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Duathlon training and racing: stories, advice, and views from the top

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Duathlon: How to ace the second run

Duathlon second run

Nothing brings more lead-legged discomfort in duathlon than the dreaded second run.

After five years of duathlon racing, that bike-run transition hasn’t felt any easier. I’ve had second runs where I’ve almost threw up my drink, runs reduced to a relative shuffle and runs where—oh happy day—I ran well and passed several competitors.

With proper training, pacing and fueling, you can improve your run off the bike and cruise to a successful finish.

Master the brick

To run well off the bike you have to practice running off the bike. Incorporate at least one bike-run brick a week into your training. When you’re just starting out, don’t worry about pace. Just run.

Froome run off bike

It’s safe to say Froome didn’t practice his off-the-bike run before stage 12 of Tour de France, 2016.

As you progress, add intensity to your brick. Try a one-hour bike with the last 10 minutes at race pace, followed by a short run with the first five minutes at race pace.

Jason Digman, former head of Dig It Triathlon and Multisport Coaching, recommends what I call the “multi-brick.” After a warmup, perform three sets of one-mile run, 10-minute bike, with no recovery in between. Keep your first multi-brick at race pace plus 15 to 20 seconds. Over the course of four weeks, progress up to race pace.

Play with the distance of your run and bike intervals depending on your goal race’s length. Bonus: you get lots of transition practice!

Du second-run strides

Albert Harrison, a USA Track & Field Level 2 Coachand a USA Triathlon national champion in both the standard and long-course duathlon, recommends a set of short intervals right off the bike. Running fast right away helps your body overcome that jelly-leg feeling and—surprise surprise!—run fast off the bike.

Harrison suggests 20-second strides or 400-meter repeats faster than goal race pace. “Be careful though,” he wrote me via Twitter, “you’re more susceptible to injury while running on tired legs.”

Jesse Bauer, an elite duathlete based in Edmonton, Canada, agrees. Why? Because short, fast efforts promote a high leg cadence off the bike.

Bauer’s favorite second-run speed workouts are 200-meter repeats at faster than goal race pace, or 5x 30-seconds, followed by a 30-second walk/jog recovery, straight into a 1-2K race pace effort.

“Paid off big on the steep hill out of T2 on Friday,” he told me via Twitter, referring to the recent ITU World Multisport Championships in Fyn, Denmark, where he competed in the elite men’s standard duathlon.

If it’s early in your season or you haven’t done much stride work, build intensity gradually to avoid injury. Start with a couple sets of 30-second strides, with a full recovery jog in between.

Focus on form.

Top age-group competitor and multisport coach Suzanne Cordes keeps her focus on good form during the second run—that time when you see many runners hunched over, shuffling along or walking.

During your interval or faster running workouts, focus on how you hinge your hips, how you run tall, how you maintain good form. Think about that powerful stride when you bolt out of T2, she says.


When you settle into your second-run pace, use the magnet trick suggested by sports psychologist and Your Performing Edge author Dr. JoAnn Dahlkoetter:

Imagine your competitor has a magnet on her back. Let it pull you toward her. If there’s no one in eyesight, put the magnet on a tree or the top of a hill.

Don’t start out too fast.

Repeat: don’t start out too fast. When you’re well-rested and well-trained, it’s so easy to fly through the first run as if it’s a standalone race. Don’t. You’ll pay for it in the second run, if not on the bike.

The goal is to hit even splits—or as close to even as possible—on your first and second run. I accomplished my best races when I ran the second run pretty darn close to my first.

Endurance coach Eric Schwartz suggests the following: if your race involves two 5Ks, plan to run them about 30 to 60 seconds slower than your standalone 5K time. The faster your race pace, the less time you should add.

Digman suggests something similar. Add the distance of your run legs together and pace according to a run distance one step longer. For example, if your duathlon involves 10K of running, race according to your 10-mile race pace.

Your competitors may run away from you in the first run, but with smart pacing and training, you’ll pass them back in the end. Remember, Digman writes, “they don’t give away the medals for the first athlete into T1.”

What are your second run training tips? Let us know in the comments below!

Why I “Du” The Mondo Brick

The brick is a triathlon and duathlon staple. Although almost every multisport athlete incorporates bricks into her training, they vary about as much as the individual. There’s the standard middle-distance bike-run brick, the run-bike brick, the run-bike-run brick, and multi-bricks: intervals alternating bike and run.

I do a little bit of all of these in duathlon training. I also incorporate what I call the mondo brick: a bike-run or run-bike-run session that incorporates intensity in all segments. Sometimes I incorporate race-pace efforts, sometimes tempo, but the mondo brick has some element of hard all the way through.

Today was a mondo-brick day. To punish myself even more, I picked a hilly course for the bike and run. I ran on lovely, very rolling Nimitz Way in Berkeley’s Tilden Park. For the bike portion, I descended Wildcat Canyon and then used the Bears loop: a 19-mile, hilly-ish loop through El Sobrante and Briones that culminates with Bear Creek Road, home to “the Three Bears” (aka three bears of a hill). It’s a loop I ride often, and it’s also the bike part of the upcoming Du Toes duathlon on June 18.

Nimitz Way

The start of Nimitz Way. It looks innocent enough here, but gets hillier with every mile.

Maybe my reasoning is twisted, but I told myself that if I included a workout that was ridiculously hard, and longer than my goal race, the USAT Duathlon Nationals in Bend, Oregon, that it would make the race seem easy. We’ll see about that.

I gave myself an eight-mile run, six at a brisk pace (roughly tempo effort); Bears loop (plus descending and then climbing Wildcat, about 24 miles total); four-mile run, three of them at a brisk pace (which really wasn’t very brisk, but there was a lot of effort).

For standard-distance duathlon training (10k-40k-5k), this is most likely overkill. But I am self-coached, and sometimes I go a little overboard. As I started the second run, I thought, “this is crazy!” Which means, yes, it was a long, tough workout. More like a mega-mondo brick.

The mondo brick doesn’t have to be so excessively long. I also incorporate shorter mondo bricks into my week. As the goal race nears, I incorporate at least a few bike-run workouts that include tempo and faster intervals on the bike (about 1:15 total riding time), followed by a tempo run around Oakland’s Lake Merritt (4 miles total, including .5 from/to my apartment).

The mondo brick is not for the feint of heart. But it’s a great way to improve that all-important second run! Just remember I’m not a coach so don’t do as I say, or as I do, unless it works for you!

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