Duathlon: The Next Challenge

Run-Bike-Run

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With my Runstreak nearing its end I was on the look out for a new challenge to keep me on the #ELLEfit path. Enter the London Duathlon on 14 September, which adds cycling into the equation. Since I haven't cycled much in adult life (or much as a child, thinking about it) I'm feeling quite ill-prepared.

Race day

Okay, I'm starting with the night before race day. I couldn't sleep because at the last minute I realised I hadn't event thought about my shoes/pedals during the cycle part of the race. You see, ideally you would wear clip-in shoes that literally clip in to your pedals. Or, I would have had the fore sight to attache toe clips or straps to the pedals. I did neither. You see by attaching your feet to the pedals you can both push and pull the pedal, which apparently is more efficient and makes it easier to transition to running the final 5k leg. 

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On race day, I rocked up feeling, and no doubt looking, like a total novice. The staff, however, were friendly and helpful. I set my bike up in the transition area, and waited for the race to begin. Luckily I got chatting to a guy who also hadn't done a duathlon before and seemed as unprepared as me, although he had actually biked around Richmond park a few times. 'There's a huge hill, really tough to get up,' he told me. Brilliant, that's great.

The race itself was really not as bad as I had envisioned, especially considering I had barely trained and race day was my 5th time outside on a bike in my adult life. The 10k went to plan - 55 mins, not too fast not too slow; the 44k bike ride was long, I went slow and steady (and didn't win the race) and then the final 5k felt pretty much the same as the final 5k of the marathon. My legs were like lead. But I really loved it (even though it was against the rules to listen to music, so I had to listen to me, myself and I for 3hrs 45 mins - dull).

Things I learnt (if you're thinking of doing a Duathlon):

1) Go for it! It's fun and a good challenge.

2) Don't worry too much, I had the wrong shoes for the bike section. I lived to tell the tale.

3) Be prepared. Okay, yes I lived, but a little more preparation wouldn't have gone a miss.

4) If you are entering races where you can't listen to music it helps if the surroundings are beautiful (like Richmond park) or you can memerise a playlist of songs you can hum in your head - I did a rather good internal rendition of Chandelier by Sia on the fourth lap of the bike section (if I do say so myself). 

4) Set yourself a goal - be it to do each leg in a certain time, or for me it was to not get off my bike and walk up the hill on any of the four laps, even though grown men were. These little challenges keep you going.

5) Do strength training. Yes, there were grown men walking up the hill and I got up there every single time. I put it down to the fact I can leg press over 2 times my body weight. Doing exercises with heavy weights helped me with my marathon and my duathlon (and I'm not built like the Hulk, I've actually dropped a dress size since weight training). It really is the way forward for women.

One week (and one day) to go

So today, one week and one day until race day, I took the bike I borrowed out for a spin for the FIRST time. There are a few reasons I have left it so late.

First, I'm scared of cycling on busy roads.

Second, I have been busy at work and not found time (everyone's excuse, right?).

Third, I'm just generally confused and scared by bikes.

I know, not the best mindset considering I'm cycling 44km next week. I tried to move from the Classic distance (10km run, 44km ride, 5km run) to the sprint, which is the same except I could have halved the bike ride to 22km but to no avail. I'm stuck with a monster bike ride and a scared mind.

I headed to the park today to try and put my mind at rest, I may as well have been a brave kid on a bike giving it a go without stabilisers - I was wobbling about and the front tire kept catching on the pedal. After a while I realised it must be the bike, rather than me, that was the problem.

So I walked it to my local cycle shop Pearson Cycles, where the guy tried his best not to laugh at me - apparently something (to do with the brakes or the wheels, I think) was on the bike backwards. 

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Twenty minutes later and the bike was fixed (apparently the tires were deflated, and the brakes were loose too). So, now at least the bike is ready for next week.

Top tip: even if it's your own bike always get it looked at and serviced before a big race or cycle.

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Bikes have a lot of 'stuff'

I thought I had a lot of accessories. This bike could rival a Claire's shop with all the bits I've had to buy it. I think that's why I like running - all you need, really, is a pair of good trainers. So far I've had to buy it:

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A helmet (okay, that's more for me)

Presta Valve Tube (your guess is as good as mine) - the London Duathlon booklet states that I need a spare inner tube, they do not say I need to know how to use it.

Puncture repair kit with tools (including tyre levers - see point made above)

RaceRocket HP (in laymens terms a pump for its tyres)

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My First Bike Ride

Well, it may as well have been. I have ridden twice in my adult life. Once on a hen do in the Forest of Dean and in Copenhagen on a bicycle that weighed a ton but did have built-in sat nav (every cloud).

Copenhagen is built for cyclists, unlike London. But last weekend I headed to Brighton where Ian Davey, Brighton & Hove City Council’s deputy leader and lead member for transport, is trying to make Brighton more cycle-friendly. Roads have been re-routed, cycle cafes have popped up with plenty of space to lock your bike and towards the end of the year a cycle hub will open at the train station - where you can park your bike and get it serviced - while you head to work.

On Saturday I headed out from Falmer, along the South Downs and into central Brighton. The excursion was run by So Sussex and the founder Nigel took us on a long bike ride up and down steep hills, through poppy fields and along dusty pathways all the while taking in the incredible views the Downs has to offer.

Amazingly I managed to get my head around the gears pretty quick, I was taking advice from Victoria Pendleton - 'Know your gears; a lot of people are scared to use all the gears and they just stay in one or two and don’t know when to use them. Choosing the right gear before you get to a hill, for example, in anticipation for it can save a lot of energy'. Boy was she right.

Things I learnt:

1) I need to cycle more. On a real bike.

2) Next day my only body part to ache was my shoulders - which means I'm probably bobbing about a bit too much. Must be more efficient.

3) I really should have worn my padded cycling tights from Rapha.

Read my interview with Victoria Pendleton here...

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Expert Advice from a Team GB Duathlete

So, I caught up with Charlotte Harris, Team GB Duathlete and 2014 Duathlon Ambassador, to gain as much intel as possible.

How did you get into doing duathlons?

I had been a keen runner for a number of years when I first started duathlons. I bought my first road bike less than 2 years ago when I had had a long spell off running due to stress and a niggling knee injury. At this point I had no idea what a duathlon was! I loved cycling, I regained my fitness, my knee stopped troubling me and I had started running again. To be honest, I'm not even sure where I heard about duathlons but as soon as I found out there was a multi-sport event with no swimming, I knew I had to try one.

Why not triathlons?

Why train for 3 sports when you only have to train for 2?! I have never really been that keen on swimming or very good at it. Taking up one new sport in cycling was more than enough for me. Having said that, I have started racing triathlons this year and am really enjoying the swimming. I think to take on both would have been too much to start, as well as very expensive with all the additional kit needed for swimming.

As a beginner what do you need for Duathlon?

A good pair of trainers for running - from a proper running shop, where they will fit you and look at how you run

A bike - this doesn't need to be a really flashy road bike. My first bike was a very basic, entry level road bike and has served me incredibly well

A helmet - it's not cool to not wear a helmet. I have had a number of close calls whilst out training on the roads and have been very glad of the helmet on my head!

Cycling shorts - your bottom will hurt to start if you are not used to cycling. Invest in a good pair of cycling shorts with padding to minimise the pain!

A bike pump (preferably a track pump) - there's nothing worse than cycling on flat tyres. I pump mine up before every ride

What should you look for in a bike?

There's not much between entry level road bikes really. And you don't necessarily need a road bike. I had never ridden a road bike with handle bars, when I got my first one it took a bit of getting used to. Having said that, I am glad I went for a road bike rather than a hybrid as once you are used to the brakes and gearing they are much more comfy for longer rides.

You don't necessarily need pedals you clip in to. I got clip-in pedals after having my bike for about 3 months. Once you are used to them they really do make a lot of difference to your cycling, especially going uphill.

For the best advice, go to a specialist bike shop. The staff are always very knowledgable and there is usually coffee on offer!

When it comes to you training what are the key areas you need to work on?

I'd say one of the most important things is getting used to exercising for roughly the period of time you will be racing. At least then you know you will be able to complete it, all being well. So for example, when training for a 2 hour event, I will make sure my bike rides are at least 2 hours long, if not 3.

Bricks are important if you don't want a huge shock on race day. I actually love the feeling of running off the bike but it is a strange sensation. They don't need to be huge long sessions. When I'm training for shorter races I would do an hour on the bike followed by a 10 minute run straight off the bike.

Leg strength is probably the most important and I found my speed greatly improved when I was having regular strength training sessions in the gym. A strong core is also important - for the bike and the run. Planks are very good for this.

What should your energy source be during a Duathlon?

With a duathlon you can be a bit more adventurous with what you eat and you will probably be able to stomach solids on the bike leg. For the ultra distance race at last year's London duathlon I had a gel during the first run and then one as soon as I got on the bike. I then had a chocolate covered cereal bar and another gel during the bike section. This was washed down with one bottle of plain water and and one containing carbohydrate. I took a further gel just as I started the second run.

I get on well with gels but a lot of people aren't so lucky and they will cause an upset stomach. You should always test out any nutrition in a training session before trying it in a race just in case it doesn't agree with you.

How well do you need to know your duathlon race course?

It's important to know the course. You don't need to know every turn and hill but a vague idea of what's in store will be helpful. One thing to always remember is the number of laps you need to do on each leg. There will often be lots of different distance races going on at the same time so you can't always rely on just following the person in front.

I'm nervous of transitioning - any tips?

Running to cycling: you will run into the transition area to your bike. You are not allowed to attach anything to your bike so try to find a way of remembering whereabouts it is. Remember the transition area may look different to when you left your bike to start the race as some people will have taken their bikes already. First thing to do when you get to your bike is put your helmet on and do it up. I usually leave mine in my handle bars. You will get penalised for touching your bike without your helmet on so always do this first. If you have cycling shoes then you will need to take off your running trainers and leave them by your bike space. Once you have un-racked your bike and picked up any gels or bars then you need to run your bike off transition. There will be a line on the road, which you have to cross before mounting your bike. Then off you go!

Cycling to running: As you come to the end of the bike course there will be a dismount line, where you need to get off your bike. You then run/jog/walk into transition to find your trainers again. Try and memorise your route from entering transition to your trainers if you can. Or buy a really brightly coloured pair of trainers! Make sure your helmet is on and fastened until you have racked your bike. Then put on your running shoes and set off for the final part of the race!

What do you eat before and after a race?

I have my normal breakfast about 2 - 3 hours before the start of the race. A banana, muesli and yoghurt. And a cup of coffee. I make sure I drink at least 2 pints of water before I get to the start line.

After the race, I usually eat whatever I can find! If you can have something straight after like a banana or a cereal bar that usually helps, otherwise you end up ravenous by the time you have got home and showered etc. Hydration is also very important and something that is easy to neglect. Water or squash is great.

Do you need to carb load as you do with a marathon?

I don't think so. As long as you have a good carbohydrate based meal the night before you should be fine. My breakfast is also carbohydrate-based as well as all my gels and bars during the race.

Anything else us beginners need to know?

Make sure you get to the race venue early. Racking your bike and setting up transition takes longer than you think!

Enjoy it. Running and cycling with a smile makes you faster. I think anyway.

Follow Charlotte Harris on Twitter @charlotteh82

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