So you are thinking about doing your first duathlon or maybe you've already signed up for the Diva Du. CONGRATULATIONS! That's awesome, and you will have the time of your life.
But you say you have some questions? Understandable. Duathlon (or any multisport) can be daunting to someone that has never tried it before. All the terminology, all the gear, all the training plans, not to mention the format of the race can be confusing.
I've spoken to a few people to try to help answer your questions and get you started on the right foot:
-Pamela Ferguson: bronze medalist at Duathlon National Championship bronze medalist, finisher at the Ironman 70.3 world championships in Austria, and iTri365 coach
-Nancy Gribble, an All-American Duathlete, who has competed internationally on Team USA
-Missy Ruthven, former pro-duathlete, 27-year multisport veteran, co-owner of Austin Tri Cyclist and a proper gear guru in her own right
-Jack Mott, Austin and internet gear guru
What Was Your First Duathlon Like?
Pamela Ferguson: My first duathlon was an off-road race at Rocky Hill Ranch in 2006. This means it was a trail run, followed by mountain bike, followed by trail run. I did not anticipate how much my quads would burn on the second run, particularly when running uphill.
Nancy Gribble: My first duathlon was a true adrenaline rush. It was a 2 mile run/10 mile bike/2 mile run on a closed course at Tradewinds Park. Little did I know that this bike course is one of the most technical bike courses on the race circuit. I remember looking around me at the start line and thinking what on earth have I gotten myself into. But then the start horn blew and off I went. It didn't matter how fast or how slow I was going, nor how many people zoomed past me on the bike, I was running and I was cycling, and I was going to cross that finish line. The minute I crossed that finish line I knew I was hooked on duathlon.
Missy Ruthven: I do not remember exactly which Du I did first! …I just remember my legs feeling very heavy and slow on the second run!
Jack Mott: My first duathlon was "Du the Bear" in Houston, which featured a 2 mile run, 12 mile bike, and 2 mile run. I don't remember much about it, but I must have enjoyed it because I came back at least one more time and I still have the tech-shirt from the race.
Getting Fit: Have a Plan, Be Consistent and Build up Gradually
Getting fit is on everyone's mind, but many people aren't sure how to go about it. As head coach of iTRI365, I will weigh in on this topic.
The first thing I want to stress is have a plan. Whether you download a training plan, work with a coach, or write your own, it is essential to have a plan. That plan should include a gradual build up to race fitness with regular rest intervals.
Consistency is the other big thing. Doing less work more often with gradual increases in stress is going to yield greater results and lower the chance of injury. Avoid the trap of going out and trying to hit your race distances, thereby making yourself so tired that you cannot train the next day.
Of course this approach means that you have to leave yourself enough time to build up from your current fitness levels to race day fitness. Do some running or riding every day at a comfortable pace and try to vary the time. Only one run and ride a week should be a long one (these will usually be done on the weekends).
Also, try not to run off the bike (see glossary below) more than once a week. More often than this can cause unnecessary wear and tear.
What do you do if you don't have enough time to build up to race distances or longer? Don't worry. All that consistency that you've been getting in will help you on race day. If you are getting volume in most days (shoot for 5-6 days a week), then you don't need to have done the full race distance in training. 85% will be enough, and then your next biggest day will be race day.
Finally, don't “panic train” the week of the race. By this time, all the hay is in the barn, or it isn't. More training won't help you, but going into the race rested and fresh certainly will!
All That Gear!
Gear can be confusing. There is the gear you absolutely need, the gear that is not essential but very helpful, the gear that can shave a few seconds off a time for that podium spot, and the stuff that you just don’t need to have fun.
Jack, what gear is essential for your first race? Also, what gear is non-essential but can improve the experience?
Jack Mott: The only essential gear is running shoes and a bike. Any bike will do. Once you think you are ready for it, a time trial bike will vastly improve your speed on course.
For the more advanced athlete looking to see improvement, what is the best bang for their buck?
Jack Mott: For the more advanced athlete, the best bang for your buck is a good skin suit and lightweight racing flats.
Missy, what gear tips do you want to add? What would you consider helpful gear items?
Missy Ruthven: First and foremost make sure your bike is in good condition. …Your bike should shift gears as you instruct it to, shouldn't drop the chain (see glossary below), should stop when you apply the brakes, etc.
It really is worth the peace of mind to take the bike in to your local bike shop for a tune up or "safety" check. Most shops should offer an inexpensive "safety check" or "race check".
Other helpful items:
Stretch race number belt (hold your race number on a stretch belt so you don't have to safety pin the number to your shirt)
Stretch shoelaces (so you don't have to tie your run shoes...elastic laces allow you to get shoes on and off without messing with the laces)
Comfortable "tri" shorts. These are like cycling shorts with less chamois (padding). These shorts are designed to swim, bike and run in so the materials shed water, are breathable, and aren't bulky on the run (No Diaper feel!).
Pre-Race Day Prep: Make a List
Missy Ruthven: For the beginner, I think it is helpful to have a checklist of needed items when packing the race day bag. The essentials would be bike, helmet, run shoes, comfortable "tri" shorts, race day packet, filled water bottle. Other helpful items would be race number belt, stretchy shoe laces, hat/visor, sunglasses, towel, sunscreen, dry clothes.
What to Expect on Race Day: Your Legs Will Be Tired!
Many of you want to know what to expect on race day. Pamela, what would you tell a new racer to expect on race day?
Pamela Ferguson: On race day, expect to feel pre-race jitters and nerves. I still feel them to some extent before almost every race. You are not the only one who feels anxious.
Also, expect to encounter some challenges leading up to the race and on the course, whether the challenges are physical or mental, and do what you can to rise above them. That is what makes racing so rewarding and gratifying.
…Usually I would advise, ‘nothing new on race day,’ but I have been in situations where I’ve had to wear new shoes or ride a different bike, and the best thing to do is adapt to whatever the circumstances require.
Racing & Pacing
Now for the actual business of racing and how to manage pace. Nancy, what is the one thing you know now that you wish you had known on your first day?
Nancy Gribble: Ride your bike within your skill level.
For the beginner, what advice do you have for racing and finishing well?
Nancy Gribble: Make sure you have hydrated yourself a few days leading up to race day. On race day, don't forget to hydrate. Set yourself a time frame for when you will sip your drink or take your GU (see glossary below) and stick to it. Don't wait until you're thirsty or feel bonked.
Don't try out new running shoes or bike gear on race day.
For the more advanced athlete, what pacing advice can you give?
Nancy Gribble: Pacing is the key to finishing strong and leaving it all on the race course. Run the pace you have set for yourself on the first run. Stick to it like glue. Don't try to keep up with someone who goes out faster than you should or your race will go downhill from there. On the bike, set your cadence, power, and speed, and go for it.
Remember when you are closing in on transition to flush your legs in a higher cadence for a few reps before dismounting. On the last run it will take a few steps to feel your legs under you and get your running rhythm in sync. Keep moving and kick it in to the finish line.
What other race day tips can you offer these ladies?
Nancy Gribble: Know the race course. (Diva Du Course Map) Know the transition area. Know where the first run comes into transition. Know where you run your bike in and out of transition and where you mount and dismount. Know the rules about drafting distance and passing a cyclist on the course. Know where your bike is on the rack in transition. Put a colorful towel with your bike gear. Memorize how many racks you have to run past to get to your bike. But most important, relax, enjoy the course and be safe out there!
***If some of what Nancy just said is new vocabulary for you, don’t fret. iTri365 is offering a Transition Clinic open to all Diva Du registrants on Sunday, April 24. If you register by March 31st, you’ll also get access to the exclusive “Ask a Coach” call with Pamela Anderson on April 6. Register today for the Diva Du.
Transitions can be daunting for beginners. Missy, what are some good transition tips for the beginner?
Missy Ruthven: Take the time to learn the "layout" of the transition area. Where do you come in from the first run, where do you exit for the bike, come back in from the bike, and where do you head out for the second run. And be able to find your "spot" in transition area while coming and going!!
Once at the race find your "spot" in the transition area and lay out the needed items in an orderly fashion, in the order they will be used. Only the essentials should be laid out, keep all extra items in race bag tucked under your bike or in the back of your "spot".
Finally...don't throw your run shoes around (if changing into cycling shoes) when you complete the first run...you will need them again for the second run!!
Anything for the more advanced athlete?
Missy Ruthven: Find a spot in the transition area (if it is open racking) that is closest to the bike exit. This ensures less time maneuvering in the transition area with your bike in tow.
Consider leaving cycling shoes attached to pedals. It is easier to run through transition barefoot rather than in cycling shoes. Depending on the conditions, the cleats can get muddy, dirty and make it difficult to clip in to the pedals. It just takes a little bit of practice getting into the cycling shoes while already on the bike. It is certainly quicker/easier to get out of your cycling shoes while still on the bike rather than run through transition with them on, then change into run shoes.
Post Race Recovery
When you cross the finish line, your work is not quite done. Post race recovery is essential to getting the most benefit out of the work that you did and minimizing soreness in the following days.
When you first cross the line, walk it off until you regain your composure. Then head straight for the refreshments. Ideally, you'll start rehydrating and eat some type of food almost immediately. Fruit, bread, whatever sounds appealing at the line is fine. You do not need to have a specific bar or shake ready.
They key is to replace lost fluids and calories as quickly as possible. Aim for a mix of carbs and protein with plenty of fluids. Once you've done that, then you can enjoy the fruits of the winery's labors. Don't forget that the most important part is to.....
Now... aren't you glad you decided to do the Diva Du!
iTri365 Head Coach
A Final Thought from Pamela:
Pamela Ferguson: You can overcome huge obstacles on the race course, just like you can overcome obstacles in life. Racing has a huge mental component to it. You are stronger than you thing you are, and your body can withstand more than you think it can. When you think you cannot go any faster, sometimes you need to override that thought and tell your brain to stop telling you lies and kick the body into a faster gear. Regardless of whether your goals are to win or to finish a race, the multisport community is a huge, supportive family, and I’m so happy that you’re becoming a part of it.
Gu - a brand of gel (specialized workout fuel)
Run off the bike - exactly what it sounds like: running after you get off the bike
Drop your chain - when something causes your chain to slip off the chainring, such as shifting while the chain is crossed. You may have to stop and replace it if upshifting and pedaling doesn't work.
Check out the Diva Du FAQs for more information.