Duathlon Advice for Beginners
If you're new to Duathlon, knowing where to start and what to expect can be daunting. We asked Descente London Duathlon top finisher Katherine O'Hara, for her top tips for all beginners looking to tackle a duathlon. Read on to find out more!
Advice for basic training
The most important aspect of Duathlon training is pacing. The more you can engage in other races to get a feel of a sustainable pace, the more likely it will be that you can recreate this for the Duathlon. Head to your local parkrun to practice your pacing.
Not only that, but in training you need to recreate the feeling of running off the bike so that it feels familiar. Any brick session will do this, so set up sessions to be ready to put shoes on and run straight off the bike. These types of session are hard as they require discipline. I have had long rides where I’ve got home and felt very tired but I’ve had to force myself back out of the door. When you first try this, do not look at your watch and don’t focus on speed; steady running is fine. From there you can then slowly start to increase speed and include some race paced interval efforts later in training.
One running session you could do off the bike is:
Warm up - 5-10 minutes
Intervals – 1 min at race pace followed by 2 min recovery (repeat 4 times and build up to 10 repetitions later in training).
Cool Down – 5 minutes
On this session, in the race pace intervals try to consistently hold speed rather than starting faster and fading. Practice some mental preparation too! When that voice is your head tells you to slow down, push on a little bit further. Better still, I challenge you to smile towards the end of an effort as this can trick your brain into thinking it is less of a treat and will actually make the effort feel easier.
In your training think about the race course and mimic any hill efforts. In The London Duathlon, there is a solid hill that curves and gets steeper towards the end for a good few minutes. Find a hill that gives you a steady incline for 2 minutes and repeat this 6-8 times with a spin recovery long enough to get your heart rate down. Again this is about consistent effort throughout the whole session.
Top tips for transitioning
The transition can be tricky and will take practice. Take some time to fully understand how it works and then get out and practice in training. It is very easy to lose time on a transition as the adrenaline makes it hard to think! Have a logical flow in your head and follow the rule of helmet on first before you touch your bike (T1) and rack the bike before removing your helmet (T2).
Control your breathing and do not panic. Use visualization to help with a smooth transition (i.e. visualise your shoes sliding on easily). Do not worry about what others are doing and ditch any extra clothing quickly after the bike leg as you will be a lot warmer by now.
Practice transitions around your training sessions if possible. Simply take your run shoes on and off. You may need to work on how tight laces need to be and using elastic laces can help make this quicker. When you take the run shoes off in T1 and leave them in place for T2 they may be kicked or moved by another competitor so be prepared for this. Some runners may choose to have a second pair of shoes in transition for the shorter second run to avoid this.
Think about your race kit and train in it before the day itself. I raced in Spain in April last year thinking it would be sunny and experienced torrential rain and wind – so prepare for all eventualities! You’ll want to be warm when needed, but also be able to ditch clothing if you get too hot. Consider gloves and arm warmers that you can ditch after the first run or bike. Moreover, elastic laces win races. Make sure you’ve got used to running with them. They are by far the quickest in transition but more importantly they allow a natural foot movement when running.
Eating a high carbohydrate breakfast at least 2 hours before will mean you have energy in the tank and sip on water or electrolyte drink up until 30-60 minutes before the race. It cannot be prescriptive because what works for me will not necessarily work for you.
On the day of the race itself aim to arrive at least an hour before the start bearing in mind the toilet queue can eat significantly into this time. If the racking is unmarked, then choose a position that involves less running with your bike if possible (T2). Usually it is designed fairly so that you will do more running in one of the transitions so decide which you prefer.
It is very important to trace your steps so that you can find your bike. You cannot put a flag or marker to identify your space and the bikes will be quite close together. Therefore, I use a coloured towel to put my things on. Do a run through so you know which rack and position- it sounds obvious but in the excitement of the race it is easy to run past and precious time can be lost hunting for your rack.
Be mindful of protecting your tyres. Don’t risk a puncture by riding up and down the car park to warm up. Instead, rack your bike early and, for 15mins before the start, use a gentle jog followed by some short sprints or ‘strides’ to warm up your legs.
During race tips
Pace the first run sensibly as the energy you have needs to be spread over the course of the whole race. It is tempting to go all out however aim to run your own race. You will be surprised how you will overtake others towards the last few km.
Chunk the race down in your mind. Having raced Ironman for 5 years, I always try to not think about the next part and stay in the moment as much as possible. By doing this, I find that by the end of the first run I cannot wait to get on the bike and by the end of the bike I look forward to getting off to run again. Enjoy each section and take in the crowd support for energy.
Nutrition is a key aspect of being able to maintain race pace and needs to be practiced in training and around the time you are out for not the distance. I find in a longer Duathlon energy bars are better on the bike and I use gels/ cubes on the run. One top tip is make sure you have a drink bottle on your bike and make sure you have a last drink / cube towards the end of the bike to fuel you for the second run.
On the transition, make sure you’ve left your bike in a small gear to be able to spin the pedals faster than usual for the first minute of the bike leg. This’ll help your muscles adapt to the action before then shifting up a few gears and relying on strength.
In the last minutes of the bike leg, repeat the lower gear spinning to prepare you for a high cadence running action. Make sure you’ve practiced a ‘rolling dismount’ in training and don’t just try it on race day! Some athletes use rubber bands to secure their bike shoes and snap them off when they start to ride. Again whatever you decide you need to practice.