The Complete Guide to Duathlon Training for Beginners

women running a duathlon

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Whether you’re a new athlete that just signed up for your first race, or you’re a triathlete looking to mix up your event calendar – duathlon can be an exciting multisport challenge. Find race rules, gear tips, and even a beginner duathlon training plan to help you complete your first event.

What is a Duathlon?

Duathlon is a multisport event for athletes of all abilities. It’s similar to triathlon in that there are three legs of the event. Unlike triathlon, though, only two disciplines are involved. While triathlon is a swim-bike-run event, duathlon is a run-bike-run event.

What is the Distance of a Duathlon?

Distances vary depending on the location and race organizer.

The International Triathlon Union (ITU) hosts the Duathlon World Championships each year, which is a standard distance race consisting of a 6.2 mile (10K) run, 24.8 mile (40K) bike, and a 3.1 mile (5K) run. In many international duathlon events, the race format is similar, with the first run being longer than the second run.

In the United States, the format is frequently flipped with a shorter first run and longer second run. Most U.S. duathlon events are sprint-distance events, with each run in the 1-3 mile range and the cycling leg around 8-15 miles. A typical event might look something like this: 

  • 1.5 mile run
  • 12 mile bike
  • 3 mile run

Sometimes, though, both run legs are equal distances.

The Ideal Challenge

Sprint distance duathlons are excellent introductory events for those who want to try their first multisport event. All it requires is a little motivation and consistent training. Similarly, they can be a wonderful challenge for experienced athletes as far as improving their time and working their way up the podium.

Event Breakdown

If you’re thinking about doing your first duathlon, you might feel a little nervous about the logistics. Take a deep breath, though – once you brush up on the race-day format and rules, you’ll feel confident about tackling your first race.

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of race day:

Pre-Race Set Up

When you first get to the event, you’ll want to set up your gear in the transition area. This includes racking your bike and adhering your race numbers to the proper spots (typically on your bike, helmet, and shirt).

First Run

The event begins with running, and this may be a mass start or a wave start depending on the size of the event. Most duathlons in the U.S. are mass starts, meaning everyone begins the race at the same time. 

If it’s a wave start, groups of athletes will start in a staggered format (typically with a minute or two between each group). For very large events, wave starts help prevent congestion in the initial few minutes of the race.

Once you start, just move those legs and find your stride! Remember to push yourself but avoid overexerting yourself during the first run. You still have two more legs of the race after this!

First Transition (T1)

For T1, you’ll run into the designated section of the transition area and head to your bike. As soon as you reach your bike, put your helmet on first. This is a best practice to make sure you don’t accidentally forget it and have to go back, wasting time.

Once your helmet is on, you can switch into cycling shoes if you’re using them. Then unrack your bike and walk it (not ride it) out of transition. 

Bike

Once you exit the transition, you’ll find a designated area to mount your bike. Do not get on it until you reach that area.

Once on your bike, you’ll ride according to the race route. While it is technically your responsibility to know the course, local races almost always have plenty of signs or volunteers to guide you at the turns. You’ll also probably have eyes on other athletes and be able to follow them too.

Second Transition (T2)

As you finish the bike leg, there will be a specific dismount area located outside of the transition area. Be sure to get off your bike here – you do not want to ride into transition.

Once off your bike, walk it into the transition area and re-rack it in the correct spot. Now you can remove your helmet. If you wore cycling shoes during the bike leg, switch back into sneakers for the next run leg.

Second Run

Exit the transition area in the designated direction, and power through your last run of the event! You’ll feel amazing when you cross the finish line.

Important Race Rules

Luckily, there are only a few race regulations that you’ll need to know in order to ensure a successful event:

  • Helmet on – You need to have your helmet strapped on the entire time you are holding your bike.
  • Walk in/out of transition – You cannot ride your bike into transition; you need to walk your bike in and out of the transition area until you reach the mount/dismount area.
  • No drafting... – Drafting refers to riding your bike very close behind another cyclist. This gives you an advantage because the front cyclist absorbs much of the wind resistance, making it easier for you to ride. For most races, drafting is prohibited. 
  • ...Unless it's a draft-legal race – The exception to above is a draft-legal duathlon event. These do exist – especially in Europe – so review the rules of each race you plan to do to make sure you understand the policy on drafting.
  • Ride on the correct side of the road – In the United States, you should ride on the right side of the road and pass on the left (by shouting “on your left”). In other countries where the lanes are swapped, you'll ride on the left side of the road and pass on the right.
  • No nudity – There's no nudity in the transition area or on the racecourse. Some races also have rules about no exposed torsos during the race, which can be important to keep in mind. (For example, if you’re a male runner and you planned to remove your shirt due to the heat).
  • No headphones or music. This is not limited to the bike leg; it includes the run legs as well.

Don't Get Overwhelmed

These rules can seem overwhelming, but don't let that scare you from registering for a race. All of the key rules will be in your pre-race packet and you can brush up on them prior to the event. Remember, you can also always ask race officials to answer any questions for you in advance too.

What Do You Wear?

There are two race outfit options that work well in duathlon:

Triathlon Suit

Tri suits come in either one-piece or two-piece sets. They're quite thin, dry quickly, and have a small layer of padding in the shorts for comfort on the bike. For the competitive athletes, tri suits are useful as they reduce drag compared to other clothing options.

Shirt + Shorts/Leggings

If this is the first multisport event you’re participating in, you may not want to shell out money on a tri suit just yet. That’s perfectly fine. You can wear any type of running clothes, like a shirt and shorts/leggings, to participate in the event.

Essential Gear

There are actually only three pieces of gear that are absolutely essential for a duathlon:

These are fairly self-explanatory. You’ll want high-quality sneakers to help with your best running form and stride. You’ll need a bike to do the cycling leg. And a helmet is a must-have for safety. (That’s not just a suggestion either – race organizers will not let you participate in any duathlon without a helmet).

Many newcomers get overwhelmed by the cycling leg and assume they need a fancy bike – but that’s not the case at all. While you may see elite athletes cruising by on expensive bikes, you do not need any type of specialized bike to do your first duathlon. The race can be completed with a:

Choosing a Bike

A triathlon bike or road bike will be your best bet for the fastest speed during a duathlon. If you don’t have one of those, though, a hybrid bike or a mountain bike is completely acceptable to use. You’ll just expend a bit more energy (but you’ve got it in you)!

Optional Gear

Aside from the essential gear above, there are a few “nice-to-have” items that can either improve your performance or improve comfort. These include:

  • Sunglasses – Not only are these helpful for glare, but sunglasses also prevent bugs and debris from flying in your eyes while cycling.
  • Cycling shoes – Experienced athletes will want to utilize cycling shoes for the bike leg. Though you lose a small amount of time in transition changing shoes, you make up for that – and more – by creating a more efficient pedaling stroke on the bike. When you’re clipped in with cycling shoes, you’re able to use different sets of muscle groups to power your stroke on both the down and up portions (as opposed to pedaling in sneakers where you can only power the down segment).
  • Elastic shoelaces – If you are switching between cycling shoes and running shoes, elastic laces (or lock laces) make it easy to quickly get your shoes back on.
  • Jacket – If the weather is cold or windy, a jacket may be a welcomed addition to the race (particularly on the bike portion).

Training Tips

Pay attention to your weaker discipline 

When thinking about a training plan, consider if you're a stronger runner or cyclist - and then consider stacking your workouts towards the weaker side.

For example, if you’re a strong cyclist, you may want to lean towards more run-focused training in order to improve your performance in those parts of the race. If you’re a solid runner, try weighing the scales towards a little extra cycling in your training plan. 

Keep in mind you don’t want to only focus on one or the other – but an athlete doing five workouts a week might choose two in their stronger discipline and three in their weaker disciple.

Practice Transitions 

You can set up a mock transition area where you can practice switching from one discipline to the next. This will help you figure out the best way to set up your area for race day and make a list of any of the gear you’d like to have that day.

Do Brick Workouts 

Brick workouts include training from two disciplines. You might have a run-to-bike brick, or (more commonly) a bike-to-run brick. It’s important to train your legs to run coming off the bike, so include at least a few brick workouts in your training schedule.

Train at a Comfortable Pace 

In general, about 70-80% of an athlete’s workouts should be comfortably paced, with 20-30% focusing on developing speed. For beginners or injury-prone athletes, though, almost all your workouts might be comfortably-paced. The consistency of biking and running regularly is far more important than the speed at which you’re moving.

Include at Least One Full Rest Day 

This helps the body with muscle repair and recovery and prevents overtraining. Beginners may need multiple rest days per week.

Make a Plan 

You can find many beginner duathlon training plans available for free (including ours below), or you can work with a coach to develop a personalized plan. For a very simple beginner approach, aim to workout 4-6 days per week. Try incorporating 2-3 run workouts, 2-3 bike workouts, and 0-1 brick workouts a week.

Beginner Duathlon Training Plan

This beginner-friendly training plan is grounded in the principle of consistency. There’s no speedwork or intervals used; instead the plan focuses on simply ensuring you train five days per week and stick with it. As a new athlete, your goal is to get from a base aerobic fitness level to the level needed to cross the finish line.

In order to start this plan, you should be able to run for 15-20 minutes without stopping and be able to bike for 30 minutes continuously. Be sure to consult your doctor prior to beginning any new exercise program.

8 Week Beginner Duathlon Training Plan
Week Mon Tues Weds Fri Sun
Week 1 20 min run 30 min bike 20 min run 40 min bike 20 min bike/
10 min run
Week 2 25 min run 30 min bike 20 min run 45 min bike 25 min bike/
10 min run
Week 3 25 min run 35 min bike 20 min run 45 min bike 10 min run/
25 min bike/
10 min run
Week 4 30 min run 30 min bike 20 min run 30 min bike 30 min bike/
20 min run
Week 5 30 min run 40 min bike 25 min run 45 min bike 10 min run/
30 min bike/
15 min run
Week 6 35 min run 35 min bike 25 min run 60 min bike 40 min bike/
20 min run
Week 7 40 min run 40 min bike 25 min run 30 min bike 10 min run/
30 min bike/
10 min run
Week 8 20 min run 10 min run /
15 min bike /
10 min run
15 min bike -
include a few
sprint intervals
Rest Race!

Some Helpful Final Notes:

  • For the Sunday brick workouts, you want to immediately switch from one discipline to another. For example, in week one you would bike for 20 minutes and then run for 10 minutes as soon as you finished cycling.
  • If you are struggling to run the entire time during any run workout, it’s completely OK to include walking breaks as needed.
  • If this plan feels too easy, you can add in speed or hill intervals during one of your weekly run workouts and/or one of your weekly bike workouts. This can be as simple as finding a hillier route to ride/run, challenging yourself to a few sprints during the workout, or attempting to ride/run at a slightly faster pace for a prolonged time frame (i.e. 15-20 minutes) within the total time. However, if you feel that this plan is significantly below your training abilities, it’s best to find a plan developed for more advanced athletes.
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