How to Race a Sprint Duathlon

A Duathlon sprint race is one of the most intense multisport race styles around. With a short, sharp circuit, the Duathlon Sprint promises a fantastic challenge for every participant and a great showing for every spectator.

As with triathlons, there are multiple distances for Duathlons ranging from entry level events for triathlon beginner course participants, up to longer endurance events. The format for the Sprint Distance event is generally a 5 km run, a 20 km ride and a second 3 km run.

The first thing you need to keep in mind when competing in any multisport event is that you are racing one big race, not three separate races. Depending on your fitness level, it will take you between 1 hour and 2 hours to complete the whole race, meaning that your hydration and nutrition strategy should be planned accordingly.

Duathlon Race Strategy

5 km Run

The race will normally start at a high intensity, with runners giving their absolute best at first. This will create a sense of confusion as it will be hard to guide your own pace seeing other runners taking off in front of you. It is important here to focus on your own plan. If you know some training data about yourself, then think of a recent 5km personal best time, or your threshold pace. Depending on your fitness level, you can add from 5% to 20% to this time and aim to run the first 5km at this adjusted pace.  If you do not have any training data available to you, then you can think of your Rating of Perceived Effort, known as RPE, on a scale of 1 to 10. If you are well trained aim for a perceived effort of 9 out of 10. If you are unsure, try a 7. If this is your first race ever, go with a 5 or a 6, remembering that you still have a ride and another run to come! This is where a coach’s input can be invaluable to help you be confident in your race strategy. Be sure to have a chat to your coach before race day so you can go into the race confident that you have the correct targets to race to.

20 km Ride

The objective on the bike is consistency. A lot of newer athletes tend to throw small bursts of speed when trying to pass other riders or when riding past family and friends yelling their support. Your objective through this leg is to keep a consistent intensity regardless of who is in front or behind you. This consistency also applies to any hills, wind, or other obstacles that the course might throw at you. If you are riding and watching your power, speed, or heart rate, then try and keep the numbers as stable as possible. The effort you are putting in should be held at just below your Threshold. If you are unsure on how hard you should go, think again about your RPE. In a personal scale from 1 to 10, go with 8 to 9 if you are experienced, 6 to 7 if you are less experienced and 5 or lower if this is one of your first races.

3 km Run

This is the final stretch. It is short and fast, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should just run without a plan. The last 3 km run requires a well thought out and perfectly executed strategy. Depending on how well you executed the previous two legs, you should hit this run with heavy, but not tired, legs. You should feel strong enough to put in a hard effort to get you to the finish line.

Ideally you want this run pace to be at least the same, if not slightly faster, than the 5 km pace you set at the beginning. The best way to plan this run is to aim for a negative split in pace. This means running the last half of the 3 km faster than the first half. It can be broken down into 3 parts;
1st km run at 96% of your threshold pace or a solid intensity.
2nd km: 100% of your threshold pace or a hard but sustainable intensity.
3rd km: 102+% of your threshold pace or a hard intensity that would be unsustainable for much more than the final 1000m.
These figures need to be adapted to each individual athlete based on an athletes performance leading to that leg and the current fitness level.

These short, fast races are a challenge both physically and mentally. During the race, you will find yourself feeling the desire to push harder. With the race split up into its 3 parts, it is easy to fall into the trap of racing the individual leg without regard for what else is to come.  Being aware of your own body and your training numbers will allow you to make the best decisions and pace the race according to your current ability. Talking to your coach is imperative for even the more experienced athlete as these duathlon style races generally occur in the pre-season so your expectations for pace may not meet your ability at this stage of the season. This race is a challenge of the body as it is of the mind.

Finally, be sure to enjoy the race, the atmosphere and the community.

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