Now that you have decided to participate in your first duathlon and you have started training, avoid getting caught up with thinking that you need everything that everyone else has in order to compete. There is a difference between what’s cool to have and what is actually necessary. The best advice is to keep it as minimal as possible until you know for sure that you want to participate long-term. Keep it simple and focus on getting the basics: a pair of running shoes a bike, a helmet, and a water bottle.
Let’s start with the running shoes. A duathlon starts and ends with a run so having a good pair of running shoes is essential. This makes the process of buying running shoes much more than just picking out the coolest looking pair on display. Choosing the ideal running shoe has more to do with and the shape of your foot and your running style than it does with the brand or logo on it. This is important because wearing proper running shoes helps your body align and absorb shock better when your foot makes contact with the ground, thus optimizing performance and helping to reduce the risk of injury.
Most running shoes feel comfortable when you're trying them on in the store, but the true test comes once you start putting in miles running outside. So, when shopping for running shoes, it is best to shop at stores that specialize in selling running shoes. Unlike big-box sporting goods stores, the salesperson at running specialty stores can properly fit you in a running shoe appropriate to your foot patterns and running style. This helps minimize discomfort and reduce the chance of injury. The salesperson can help you select a pair of shoes that offer your feet the needed support by gaining an understanding of your pronation tendencies as well as the characteristics of your foot by looking at arch type and foot width.
Something to keep in mind is that a pair of good running shoes will generally range in price from about $100 to $250 for shoes that are very well suited to your needs. Find a store that has a return policy. This will allow you to run in the shoe and return it to the store if it isn't the perfect fit.
Now let’s talk about the bike. First of all, you don’t have to go out and spend a ton of money on a bike for your first duathlon. Yes, you will see other athletes with high-priced, top-of-the-line bikes, but the right bike for a beginner doesn’t have to be expensive. You can use the bike that you already have, borrow a bike or buy a used bike.
For a duathlon, you don’t necessarily need a triathlon (tri) bike for a good riding experience. The primary advantage of a tri bike is that the frame is built with specific geometry that allows the rider’s posture to more directly transfer power to the cranks. This also allows riders to take a more aggressive riding position by using an aerobar setup. Alternatively, a road bike is designed to be more comfortable for longer distances and are usually lighter to help with challenging, long climbs. Plus, if you plan to participate in group and recreational rides in addition to duathlons, a road bike is the way to go. The frame geometry of a road bike is better suited for multipurpose riding in addition to duathlons because the drop handle bars offer more hand position options to make riding more comfortable and improve performance.
Just as you would when buying running shoes, it is best to shop for your bike at a store that specializes in selling bikes. When you go into a bike shop, talk to the salesperson about the type of riding you plan to do and don’t hesitate to ask plenty of questions. A good bike shop will recommend bikes best suited to your measurements (e.g. height, body type) and riding interests. The salesperson will also ensure your bike fits you properly. A proper bike fit can make your riding experience more comfortable and improve performance. Not to mention, most bike shops will let you test bikes out on the road, so take advantage.
At the end of the day, purchase the highest-quality bike that you can afford. Yes, that might mean the more expensive bike ($800 to $2,000), but it will ultimately save you money in the long road. In addition, a higher quality bike means better feel, lighter weight, and higher performance. Instead of buying the bike that looks the coolest, buy the bike that fits you and makes you feel safe.
If you are going to ride a bicycle it is essential that you wear a helmet. If you are going to participate in a duathlon, you MUST wear a helmet. USA Triathlon sanctioned events require that helmets must be worn at all times while on your bike. Not wearing a helmet on the course can lead to immediate disqualification.
The primary function of a helmet is to protect your head from impact. By law, all helmets sold in the U.S. must meet standards set by the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC). While all helmets serve the same purpose, there’s plenty of variation when it comes to fit, weight, style and price. Visit a bike shop so that you can take the time to try on a number of options as well as be able to ask the salesperson questions and get proper fitting.
Select the size that fits as closely as possible without being uncomfortably tight. The helmet should fit snugly but not feel uncomfortable, with your head partially compressing the soft foam pads inside before the straps are tightened. It should sit level on your head, not tilted back, with the front edge one inch or less above your eyebrows so that your forehead is properly protected. Adjust the fit if it shifts noticeably from side to side and front to back.
You may also want to consider a helmet with Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) technology. MIPS is a way of constructing helmets that’s aimed at providing more protection from rotational forces during a bike crash. MIPS helmets have a thin, low-friction liner inside the helmet that allows the outer shell to slide a few millimeters across the skull on impact. This has been scientifically proven to reduce rotational motion and the amount of energy transferred to the head by absorbing and redirecting rotational forces transferred to the brain. While it does slightly increase the price of a helmet, the added level of safety and protection while riding is definitely worth it.
Ultimately, prices for helmets can range from $50 to $400. The difference in prices are based on the build quality, weight, ventilation, aerodynamics and comfort. For example, more expensive helmets are lightweight with improved ventilation and aerodynamic performance. It is important to try several styles to see which brand and specific model is right for you.
Last but not least, you need a good quality water bottle for your first duathlon. Running and cycling will cause you to sweat. You need to replace that sweat with water. Failure to stay properly hydrated can lead to dehydration which in turn can lead to unnecessary stress and strain on the body and reduced performance.
Choosing the right water bottle is not as difficult as choosing running shoes, a bike or a helmet. Chose an insulated water bottle made of soft plastic, so that it’s easy to grip and pull out of the bottle cage on your bike. Plastic bottles are lightweight, durability, and easy to squeeze for one-handed operation. Avoid bottles that can be tricky to open on the fly. Also, choose a water bottle with a soft spout/nozzle that allows you open or close using your mouth. You just pull up to open and push down to seal. Something easy to open one-handed without worrying about damaging your teeth.
The amount of water you consume can have a huge impact on your performance during a duathlon. Water bottles prices range from $10 to $20. Buying a durable, well-designed, quality bottle can make a huge difference in how much water you drink and how well you perform.
Your first duathlon can be intimidating and feel overwhelming. Don’t add to that thinking you need the latest and greatest equipment to participate. Focus on getting the basics. Keep things simple. Completing your first duathlon is a huge achievement. Have fun doing it.