Why Duathlon is the perfect multisport for beginners (and anyone else)

SF Double

Are you a runner or cyclist interested in trying something new? Or have you recently started exercising regularly and want a challenge outside the gym?

Many budding athletes turn to triathlon as their first multisport event. But nearly as many say they either struggle with or just really don’t like to swim. More skip multisport altogether because they can’t fit in the time to swim, don’t have access to a pool and can’t afford all the extra gear.

There is a way to get your feet wet (figuratively speaking!) in multisport without sticking a toe in the water.

Duathlon.

What is a duathlon?

Duathlon is a run-bike-run event, with distances ranging from 2-mile runs and 7-mile rides to longer events that incorporate 10K runs and 25-plus mile bike rides. It’s like triathlon without the swim. Racing Underground has a good primer on the sport. Check it out.

Don’t you have to ski?

No! That’s biathlon, a totally different event that involves XC skiing and shooting.

Why is duathlon good for beginners?

Let me count the ways!

You don’t have to swim.

I like the water. I like splashing around in it, floating in it, even kinda-sorta swimming in it. But I’m no good at swimming laps. To improve, I would have to spend money on lessons and spend regular time in the pool.

To compete in triathlon, I’d have to invest in a wetsuit (or rent one for each race), some good goggles and a swim cap. I’d have to spend a time each week fighting traffic to drive to a pool, swimming, and driving again. Who has that kind of time? I don’t. I’d rather spend my free time on sports I like—cycling and running.

Duathlon is more affordable and time-efficient. You can run or ride right from your front door. Or, if you don’t live in an area where it’s safe to exercise outside, you can do both at the gym.

It’s better for your health.

How many times have you heard about triathlons canceling the swim due to polluted water, hazardous bacteria, or strong currents? In other cases, athletes struggle with hypothermia, heart palpitations, or injuries from getting kicked by aggressive swimmers.

International events organized under ITU must adhere to water quality standards. You can read all about the risks and water quality standards here.

Locally, health departments aren’t required to post warnings about bacteria unless levels exceed EPA standards. And don’t forget to consider pollution caused by fracking, oil spills and human inconsiderateness.

Don’t put yourself at risk of some nasty illness or infection. Stay warm and run.

You can fit it into your life.

Like I mentioned earlier, if I had to factor swimming into my training schedule, it would cut into my job. My career is more important to me than flopping around in the pool, so I don’t waste my time on swimming.

Instead, I’m up by 4:30 a.m. to run, ride the bike or a little of both before work. For you, it may be easier to train after work, eat a healthy dinner and chill out a little before bed.

If it’s logistically not possible to get out on your road bike before or after work, put in some quality time on the spin bike at the gym. You’ll get aerobic benefits and generally work the same muscles as you would on a road bike. You can also invest in a bike trainer. These handy devices let you ride your road bike indoors.

You can find good, reasonably affordable trainers for a few hundred bucks. Search on Craigslist for even better deals. Because they take up space in the closet, and because so many people give up on using them, you’ll find a lot of used trainers for sale.

The races are less complicated.

For a triathlon, you’d have to pack up stuff for three sports the morning of the race, including a bike, a wetsuit and various shoes and clothes. In T1, you’ll have to manage slipping out of a sticky wetsuit and goggles, into bike shoes, helmet and whatever else you need. After the race, when you’re tired and stiff, you’ll have to gather up all the stuff, pack it back into your car and lug it into your house. To accomplish this, you might need a bike rack. Or a bigger car.

Why not keep it simple? With duathlon, you only need stuff for two sports. Because I have a smaller-frame bike (I’m 5’4″) I can fit my bike into the trunk of my Honda Civic. I fit everything else into a duffel bag and go. Admittedly, standalone running events are way easier to manage, but duathlon is also pretty low on the hassle factor.

If you don’t have a bike, you can rent one for $35 to $50/day or borrow one. In transition, all you really have to worry about are the shoes and the helmet.

duathlon transition
This is all I have in transition. I’ve got my helmet balanced on the handlebars, running shoes on my feet and sunglasses on throughout.

You don’t need fancy stuff.

Look at the lead groups in any triathlon or duathlon and you’ll see them hunkered down on amazing machines. Those high-end time trial bikes can cost more than a new Honda Fit!

Don’t be intimidated by those pricey, beautiful machines. You can perform quite well on a regular road bike. If all you have is a hybrid or mountain bike, use it! The power in your legs and your lungs account for 95 percent of your speed on the bike. Some races even have categories for fat tires and old-school setups (regular bikes, no aerobars).

Smaller fields.

Duathletes are a friendly bunch. With a few exceptions  (which you’ll find in any race), you’ll find a supportive community that wants you “du” well and come back.

You’ll also enjoy a low-key atmosphere. It’s way less intimidating to do your first du with a group of 80 than a field of 3,000. (And no one will kick you in the head!)

My first race was the “Du For Fun” duathlon in the middle of nowhere, northern California. There were 50 people maybe in the race.

Du for Fun
My first duathlon in June 2012. That I finished first female made it fun too!

Not knowing any better, I went out like a rocket. Near the end of the second run, I was spent! But I had a great time!

I loved the challenge, the friendly atmosphere, and the opportunity to combine two sports I loved—running and cycling—into one mondo event. I competed in more duathlons after that, including local and regional races and national and world championships. I became part of a close-kit community that’s passionate about duathlon.

So. If you want to try something new remember my slogan. “Don’t just tri. Du.”

Du it for fun. Du it for you.

See you out there!

PS: Any questions about duathlon? Anything you’d like to add or share? Share it in the comments below!

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