Duathlon (run/bike/run) has existed as an organised sport since the early 1980s, when it was known
as Biathlon. It continues to grow in popularity but it's probably fair to say that triathlon has received more of the multi-sport limelight. Nonetheless, by the 1990's Coors Brewing Company were sponsoring a series of events all over the US and duathlons began to appear on the UK sporting calendar. Its popularity has waxed and waned in the US, but here it is robustly healthy and continues to grow.
Duathlons are raced over sprint distances, such as 2mile/10mile/2mile, short distances, such as 8mile/24mile/ 8mile or much longer distances, a prime example of which is the 10K/150K/30K Zofingen Powerman. The 2008 World Long Distance Duathlon Champion Catriona Morrison likes every distance: "They all hurt. I like the sprint duathlons for short training and long-distance non-drafting duathlons for the challenge."
Duathlon is suited to anyone who enjoys biking and running and, much like triathlon, caters for all age groups. It is the perfect endurance sport for those who are less inclined to swim, as a form of cross training, to improve bike-handling skills under race conditions in autumn and spring, to build run strength off the bike and for transition training. "Duathlons can be a good gauge of performance, and they can replace 'threshold' workouts with something more interesting" says PhysFarm Coach Dr Philip Skiba.
Duathlon, which has national, European and world championship races, is governed by British Triathlon in the UK and by the ITU worldwide. For many years additional races have been run by Powerman, with the premier event in the calendar being the aforementioned Powerman Zofingen, which is held in Switzerland. It's an incredibly tough race, featuring a ferocious bike climb of 1600m. Mike Allen, six-time Ironman Hawaii champion, has said Powerman Zofingen is the hardest race he has done.
In recent years the UK has seen great success at duathlon, thanks to athletes such as Morrison, Victoria Graves (2009 European Junior Duathlon Champion) and Kat Grimmett (8th in the 2009 European Championships).
If you are willing to travel you can race all year round, but in the UK duathlons tend to take place in autumn and spring. But don't think that taking up duathlons means you can say goodbye to swimming (many triathletes least favourite section of an event). A short technique swim session or an Aquajog session can be the perfect way to help those tired legs recover from all that running and biking.
The train track
The starting point when you're embarking on a training programme should be a consideration of your strengths and weaknesses in running and biking. Then it becomes simply a question of adjusting to your needs. But whatever you do, remember that most of us cannot train at a high intensity all the time; it's equally important to bear in mind that too much rest is a bad idea. Your body will tell you how much you should train and how much you must rest. You should listen to it.
If you're a triathlete you already have the gear you need for duathlon, though each athlete has some favourite personal piece of kit. For Catriona Morrison it's "a decent pair of tri shorts with a small chamois", GB athlete Anne Fallows swears by her Powertap trainer, "so I know what I'm doing and when I'm doing it" and Canadian Ayesha Rollinson favours "elastic laces for quick transitions". Of course if you are considering an off-road duathlon a mountain bike is a prerequisite and some sturdy trainers or off-road trainers are a good idea, too.
Good nutrition is always an important consideration, and more than usual in off-road races, where the race time is longer compared with an on-road race. Your carbohydrate intake should be approximately 1g per kg of body weight per hour. For a 70kg male this equates to 280kcals per hour (1g Carbohydrate = 4 kcals). This would typically amount to three gels, approximately one energy bar, two to three bananas or 750ml of energy drink per hour, depending on the brand. Ensure that you practise eating on the bike when you're training; you must do this because the bike leg will be the main discipline in which you can readily consume food. This practice will also improve your bike-handling skills and help you to discover which style or brand of food you prefer (gel, liquid, bar, fruit).
Take time in the weeks leading up to the race to do some research: find out exactly where the course is and examine the bike profile. Knowing the profile of the course can help ensure you have sufficient gears on your bike on the day. Find out the weather forecast, so you know which tyres to race on and what clothing and trainers to wear - it can be the difference between a great race and a cold, bruising one.
Many triathletes race on- and off-road at cadences that are not the most biomechanically efficient. Learning to spin at a cadence that matches your running strikes helps the transition from bike to run, as well as ensuring you are less prone to overuse injuries (typically, people run at 160-180 steps per minute, so riding cadence should be 80-90 rpm). Lacking gears on climbs, and thus the capacity to maintain a sensible cadence, will cause significant muscular fatigue. See below for our eight-week duathlon training schedule.
This schedule is designed for triathletes who have completed at least a sprint-distance triathlon. The training sessions feature various paces: Talking Pace (TP) - while jogging or cycling you could have a conversation with another person; Pause-for-Breath Pace (PFB) - at this pace you could probably string 4-5 words together before pausing for a deeper breath and continuing a conversation. At this pace you are beginning to feel a little flushed and breathing feels deeper; and Can't-Talk Pace (CT) - at this pace talking is not an option. Your breathing is deep and rapid but regular, and your face is no doubt flushed with colour.
The schedule features run and bike sessions as well as conditioning exercises. These concentrate on core strength and overall conditioning (for example, walking lunges and stability-ball push-ups). Consult a qualified personal trainer or a coach for specific exercises relating to your core strength and flexibility.
Five to try
Maintaining and improving your base fitness can be a useful - but boring - way to spend the winter months. Indulge your competitive side with a few slimmed-down multi-sport events: these five duathlons certainly give you the best of both worlds.
The New Forest Sandy Balls Duathlon, 25 October
One for the indecisive among you, this race is half off- and half on-road. It features two 5K trail runs through the beautiful but bumpy terrain of the New Forest, leavened by a flat, fast 20K Tarmac bike course.
Tri and Run Ballbuster, 7 November
Fancy a narrow, zigzagging cycle route with sharp turns and steep descents? Get down to Box Hill in Dorking for 24 miles of tough bike riding. At least it will make the two eight-mile runs feel easy by comparison. www.humanrace.co.uk
The Big Adventure Store Chilly Duathlon, 22 November
This short-distance race features two two-mile runs either side of a 10-mile cycle, all on the flat roads of Castle Combe Race Circuit in Chippenham. It's a great option for newcomers to the sport.
Merrell MudMan, 5 December
Get dirty at this aptly named event, where the Surrey Hills provide the mud, and you provide the sweat and tears. The 7.5K/15K/7.5K off-road course takes you through some of Camberley's hilliest and least hospitable terrain.
Mud and Mayhem Off Road Duathlon Series, 21 February
One duathlon just not enough for you? Then sign up to this series of three - each 5K/20K/5K race through Thetford Forest can be used to test your developing fitness levels, or simply taken as races in their own right. Follow-up events take place in March and April. Be prepared for a bumpy ride - some of Thetford's bike trails are notoriously hilly.
If your race begins at noon, this is what the preceding 24 hours should look like:
24 hours to go
If you can, travel to the race venue, ensuring you have a kit list to hand to avoid any surprises. Make sure your bike is in good working order and always remember spare/different-weather tyres, if you have them.
18 hours to go
Dinner the night before the race. There's no need to try to eat your body weight in carbohydrates.
If you already eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, stick to what you are comfortable with. Try to avoid food that may take a long time to digest, such as large portions of red meat or too much fibre. Be sure you drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
3 hours to go
Time for breakfast, a nutritious carbohydrate breakfast is a prerequisite, e.g. porridge, muesli, toast and jam, bananas. Avoid fatty foods or lots of fibre.
1-2 hours to go
Arrive at transition, find your spot and sort out your kit. Check your bike is in an appropriate gear for leaving transition and starting the ride. Check that the tyres are properly inflated and that you have spare inner tubes (2), a pump and a multi-tool that includes a chain tool - you never know when a chain may break. Make sure you stay hydrated, too, and take in those last few preferred calories.
45 mins to go
Now is a good time to go for a 10-15-min jog to warm up.
20 mins to go
Avoid further carbohydrates, as you will not be able to digest them prior to the run start.
1 min to go
Get ready, get steady... and you're off! This is the moment you've trained for. Enjoy it.
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