This morning I completed my first ever duathlon and as Craig said these things hurt. They actually hurt like hell. If you think triathlons are hard I have a surprise for you - duathlons are harder. But they are a lot of fun as well. In case you never raced duathlon or even did not hear about the format. It is almost like triathlon only the initial swim is a run. Actually some triathlons may be turned into duathlon if the conditions for the swim are not optimal and race director decides that it is unsafe to swim. But back to the duathlons.
The race I did - Brandywine Duathlon - is 5k run, 13.2mi bike and 3.1mi run. The course for this race is quite hilly both on the run and bike. The run is on mix of road, train and packed gravel (which I don't like too much). First half a mile is nice paved road that then turns to trail with bunch of stones and path without stones. At about 1.75 miles you are back on road running all the way to the transition area. The run is kind of interesting - the loop is T-shaped so it is pretty hard to gauge where you are in the second half of the race (not that it would make much difference this time).
The bike is 13.2 mi loop around the lake with mix of long gradual hill climbs, few flats and many steep descends. Great course to test what you can really do on the bike and how well you can climb. It is hard course to race especially if you pace the bike incorrectly your run will suffer quite a bit. The descends are good to get your HR down and I reached peak speed of about 40 mph on one section so it is comparable to Anthracite Tri. Only on Anthracite Tri there is one or two climbs and the rest is pretty bearable. This course seems like always uphill with few short steep descends. Very nice course.
The second run is on the same course as the initial run with finish line just slightly below the transition on downhill slope so if you still have some energy left you can finish strong by just keeping your legs turning.
The duathlon is totally different animal than triathlon mainly due to the fact that you need to be careful to pace your first run to get to the bike and still be able to ride.
The bike starts on flat and downhill soon turns to steep climb to a curve after which the climb continues into downhill, and so on. Basically all you need to know about the bike is that there are very few flat sections and we had the pleasure of riding into the wind on those sections. I passed quite a few people on the bike, but I did not count them as I would on little easier course. Also I had to pay more attention to drafting violations as the course speeds-up and slows down everyone pretty equally and at times it was on the edge to keep the distance between the bikes. Two or three times I just pushed the pedals little more to pass the folks before the climb to prevent any penalties. The worst part of the bike ride came at around mile 4 or 5 on the flats when I got cramp to my left calf shortly followed by cramp to right calf. I had to pull to the side, slow down and stretch it out. The cramps came and went away in waves for another 3-4 miles and were quite annoying. Not too bad to prevent me from going, but bad enough to slow me down. I guess if you do duathlons it is good idea to do some reverse bricks to get used to this type of stress. One other thing I did on the bike was to try to follow the power zones plan as closely as possible - stay under 265 for most of the ride and not go much over 300 on climbs. Which on this course means sitting on the climbs and spinning them. I was riding granny gear on all longer climbs and interestingly enough was riding as fast as folks that stood up on their bikes. I got passed by about 3 folks on the bike that looked really strong. One guy that passed me on the longest climb had a jersey that read 'US National Duathlon Champion'. I kept up with him pretty well on the climb and noticed that he stayed in his aerobars and was in easy gear. So there is something about keeping the gearing easy on the bike leg and spinning it up to save legs for the run. The bike leg was relatively short and the 13.2 miles were over soon. I got to the bike dismount and braked with my front brake little to harshly after I jumped off the bike. The bike was in the air, but I just lifted it and kept running to T2. T2 was fast and I was on the run course in no time. Well in 43:31 of biking and 40 seconds in T2.
The second run plan was to keep at 7 minute mile for the first half and then pickup the pace if I can. The first half a mile was fairly good although my legs felt like jelly - the usual bike to run transition. I was also running close to red line. At the aid station I tried to get a sip of water - that was a mistake. I had to slow down to about 20 seconds walk to keep it down. Then I gradually picked up the pace and at that point my watch stopped to show my pace. Earlier in racing I would freak out, but not these days. I just decided to run the redline - basically run as fast as you can without throwing up (sounds gross, but that is pretty much where most people race). I got passed by 4 or 5 people in the next 2 miles and passed 2 or 3 folks - you lose some you gain some. Just shortly after the last turnaround on the road back to the finish (about 750 meters before the finish) the last of the 3 guys passed me. I decided to keep him in my sights and if I had enough in the tank before the finish to sneak-up on him. I was getting closer to him and closed the gap he built to about 10 meters before the descend to the finish line. I started sprinting, but he also had enough fuel left so I ended-up finishing behind him by one second.
It was a great race. It is definitely a mad rush as the HR gets pretty high up on the first run and stays elevated during the entire event. I had mine drop to 129 on downhills on the bike, but most of the time I was pretty high and the sprint to finish line on the downhill I was 4 beats away from my max. And yes the event hurt as well as the rest of the day (and also today). I guess that means that I gave it all I had. I'm very happy with the results. You can check out my time and few official photos on the Piranha Sports website. By the way I did not grow gut between the first bike and end of the race - the gut is actually my gloves and hat that I stuffed under my shirt during the run as I was getting warm. I have the great photos in this post thanks to Ivana who accompanied me to the race as the cheerleader and official photographer. Thanks Ivana for the support.