So now that you have decided to make the leap into the world of multisports, you're probably wondering what you need to prepare for your first duathlon. It is important to remember that substituting the swim for a run actually makes the overall event a tougher challenge. You have to be able to run fast off the bike on tired legs. Therefore, you need to balance your run and bike training in a way that enables you to improve your endurance and overall fitness without getting injured in the process.
First things first. Unless you’re already leading an active lifestyle, consult with a physician before beginning any exercise or training program. Also use good judgment as you are training. If it feels hard, that generally means you are doing something right and your body is getting stronger. However if at any time during your training you experience any persistent joint or muscle pain, consult with a physician.
Training for your first duathlon should focus on increasing your race readiness by building endurance and minimizing the possibility of injury. More importantly, proper training helps build your confidence. That said, a good training plan will balance running and cycling, while allowing you to gradually increase the intensity over time. I am not a fan of “one-size-fits-all” training plans because not only is everyone unique, everyone has different lifestyle responsibilities (e.g. family, work, etc.). So I suggest that you focus on increasing your endurance and overall performance by focusing on running and cycling as two separate entities in the beginning. Use separate training days for each discipline before attempting both on the same day. In other words, don’t go run 3 miles and then hop on a bike to ride 10 miles on your first day of training. Also, use this time to structure your training. If you are stronger at one discipline, then spend time working on improving in the discipline that is your weakness. If you focus on incorporating too much too soon, you’ll burn out, and potentially expose yourself to injury.
As you begin your training, you'll hear other multisport athletes talk about brick training. A brick training session involves doing a short bike ride, then immediately getting off the bike and doing a short run. This helps your legs get used to transitioning between cycling and running. When you stop cycling and start running your legs will feel heavy and a bit strange. Brick training allows your leg and lower body muscles learn to adapt to the change by simulating a race.
A brick training session can be a long bike ride followed by a short run, or a short bike ride followed by a long run. You can even switch it up with a run before a bike ride instead so that you know how it will feel to ride after the first run. Brick training also provides a great opportunity to rehearse transition methods, which can help save minutes on race day. Furthermore, brick training allows you to experiment with your race day nutrition and hydration plans. This gives you time to change something if the fueling plan needs tweaked before race day.
However, the one thing to remember about brick training, especially if you are new to multisports, is that they are much more physically demanding to the body than separate, individual training and should only be completed once or twice per week. More importantly, don’t hesitate to seek help from a multisport coach if you feel that you aren’t getting the most from your training. A good coach should be able to identify your strengths and weaknesses to help you create proper balance between running and cycling.
At the end of the day, you want go into your first duathlon confident and prepared. Proper training is important to help the body get used to the physical and mental demands of moving quickly from one discipline to the next. Brick training helps you to learn how pace yourself and know what your body is going to feel like on race day. It also helps shorten the time your legs take to start feeling more normal thus allowing you to run better and faster. Remember, you’re only in competition with yourself, and with patience and persistence, you will improve over time.