Without the swim, you can carry everything on you from the start, making it easier to keep your transitions simple. Especially in a shorter race, T1 should be “shoes off, helmet on, GO”, T2 should be “helmet off, shoes on, GO”. Just ask Darren Cooney, who netted an overall podium (his first?) this past weekend in Binbrook by 31 seconds over 4th, thanks in part to the 35 seconds he saved in transition.
Don’t forget the run/bike transition
In triathlon, there is a lot of focus on running well after a hard bike. While this is still true in duathlons, there is a lot of value to working on the other transition…the run to bike transition. Practice running before biking, to get your legs used to cycling after redlining for 5 or 10km. Start with adding a short run before (and after) your ride once or twice a week, and then progress to injecting a little bit of pace into that first run. It doesn’t have to be more than 5 or 10 minutes at around your first run pace. What is important is getting onto the bike with a little bit of running related fatigue and teaching your legs to buffer that very early on in the bike. And while you’re at it, practice that transition. Lay out your transition zone (remember: shoes off, helmet on, GO), and if you are comfortable enough with your ability to attempt a flying mount, practice that too. Attach your shoes to your bike, use elastic attached to the heel pull and hooked over a part of your bike to get them nice and flat for entry, and (most importantly) get yourself mentally prepared to think of it as a race situation.
Grab all of the low-hanging fruit
The number one way of becoming a faster duathlete is to ride your bike lots, run lots, and increase the size of your engine. Buy yourself an indoor trainer and a Netflix account so you can keep riding once the snow falls. This is the number one piece of low-hanging fruit that most duathletes miss. Once you are there, transition practice, elastic laces, and even all the fancy aero goodies you see in transition are all examples of low-hanging fruit that many people believe they are “not ready for” or “not good enough for”. Why not? As long as you enjoy the sport and are willing to commit to it, I see no harm in investing in a little bit of extra speed. If you are savvy about it you can do it on 20% of the budget than the retailers would like you to believe. Assuming you are starting on a road bike, clip-on aerobars and good bike fit can be had for $200-250, and can do wonders for your bike speed. Next, an aero helmet ($50-100 used online), a rear disc wheel cover ($100 at Wheelbuilder.com) and a between the arms bottle mount ($20 for four zipties and a bottle cage) will knock off another chunk of time. Beyond that, a deeper front wheel can be found used online by the savvy shopper for $300-500, and likely hold that value. All will give you a huge boost for less than $1000 (or about half of what you would pay for a more aero frame, for at least double the speed). Just as with transitions, make sure you get lots of practice riding with all of these goodies before you try it in a race!
The inspiration for this post was an article that Darren pointed out to me via Twitter by professional duathlete Jez Cox, which you can read it here. Jez has a lot of fantastic ideas that got me started on thinking about the knowledge I have to share, so I highly recommend giving that a read as well. Debate is always welcomed, so feel free to chime in on Facebook/Twitter or in the comments below. I would love to hear what you have to say!
Until next time, keep Du’ing it!