Getting up and running in duathlons

Getting up and running in duathlons

If you're new to the world of duathlons and want some advice on the basics, the whole race-day experience and training then let Colin Hawxby share his years of experience by looking right back to his first big race.


I got started in the sport way back in 1998 [click here to read about Colin's pre-duathlon days] when I told my coach Chris Jones I wanted to have a bash and aim at the World Championships the following year in North Carolina in the United States.

After a good winter of training, Chris slowly introducing running into my training week and the world qualifier was announced as the Swindon Duathlon. To make it to the US, I had to come in the top ten in my age group.

We worked on track sessions, hard bike sessions and brick sessions (which is one discipline after another to replicate the event, so running straight after getting off the bike).

When the event came round it was a world away from what I'd been used to - it was based at a conference centre in acres and acres of parkland with run trails and mountain biking tracks, music playing, stalls and lots of people.

The race-day experience largely remains the same today, with the first job setting up your bike in a transition area - this is a large fenced off area with numbered tubular racking for the bikes. You have your race number and a corresponding number will be on the racking, marking the spot where you hang your bike and keep your run and bike kit when you’re not using it.

The transition - switching from one discipline to another - is called third discipline in duathlon or the fourth in triathlon, and it can become an art. The clock is ticking, the race is still going on even when you are changing shoes or putting on your helmet. The slowest part is changing your shoes, fastening and unfastening laces could take an eternity in race terms so elastic ones are used - just one of those marginal gains which becomes the norm as you immerse yourself in the sport.

Steady start

Eyeing up the opposition on the start line, there was such a mixture of athletes. It ranged from the very serious-looking guys with their team tri kit and Oakley shades, down to competitors wearing  running shorts and club vests. I was under no illusion though and knew the latter group could be the ones to watch.

In the next couple of hours I had to show I had what it takes to be in the British Duathlon team with a top ten finish. I was steady away on the first run, remembering my background was in cycling and that is where I had to cause the most  damage. I was correct in my thinking; the guys in the run shorts and club vests were gone, leaving the lycra-clad guys in a cloud of dust. 

After the first run is over you head into transition, locate your bike, take off your run shoes in seconds thanks to those elastic laces, put bike shoes on, put helmet on and fasten (it's imperative to do this before you grab your bike or it could result in a disqualification), then grab your bike and head out of transition before getting on the bike after the mount point, a line drawn on the road.
 
Colin's race-day bike setup
You can use any bike as long as its in road-worthy condition but the top-end bikes are aerodynamically sculptured to cut through the air and are made of stiff lightweight carbon fibre, with a solid rear wheel for stiffness and aerodynamics and aero bars mounted like a pair of horns on the front of the bike to put the rider in a more efficient and aerodynamic position. Nowadays some have electronic gears which shows how the times move and you'll have seen this type of bike at the Tour De France - they can cost around £8,000 but you could buy an entry level bike for £500 and still be competitive so don't fret about your equipment too much.

Play to your strengths

Anyway, back to the race and it was time to cause some damage. It felt great overtaking rider after rider but a little bit of panic struck in, knowing running was my weakest discipline - could I create a big enough cushion on the bike to ensure  a top ten place after the second run?

I got to a point where I thought I was in the lead but the 40km bike section was nearly over, I just had to survive the 5km second run. 

Into transition two and at this point you're hit with that jelly-legged feeling! You are trying to make your legs move but they are not playing ball at all. After 40km on the bike with a average speed of 20 to 25 mph the running feels really slow; lots of efforts with not a lot of gain but this is where those brick sessions come into their own. The second run was around the conference centre ground on woodland trails and gravel paths.

I could soon hear footsteps behind me and at 1km I was overtaken and down to second, then I was pushed into third and worried that I didn't have a big enough cushion - the last run was becoming a mental battle as much as it was a physical one. 

With 500 metres to go I'd been passed by numerous runners but wasn't sure how many and I crossed the finish line thinking that I could have just missed out on a qualifying slot.

Moment of truth

Most big events give you a timing chip, a small plastic disc about the same size as a 10p, it can be either fitted to your shoe laces or around your ankle, held in place with a Velcro strap, like a watch. This has a chip inside with your ID race number and as you pass over strategically set electronic matting it records your times, start, splits and finish times - and, most importantly, your race position.

I headed straight over to the tent where there's a laptop to punch in your race number and it gives you all this information. I typed in mine and the moment of truth arrived... position 9th …I had made the GB team!

Over the moon I limped out of the tent to see spectators still cheering the competitors from other age group race, the most inspiring of which was the 70 to 75 year winner who was to be my room mate at the world champs.

The experience of the World Championships came and went but it wasn’t to be my last. I followed with the Worlds in Calais, Holland, Austria and, most recently, Switzerland - 16 years on I am still doing duathlon and love it.

Cross section of training

It has opened my world of sport - as part of my training for duathlon, I cycle road races and time trials and because I am more of an experienced runner than I was in 1999, I have competed in the Everest Marathon Nepal, the Mont Blanc Marathon and the Nordisk eXtreme Marathon in Denmark.
 
Colin in action in Zofingen
Training can be difficult around family and work but don’t fill every spare bit of your time training, you also need rest and recovery and time to yourself.

For example I do some runs at 5.30am; at the time it’s horrible but once you have finished it's nice to know that the evening can be free and there is also something magical  about seeing the outdoors in the morning before the world has come to life.

And if you can afford a coach then get one as it's well worth it. Every single bit of your training time is used constructively. I am now coached by Mark Livesey of Train Xhale, he's an ex-Special Forces PTI and an experienced triathlete and his input and event-specific training helped me to get seventh in my age group at those 2015 ultra distance World Duathlon Championships in Zofingen.

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