Runners who have some experience cycling often want to venture into the world of triathlons, and cyclists who enjoy running often have a similar interest. However, the swim—particularly if it’s an open-water swim— can be a major deterrent for people who would otherwise be gung-ho about trying a triathlon.
Many people do not have much experience with swimming, particularly in open water, and may not have any desire or access to even hop in the pool several times a week for triathlon training.
In these cases, a duathlon can be a perfect solution. A duathlon combines running and biking into one event and can be a fun challenge for endurance athletes and beginners alike.
In this article, we will discuss the basics of duathlons, including duathlon distances, what gear you need to do a duathlon, and what duathlon training plans entail.
We will cover:
- What Is a Duathlon?
- What Is the Distance of a Duathlon?
- How Does a Duathlon Work?
- Duathlon Gear Essentials
- Duathlon Training Plans
Let’s dive in!
What Is a Duathlon?
A duathlon is a multisport event that involves cycling and running over three continuous legs of the race.
Like a triathlon, which involves swimming, then cycling, followed by running, athletes competing in a duathlon perform the three legs of a duathlon back to back, with the transition time between each leg of the race included in the total finish time.
In contrast to the three legs of a triathlon, the three legs of a duathlon involve running, then biking, then running again.
In this way, a duathlon can play to the strengths of runners, although these events can also be approachable for beginners with little experience in running or cycling.
What Is the Distance of a Duathlon?
There are different duathlon distances depending on the specific race, the area/course, and the race organizer.There are a few standardized duathlon distances.
- Sprint Duathlon Distance: 5km run, 20km bike, 2.5km run
- Standard Duathlon Distance: 10km run, 40km bike, 5km run
- Middle Distance Duathlon: 10km run, 60km bike, 10km run
- Long Distance Duathlon: 10km run, 150km bike, 30km run
The annual Duathlon World Championships organized by World Triathlon has a race distance of a 10k run (6.2 miles) for the first leg, a 40k bike (24.8 miles) for the second leg, and finishes with a 5k run (3.1 miles) for the final leg.
Interestingly, for most international duathlons, the races follow this same type of format for the distances of each duathlon leg: a longer first run and a shorter second run, while in the United States, the first run is usually shorter than the second run.
The duathlon distances in the United States also tend to be on the shorter end, often called sprint duathlons, with the run distances being anywhere from 2k (1.2 miles) to 5k (3.1 miles) and the bike portion being 10k-25k or somewhere in the 6-16-mile range.
For a sprint duathlon in the US, you might start with a 2-mile run, then a 12-mile bike, followed by a 3-mile run, but there isn’t necessarily a ton of uniformity in the specific duathlon distances for local, casual events.
Beginners might be able to find sprint duathlons with even shorter legs for their first duathlon race.
How Does a Duathlon Work?
Again, all standard duathlons involve a run-bike-run format, even though the distances for the legs may vary.
Prior to the start of the race, athletes rack up their bikes and cycling gear in a designated transition zone.
You begin dressed in your running gear, with your race number affixed to your singlet or race top, and then head to the starting line.
The duathlon kicks off with the first run.
There is usually a mass start, which means that all of the athletes enter the event start at the same time, but there may be a wave start, which means that athletes start in groups at different staggered intervals, usually a few minutes apart.
With wave starts, athletes are usually seeded based on their projected finished times or prior performances. This means that you will begin the race with a group of other competitors of similar abilities.
Wave starts may also be used in age-group championship events, wherein each wave would consist of athletes of a given age category.
The wave start format decreases the traffic on the course in terms of how crowded each section is, so it may also be used with tight courses when there is a large field size.
Except for some very small, local duathlons, duathlon athletes wear an electronic chip on their ankle or embedded in the race bib.
This chip registers when the individual first crosses the starting line and when they cross the finish line, along with different checkpoints along the course.
The chip time is used to rank the racers in the finishing order after the race, particularly with wave starts, since someone from a later wave could conceivably finish the race with a faster net time than someone who started right when the gun first went off.
The electronic chip also records the time for each leg of the race and the time the athlete spends in each transition zone.
The time for each leg and transition can be particularly helpful information for the athlete because it can help point out relative strengths and weaknesses.
For example, an athlete might compare his or her transition times to other duathlon finishers who had a similar total time and find that their own transition times were nearly twice as long.
They can then take this information and use it for their duathlon training and spend more time rehearsing transitions and thinking through their setup at the transition zone.
Similarly, if their bike time or one of the two run times is disproportionately slower than similar finishers, their duathlon training can focus on that relative deficit.
The first run may be shorter, longer, or the same length as the second run, again depending on the location of the race, the event, and the race organizer.
Most duathlons are road races, so the running and cycling routes will take place on the road, though there are also some cross-country style races with off-road running and/or trail riding.
The first run is all about getting settled into a pace you can maintain while budgeting your energy for the rest of the race.
Beginners will want to take the first run at a more conservative pace, but as you become experienced and have built your endurance and fitness sufficiently, the first leg of the duathlon is a good opportunity to get an aggressive start and push the pace.
The First Transition, T1
After the first run is complete, you enter the first transition, termed T1. This is where you switch out of your running gear, put on your bike helmet, bike shoes, and any kit you might wear, and grab your bike from its racked position.
Then, you head out onto the bike course. You will need to wear a bike helmet and follow the rules of the road and any race-related rules as well.
Drafting, which involves riding your bike closely behind another bike in order to capitalize on their forward “jet stream,” may or may not be permitted in the race, depending if it’s a drafting-legal duathlon or not.
In most duathlons, drafting is not allowed, and you must maintain a certain distance behind the cyclist in front of you. Drafting-legal duathlons do exist, particularly in Europe, but aren’t the norm in the US.
The Second Transition, T2
After the bike, you head into the second transition, called T2.
You typically need to hop off your bike and walk in and out of the transitions rather than run or continue to stay on your bike as you make your way to wherever your section is in the transition zone with your gear.
In T2, you re-rack your bike and switch back into running gear to head out onto the second running leg.
Depending on the duathlon, this might involve running the exact same course, a portion of the original course, or the original course twice through or with other modifications.
Since the second run is the final leg of the duathlon, it’s the perfect opportunity to give your full effort and push the pace as much as possible.
Duathlon Gear Essentials
Beginners can get started with their duathlon training and competition with a bike of any type, but competitive athletes will invest in racing bikes that are more aerodynamic.
Additionally, you need a helmet, running shoes, a water bottle, and comfortable clothing.
Duathlon Training Plans
Duathlon training plans involve running and cycling workouts, along with “Brick” workouts, which involve running immediately after cycling in one continuous workout.
An athlete may spend more time duathlon training in one discipline, depending on their preferences and whether they are trying to train to offset their relatively weaker discipline.
Overall, the duathlon is a great foray into the world of multisport racing without needing to hop in the pool or venture into the intimidating realm of open-water swimming required in many triathlons.
However, if you are a runner looking to “take the plunge,” so to speak, we have a great guide to transition from running to triathlon just for you!