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Duathlon training for beginners – first timer tips to prepare for your first duathlon

Signed up for your first duathlon and not sure where to start with training? After completing a duathlon for the first time, keen trail runner Katherine Brook shares her first hand tips and experience to help you get ready to take on your first run-bike-run event.

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Signing up for an event, like your first duathlon, is, in some ways, the hardest part. It takes courage to add your name to the list but also provides the motivation you need to reach the start line.

I took part in my first duathlon at the end of 2023. As a keen runner and seasonal cyclist, it seemed like a natural progression: run-bike-run – I could do that… I went into the race as a total novice and came out with a fire to do more, as well as a long list of things I’d do to make the experience better next time, including more brick training and practising transitions. Whether you’re a runner making the switch to multisport, like me. Or new to endurance sport entirely. Based on my own experience of taking on my first duathlon, I’m sharing my top tips to help you get ready for the start line.

How to prepare for your first duathlon

Duathlons vary in distances, from short ‘sprint’ races (1-3 mile run and 8-15 mile bike) to ‘standard’ races (3 mile run, 24 mile bike) and some are even longer.

The length of your duathlon will impact the number of hours of training you need to do, but no matter the distance, there are two key elements that I think everyone needs to consider in their training: brick sessions and fuelling.

Brick sessions – how to get used to running after cycling

Brick sessions involve doing more than one sport back-to-back, in this case, running and cycling. In your training, you will need to practise going from a run into a cycle and a cycle into a run, which will not only help you with transitions on race day, but get your body used to adapting to different disciplines. It can feel very odd going for a run straight off the bike, but with practise it will become easier to find your flow.

I would recommend starting small, even just running 1 km off the bike for the first couple of sessions and building up the distance.

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Fuelling

As an experienced ultra runner, I’d like to think I know how to fuel for my races pretty well, from staying on top of nutrition during training to carb-loading the night before and fueling during the race. But when I began training for my duathlon, I didn’t quite realise how much energy I would use on the bike – I thought it would be less than running but it’s actually about the same. Once I learnt this, I was able to apply the same nutrition I use in running to cycling..

Your fuel needs to be something you know your stomach is happy with and that you can get in easily. I tend to use Tailwind carb drinks coupled with Maurten gels, but there are so many different products out there, it’s all about finding what works for you. And, again, the amount of fuel you need depends on the distance. The most important thing is to test your fuel during training so that you don’t have any issues on race day.

Katherine Brook after finishing the British Triathlon Swim Bike Run Local duathlon event.
Katherine after completing her first duathlon

In a longer duathlon, I put two bottles on my bike: one carb drink mix and one water. I will then also take gels every 20-30 minutes of exercise. Some people like to tape gels onto their bike, so they are easy to reach, otherwise, you can keep them in a pocket or on a bag on the bike.

Before the race, it’s important to get carbs in. For me, this looks like a big bowl of pasta for dinner the night before and either porridge or a bagel, with banana and peanut butter, 2 hours before the race.

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10 tips for race day

I won’t lie, standing on the start line of my first duathlon was quite scary. My stomach was a mixture of knots and butterflies, as I stood there in my running gear (no, I didn’t have a tri suit), eyeing up my competitors. I was most worried about the transitions and running straight off the bike. But after making it through my first duathlon – and enjoying it – here are my 10 top tips to help you make the most of your first event.

  1. Make sure you read up about the specific transition rules and zones on the event website prior to the race.
  2. Check your bike before the race – Give the bike a once over, checking the tyres, the chain, the brakes. You don’t want to be faced with a mechanical issue just as you jump on the bike.
  3. Pack a spare tyre and a pump – It’s quite common for athletes to use gas canisters to fill their tyres with air now, as it’s much faster, meaning should you get a puncture during the race, you’ll be able to get back on the bike quickly. And with that, do practise changing a tyre before the race.
  4. Bring layers – Unless you’re racing in hot climates, you need to stay warm before the race and a change of clothes for after is always a welcome feeling.
  5. Don’t worry if you don’t have a tri suit – Not everyone will own a tri suit, especially if they’re new to duathlons. Just make sure you wear a tight fitting outfit, so you are as aerodynamic on the bike as possible, such as tight shorts and a fitted vest or t-shirt.
  6. Don’t change your race fuel – Stick to what you’ve been training with and eat a meal you’re familiar with before the race.
  7. Set up your transition zone – You’re allowed to set up your transition zone prior to the race. Alongside your bike you will leave your cleats (if you’re wearing them) and any extra nutrition and water. If it’s hot you may even want to leave a towel by the bike/ice.
  8. Keep an eye on your pacing – It can be easy to go off too fast, especially in sprint triathlons, as there’s a bit of a ‘go hard and hold on’ nature. Try and keep an eye on your watch, sticking to the pace you’ve set yourself. You still have a bike and run to do, so you don’t want to blow yourself up on the first leg.
  9. Positive self-talk – The way I beat the nerves in a race is to give myself encouragement, just how you would a friend: ‘You can do it,’ ‘keep going’, ‘you are doing amazing’, ‘this is what we trained for, keep pushing’. It’s amazing how much this can help.
  10. Bring a friend – Having a familiar face along the course can really boost morale. Plus, it’s great to have someone at the finish line.
Katherine Brook
Written by
Katherine Brook
A copywriter and journalist by profession Katherine is a passionate trail runner and often to be found challenging herself across the UK & Europe. 2024 will see her take on a triathlon challenge.

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