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What is a Duathlon? Distances, Training, and Race Day Expectations

what duathlon bike training looks like

Duathlon is the perfect stepping stone into the world of multisport. Commonly consisting of a run-bike-run format at varying distances, duathlon is similar to triathlon but without the swim. 

Not to be confused with triathlon or even biathlon, which are both Olympic sports, duathlon is its own set of disciplines (and duathlon is not an Olympic sport).

For those who aren’t privy to the swim, or maybe looking for an early season multisport event, the duathlon provides a low barrier to entry. 

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What is a Duathlon?

what is a duathlon

A duathlon is a multisport event that combines running and cycling. It’s typically in the format of run-bike-run, thereby taking the swim out of triathlon.

But like triathlon, there is typically a transition zone where athletes go from running to biking and biking to running. This dual-discipline sport adds a layer of complexity compared to just running or cycling events, making it appealing to one’s race calendar.

In most duathlon events, the first run leg is generally longer than the last run leg, oftentimes double the distance to start. The bike leg is usually four times the distance of the first run leg. So for a sprint duathlon event, the first 5K run leg is followed by a 20K bike and another run of about 2.5K. 

Most duathlon events are customized to the local surrounding area. They may include a combination of running surfaces, like off-road trail runs or paved road runs. The same goes for the bike leg. While most duathlons involve paved road conditions suitable for a standard time trial or triathlon bike, some unique events are oriented around mountain bikes and gravel bikes.

Common Formats and Distances

what is a duathlon sprint distance

Duathlons come in various distances to accommodate different fitness levels and preferences. Some popular formats include:

  • Sprint Duathlon: This shorter distance usually consists of a 5K run (3.1 miles), followed by a 20K bike ride (12.4 miles), finishing with another 2.5K run (1.55 miles). Sprint duathlons are perfect for beginners or those looking for a quick yet challenging race.
  • Standard/Olympic Duathlon: A more demanding option, the standard or Olympic distance includes a 10K run (6.2 miles), followed by a 40K bike ride (24.8 miles), and ends with another 5K run (3.1 miles). This format appeals to experienced athletes seeking greater challenges.
  • Long Course Duathlon: For those who crave even longer races, long course duathlons feature extended distances such as half-marathon runs paired with century rides or full marathon runs combined with ultra-distance cycling events like Gran Fondos.

In addition to these traditional formats, some races offer variations like off-road courses featuring trail running and mountain biking. One example is the XTERRA series, which combines off-road duathlons with triathlons for a unique racing experience.

Duathlon vs. Triathlon

Kathleen Whidden Off-Road Triathlon Running Coach

Photo: Coach Katie Whidden

While both duathlons and triathlons are multisport events that include running and cycling, the main difference lies in the third discipline: swimming. In a triathlon, athletes swim before transitioning to cycling and then running; whereas in a duathlon, there’s no swimming involved – just two run segments separated by a bike ride.

This distinction makes duathlons more accessible to those who may not be comfortable or proficient swimmers but still want to participate in an endurance event. Additionally, since many races take place during colder months when open water swims might not be feasible due to weather conditions, duathlons offer year-round racing opportunities for multisport enthusiasts.

Duathlon is a great way to challenge yourself and push your limits, so if you’re ready to take on the next level of endurance racing, make sure you have the right training plan in place. With Duathlon Training 101, we’ll provide all the information needed for athletes to successfully prepare for their upcoming duathlons.

Duathlon Training 101

duathlon training

Training for a duathlon necessitates a consistent and methodical approach to both running and cycling. This includes specialized exercises that consider the singular needs of this two-part race. 

As a rule of thumb, avoid high-intensity training sessions day after day. Not only is this counterintuitive to building a strong endurance base, but it can lead to overtraining, injury, or burnout. Instead, focus the volume of your training on low-to-moderate intensity training sessions, while purposefully mixing in the occasional speed and intensity workouts. 

In this section, we will discuss some fundamentals when training for a duathlon event and provide examples of effective workouts.

Establishing Your Base Fitness

Before diving into specialized duathlon training, it’s essential to establish your base fitness in both running and cycling. This should involve several weeks of low-to-moderate intensity cycling and running, ideally spread across at least 2-3 sessions in each discipline per week. 

In establishing your base fitness, gradually increasing your weekly volume (mileage or time spent on each discipline) while maintaining consistency in your training schedule. A strong aerobic foundation is crucial for success in any endurance sport, particularly duathlons.

Bike-Run Brick Workouts

A key component of successful duathlon training is incorporating bike-run brick workouts. These sessions involve completing a bike workout followed immediately by a run workout with minimal rest between the two disciplines. The purpose of these workouts is to simulate race conditions and help you adapt to the feeling of transitioning from biking to running during an actual race.

  • Brick Example 1: Bike 20 miles at moderate intensity followed by a 5-mile run at tempo pace (slightly faster than race pace).
  • Brick Example 2: Complete several short intervals on the bike (e.g., eight sets of three minutes hard effort with one-minute recovery), then transition quickly onto the run for four sets of one mile at goal race pace with two minutes recovery between each set.

Focused Run Workouts

In addition to brick workouts, focused run sessions are necessary for improving overall speed and endurance. These workouts should target various aspects of your running fitness, such as aerobic capacity, lactate threshold, and leg strength.

  • Long runs – Gradually increase the distance of your weekly long run to build endurance (e.g., start with 4-6 miles and add one mile per week until you reach longer distances upwards of 8-12 miles).
  • Tempo runs – Complete a warm-up followed by three to five miles at tempo pace (right around or at race pace) and then cool down.

Focused Bike Workouts

Cycling-specific workouts are equally important for duathlon training. Aim to include sessions that focus on building power, speed, and efficiency on the bike. But also try to mimic the conditions and elevation gain of the race you’re training for. 

Here are a few examples of bike training workouts for duathlon.

  • Hill repeats – Find a hill with a moderate incline and complete several sets of hard efforts up the hill followed by easy recovery spins back down.
  • Interval training – After warming up, perform multiple high-intensity intervals (e.g., four sets of five minutes at high effort) separated by active recovery time spent spinning easily between each set for half the amount of time (e.g. 2.5 minutes easy for 5 minutes of intensity) 
  • Endurance training – The bike is a great way to build base endurance for duathlon. Ride a relatively low-intensity pace, or conversation pace, for at least 90 minutes or more to grow your endurance capacity to race longer distances.

Incorporating such exercises into your duathlon regimen can assist you in acquiring the aptitude and fitness essential for success in this arduous multisport event. Remember to also prioritize rest days for proper recovery so that you can continue making progress throughout your training cycle.

Duathlon training is key to any competitor’s success, and by mastering the basics you can set up a solid base for race prep. With improved transition times being such a crucial factor in successful duathlon racing, it is important to understand how best to improve them.

 

How to Improve Duathlon Transition Times

duathlon transition

In a multisport event like a duathlon, efficient transitions can make all the difference in your overall race time. Transitioning quickly between running and biking is crucial for competitive athletes looking to shave seconds off their personal bests. In this part, we’ll investigate strategies and systems that can help you switch effortlessly between the two activities.

Related read: The Science Behind The Bike to Run Transition

1. Practice makes perfect

The key to mastering any skill is practice, and transitioning in a duathlon is no exception. Incorporate brick workouts into your training regimen – these are sessions where you complete both run legs and bike segments back-to-back with minimal rest in between. This will help you become more comfortable with the feeling of switching disciplines on race day.

2. Organize your gear strategically

A well-organized transition area can save valuable time during the race. Arrange your gear in an order that facilitates a smooth transition from one leg of the race to the next. running shoes should be easily accessible after completing the first run leg, while cycling shoes should be placed next to or clipped onto your bike so they’re ready when needed.

3. Optimize footwear choices

Selecting appropriate footwear can also impact your transition times significantly; consider using elastic laces or slip-on running shoes instead of traditional lace-up models for quicker changes during transitions.

Elastic Laces:

  • Faster shoe changes due to easy tightening system (no need for tying)
  • Potential reduction of foot swelling caused by tight knots/laces

Slip-On Running Shoes:

4. Learn the flying mount/dismount technique

The flying mount and dismount are techniques used by many competitive cyclists to save time during transitions. This involves mounting or dismounting your bike while it’s still moving, eliminating the need to stop completely before switching disciplines. Practice this skill in a safe environment before attempting it on race day.

5. Stay calm and focused

Race day nerves can cause even experienced athletes to fumble during transitions – stay calm, take deep breaths, and focus on executing each step of your transition plan efficiently.

Incorporating these tips into your duathlon training will help you improve your transition times significantly – giving you an edge over other competitors as you strive for personal bests at local duathlons or even world triathlon events.

To improve your duathlon transition times, focus on proper preparation and practice. Next up is understanding the importance of fueling and nutrition for successful race performance – an essential element to consider when training for a duathlon event.

Duathlon Fueling and Nutrition

what is duathlon run training

Proper fueling and nutrition are essential components of any successful duathlon or endurance race. It’s important to ensure your muscle glycogen stores do not become too depleted, so as to not “bonk” or experience sudden diminished capacity to run or bike. 

Understanding the various forms of endurance fuel accessible, how to employ them, and what works best for different distances, will help you maximize your performance in either a sprint or long-distance event.

Types of Endurance Fuels

  • Electrolyte Drinks: These drinks replenish lost electrolytes like sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium while providing hydration. They can be consumed before, during, or after the race depending on personal preference. Popular options include Infinite Nutrition, Scratch Labs, Nuun Hydration, and Tailwind Nutrition.
  • Gels: Energy gels provide quick bursts of energy through easily digestible carbohydrates. They should be taken with water to aid absorption. Some popular brands are GU Energy Gels, Never Second Gels, Honey Stinger Gels, and Clif Shot Gels.
  • Bars & Chews: For longer races where more sustained energy is needed, bars or chews may be preferred over gels due to their slower release of carbohydrates into the bloodstream. Examples include Clif Bars, Glif Blocks, and Skratch Labs Sport Energy Chews. 
  • Real Food: Some athletes prefer to fuel with real food options like bananas, dates, dried fruit, or rice cakes. These can be more palatable and easier on the stomach for some individuals, especially at lower intensities and longer distances.

Fueling Strategies by Distance

Different race distances may require different fueling strategies. Here are some general guidelines based on duathlon distance:

  • Sprint Duathlons (5K run / 20K bike / 2.5K run): For shorter races lasting around an hour or less, you may not need much additional fuel beyond proper pre-race nutrition and hydration. However, it’s essential to listen to your body and consume electrolyte drinks if needed during the event.
  • Olympic/Standard Duathlons (10K run / 40K bike / 5K run): In events lasting between two to three hours, consider consuming energy gels every half hour during the cycling leg of the race along with sips of water or electrolyte drink throughout both running segments.
  • Long-Distance Duathlons (10k+ Runs & Extended Biking Leg): For longer races that last several hours, a combination of gels, bars, chews, and real solid foods is often recommended. Start taking in calories within the first hour of racing and continue at regular intervals throughout. Experiment with various fuels during training sessions so you know what works best for your body before race day.
  • Pre-Race Nutrition: Eat a balanced meal 2-3 hours before the race that includes carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. Avoid consuming high-fiber or spicy foods that may cause gastrointestinal distress during the event.
  • Hydration: Begin hydrating well in advance of your race by drinking water consistently throughout the day prior to the event. Monitor urine color as an indicator of hydration levels – aim for transparent to pale yellow. On race day, continue sipping on water leading up to the start time and consider using electrolyte drinks if necessary during competition. 
  • Practice Fueling During Training: Experiment with different fuel sources, timing, and quantities during training sessions so you know what works best for your body come race day. This includes electrolyte drinks, gels, and any other types of race-day nutrition.

Proper fueling and nutrition are essential for any duathlete looking to perform at their best. Once you have a grasp on proper fueling and nutrition, it is time to equip yourself with the necessary gear for optimal performance.

What Gear Do I Need for Duathlon?

duathlon training running

For a successful duathlon, having the right equipment is key to attaining optimal performance and staying comfortable during the race. The following list highlights some of the must-have items that every duathlete should consider investing in:

  1. Running shoes: A good pair of running shoes is crucial for both comfort and performance during the run segments. Choose a shoe that fits well, offers adequate support, and suits your individual running style. For an informed decision on the perfect running shoe, consult our guide.
  2. Bike: Your choice of bike will depend on personal preference, budget, and race distance. Time trial bikes, triathlon bikes, and road bikes are typically faster than mountain or hybrid bikes but may not be as comfortable over long distances or rough terrain. 
  3. Race belt: A race belt allows you to quickly attach your bib number without having to pin it directly onto your clothing – saving time during transitions.
  4. Helmet: Safety first. Wearing a helmet is mandatory in all cycling events including duathlons. Ensure that it meets safety standards and fits properly. Also, consider an aero helmet to help reduce drag and maximize speed.
  5. Cycling shoes & pedals: Investing in proper cycling shoes with cleats can significantly improve power transfer while pedaling by allowing you to engage more muscles efficiently compared with regular athletic shoes. Make sure to choose the right cycling shoes and pedals for your needs.
  6. Sunglasses: Protecting your eyes from sun, wind, and debris is important during both running and cycling segments. Choose sunglasses with UV protection that fit securely on your face without bouncing or slipping.
  7. Athletic clothing: Opt for moisture-wicking fabrics that will keep you dry and comfortable throughout the race. Triathlon-specific apparel such as a tri suit can be worn in duathlons too, offering added convenience during transitions.
  8. Hydration system: Staying hydrated is crucial during endurance events like duathlon. Consider using a water bottle cage on your bike or wearing a hydration belt while running to ensure easy access to fluids when needed.

In addition to these essential items, there are various other accessories that can enhance comfort and performance in duathlon races. For example, some athletes prefer using elastic laces in their running shoes for quicker transitions or wear compression socks for improved circulation during long-distance events. Ultimately, it’s important to find what works best for you through training sessions before committing to specific gear choices on race day.

Having the right gear for a duathlon is essential to having an enjoyable and successful race. Doing some investigation to identify where the next duathlon is being held is a must for anyone wanting to have an enjoyable and successful race, so they can start training properly.

Where Can I Race a Duathlon Near Me?

duathlon race near me

If you’re in search of a duathlon event, there are numerous sources to help you find races close by. Here are some popular websites and organizations that can assist you in finding the perfect duathlon event for your skill level and preferences:

  • TriFind: TriFind is an extensive database of multisport events across the United States, including triathlons, duathlons, aquabikes, and more. Follow the link or simply select “Duathlon” from the left-column menu option and explore events by state.
  • Running in the USA: Although primarily focused on running events like marathons and half-marathons, Running in the USA also lists multisport races such as duathlons. Search by “Multisport Events” or use their advanced search feature to filter by state or distance.
  • ACTIVE: ACTIVE is another comprehensive resource for finding various types of endurance sports events. You can search specifically for duathlons by entering your desired location or browsing through their list of featured races.
  • USA Triathlon’s Sanctioned Event Calendar offers a comprehensive list of multisport events across the country, including duathlon. You can filter type, state, and date to find a duathlon that fits your schedule.
  • RacePlace: RacePlace is another excellent platform for discovering endurance events in your area. You can search for duathlons using their advanced filters or browse through featured races on their homepage.

When searching for a duathlon event near you, it’s essential to consider factors such as race distance, terrain (road or off-road), and the level of competition. Make sure to choose an event that aligns with your current fitness level and goals as an athlete. Once you’ve found the perfect race, don’t forget to register early – popular events often fill up quickly.

Common FAQs About Duathlon

What is the duathlon distance?

A typical duathlon distance consists of three segments: an initial run, followed by a bike ride, and finishing with another run. The most common distances are Sprint (5km run, 20km bike, 2.5km run) and Standard (10km run, 40km bike, 5km race). However, there are also a variety of mixed distances, including Ultra Duathlons that cover longer distances.

How do you prepare for a duathlon race?

To prepare for a duathlon race:

  1. Create a structured training plan focusing on running and cycling.
  2. Build an endurance fitness base by incorporating long yet low-intensity bike rides and runs. 
  3. Incorporate brick workouts to practice transitioning between disciplines.
  4. Improve your transition times through technique drills and equipment organization.
  5. Nail down proper fueling strategies during training sessions to optimize performance on race day.

How many miles is a duathlon distance?

The total mileage of a duathlon varies depending on the event format. For example:

  • Sprint Distance: approximately 17 miles (8-mile combined runs + 9-mile bike)
  • Standard Distance: approximately 34 miles (15 mile combined runs +19 mile bike)

What does a duathlon consist of?

A duathlon consists of two sports – running and cycling – completed in three segments. It starts with an initial running leg followed by the cycling segment before finishing off with another running leg. Participants must complete each segment consecutively while adhering to duathlon rules and regulations.

Find a Duathlon Coach

Duathlon training, distances, and race preparation can be daunting for a beginner athlete. However, with the right knowledge and guidance you will soon find yourself mastering these challenges. Whether it’s learning about transition times or what gear to bring on race day – there are many resources available to help you succeed in your duathlon goals. With dedication and practice you’ll be able to tackle any distance of this exciting multisport event.

If you’re looking to excel in the sport of duathlon, learn more about our online coach match program to get access to the best training advice and race preparation resources. You can learn about our multisport coaching resources for more info.

Head of Content at Better Triathlete | Website

Endurance athlete, professional off-road cyclist, and avid blogger, Tyler Tafelsky participates in long-course multisport and cycling events. Today, Tyler competes in ultra-distance cycling races at the professional level. Since starting Better Triathlete in 2014, he has been the head of content for the site's editorial team. Learn more about Tyler