Descente London Duathlon - Tips For First Timers by Becca Burns
If you’re thinking about tackling your first duathlon, a half duathlon is a great place to start. The Descente London Duathlon Half Duathlon distance is 5km run, 22km cycle 5km run which offers a challenge, whilst being an achievable distance for anyone new to run-bike-run or for the more experienced competitor looking for a fast grind.
The half distance was the choice for my first duathlon. I came from a running background, however was still fairly new to cycling so the shorter distance on the bike was the deciding factor for me. I’ll be back this year to compete in this same distance, I find it testing but enjoyable and I’m keen to challenge last year’s finish time to help monitor my progress and provide a benchmark of my ability.
Trying a new sport is always daunting. If you’re coming to duathlon the chances are you have some background in one of the disciplines, for example I’m first and foremost a runner, whilst my boyfriend is a cyclist and still fairly new to running. Combining the two can be a whole new ball game, but it helps keep you on your toes. The training is so varied and being out on the bike in the summer months leading up to the Descente London Duathlon is really good fun.
I had so many questions before I attempted my first duathlon. I didn’t know what to expect, and as much as you can train and prepare, when it’s your first time trying something new there is always a slight nervousness and an apprehension at the unknown. So I’ve pulled together a list of my top tips, things I’ve learned and things I had been worried about before competing. Hopefully this will help dispel any nerves, remove the unknowns, break down some multi-sports barriers and allow you to enjoy your training and duathlon day!
Training and the build up to the event
Brick training is your best friend: those sessions where you go from running to cycling to running. You’re basically practicing the format ahead of race day and teaching your legs to get used to changing between the bike and your running shoes. This is especially essential for that last run of the run-bike-run combo, guaranteed that when you come off the bike your legs will feel a little confused, but if you’ve prepared this won’t be a shock and you’ll know how to deal with running on tired legs.
Gradually build up your training, especially if you’re new to either running or cycling. I have a 10% rule when I’m marathon training, where I up the distance by 10% each week. I applied this rule to my duathlon training and found it really useful. It is essential for injury prevention that you give your body chance to adjust to both running and cycling individually, plus combining the two. Also make sure you take rest days, that you’re doing your stretches and fuelling well.
I promise your legs will work again! Coming off the bike and onto the last run your legs are likely to feel fatigued and slightly alien! Your brain is screaming go and your legs are floundering about like jelly. I promise, hold tight your legs will work again. I knew from my brick sessions that it takes about a km for my legs to wake back up, but after that it’s like catching a second wind and you can dig deep until the end.
Practice hills on the bike! Richmond Park is NOT flat, the duathlon route features a real crawler hill, so it is essential that you get used to hills, both in terms of training your body but also learning what gears to select. What goes up must also come down and for me hill training is also learning to be confident on the descent. We were lucky enough to travel to Richmond Park and practice the loop before the day. If you have the opportunity to do this I really recommend it as Richmond Park is lovely in the summer.
Learn some basic bike maintenance, and prepare your bike. I always carry two spare inner tubes, the tools for changing a puncture and a small hand pump. There will be lots of people to help you on duathlon day but it’s essential you have the kit and some ability to be able to deal with a puncture, just in case. You must also test your breaks and ensure your bike is in roadworthy condition.
Practice your transitions. Transition was one thing that terrified me when I first started. Everyone talks about this mythical transition thing that sounds incredibly scary. All it is, is simply taking you bike off a rack/ putting it back on a rack and changing from running to cycling shoes or vice versa. It’s not frightening at all, but you should definitely have a quick practice just so you don’t become flustered. I also recommend investing in some elastic laces to speed the shoe switching up. I practiced the following routine: Transition one (run to bike) Helmet on, running shoes off, bike shoes on, stuff food/gels in jersey, grab the bike and go. Transition two (bike to run) hang the bike, helmet off switch shoes, go go go.
On The Day
Get there early, earlier than you think you need to be. I’m so used to rocking up to races, dropping my bag and heading to the start, but for a duathlon you have a lot of kit to sort and you need to give yourself plenty of time. There are a variety of waves and start times so check your time carefully. We gave ourselves just over 90 minutes to get the bikes off the car and head to the park. There are a lot of road/ footpath closures and you have to use a footbridge to get to the transition area ready to drop your bike so leave yourself enough time. If you’re worried about the transition, coming early and watching others doing it will really set your nerves at ease.
Pick a place you can remember where you left your bike and lay your kit out in the transition zone. I place my snacks for the bike in my cycling shoes to remind me to pick them up, and put my helmet on top of my shoes to ensure I pick this up before I take my bike off the rack- a good habit to get into. Have your water bottles ready on the bike and check your tyres, seat height and breaks prior.
You are set off in waves, if you want a priority start make sure you’re wearing your Descente London Duathlon Jersey. The waves are about 20 people and you are given full instructions and a count down. The groups are small enough and the gaps long enough to ensure that the start doesn’t feel congested.
Pace yourself the first run, it’s not meant to be a 5km PB but at the same time don’t be afraid to give it some welly as the bike feels so different that your legs don’t fatigue on the cycle.
Eat on the bike, and eat actual food not just gels, take water on too. I always have one bottle of water and one bottle of water with hydration tablets in e.g. nuun or high 5. Once I had tackled the big hill and found my pace I ate a clif bar on the bike, it really will help you on the run.
The second run your legs will feel like jelly, but just keep going, you do find a second wind. Just one foot in front of the other, one km at a time!
Enjoy the finish straight, you have worked exceptionally hard! Collect your medal and wear it with pride.
When you finish take a moment to take it all in, compose yourself and have a quick rest/stretch. There is so rush to go back for your bike, it is safe in the transition zone. Get some water and electrolytes in, snack on something and stretch to kick-start your recovery. I also enjoyed a sports massage after the event.
Some Myths Busted...
It is totally fine to walk- if you’re tired a walk break will also conserve energy. My top tip is walk the uphills and run the downhills if you need. Plenty of people were walking, my boyfriend included, so you WILL NOT be the only one (and to note he didn’t finish that long behind me as he recharged on his walk break then smashed the final few kms)
Similarly, if the hills on the bike are difficult there is no shame in getting off and pushing- plenty of people were also doing this.
You don’t need a flash bike. It just has to be roadworthy and comply with the event guidelines.
All abilities are welcome, the competitors were so varied and the atmosphere was so welcoming. There are lots of spectators too, so if you’re nervous bring people out to cheer for you!
So hopefully that is a whistle stop tour of your first time at the Descente London Duathlon and answers some of the burning questions you might have ahead of your first duathlon. I thoroughly enjoyed the event and will be back again this year. The organisation is exceptional and the atmosphere is welcoming and inclusive. It’s a great day out and a chance to ride the roads of beautiful Richmond Park traffic free.
You can follow Becca's adventures on her blog @thisbunnyruns.