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by Michael Harlow

If you are venturing into the world of multisport for the first time this weekend at FORD, you are in for a treat.  Duathlon presents a list of challenges, and off-road duathlon magnifies these challenges.  In the end, the smart racer will receive the best results.  My goal with this article is to enable you to race smart and enjoy your experience. 

How It Works
Duathlon consists of a run, followed by a bike, followed by another run.  Being that FORD is an off-road duathlon, both runs and the bike will be completed on hilly, rooty, twisty trails.  Each leg will be separated by a transition which is completed in the transition area.  Transition is where you change your equipment from one discipline to the other.  The first to the finish line completing all three legs AND transition is the winner.   Therefore, you cannot sit around and take a break in transition. 

Arrival Time & Set Up
I suggest arriving at the race about 1.5-2 hours before your race to get in a proper warm up.  Upon arrival, this is the order of things that should be done: pick up your race packet if you have not already, set up transition, bike warm up, stretch, run warm up, pre-race meeting, and all the while focusing on pre-race nutrition. 
In your packet, you will most likely be given the following:

Run Number – This should be affixed to whatever you plan to wear on the run.  We suggest a
race belt which can be purchases at any triathlon shop (including EF) or a jersey or shirt. 
Bike Number – This will go on the front of your bike just like a mountain bike race. 

Keep your clothing simple wearing something you can wear the entire race.  I recommend triathlon shorts which include a slightly smaller pad for running and either a cycling jersey or tri top (sleeveless tight jersey).  If it is cold which it is supposed to be, you may choose to add the following in this order based on level of cold and comfort: full fingered gloves, arm warmers, toe covers, jacket. 

The Transition Area
The key to transition is to keep things simple.  Here is what you need: bike, helmet, and sunglasses (optional but recommended).  Set up is simple!  Hook the seat of your bike on the rack facing towards you (ideal is toward where you will exit transition to start your bike and as close as possible to this exit).  Place your helmet with buckles open on handlebars with the strap facing in such a way that when you put it on your head, it will not be backwards.  Put your sunglasses in the helmet open.  If you have learned how to get into your shoes while riding AND there is enough open road between transition and the trail, your shoes should already be clipped into the pedals and affixed parallel to the ground with rubber bands so that they do not flop around running out of transition.  This is the fastest way but does take practice.  If you prefer to put your cycling shoes on in transition or plan to bike in your running shoes, place them on the ground beside your front wheel. 
You will be wearing your running shoes for the first run and your race number should be affixed to your jersey.  It is important that you have some sort of speed lace system on your running shoes which enables you to slip them on versus tie them for the second run.  You can get these at any triathlon or running store, including Endorphin Fitness.  After the first run, you will leave your running shoes in transition for you to put back on after the bike unless of course you plan to bike with your running shoes.  Once set up, walk through transition a few times so you make sure you know how it flows and exactly where your spot is.  To find your spot easily, locate landmarks nearby that you can use to locate your spot but do not make these someone else’s gear as that might not be there when you get to transition. 

After the first run, you will run to your transition spot.  Put on your helmet first and then take off your running shoes.  If your mountain bike shoes are on the bike, grab your bike and run to the mount line.  You MUST cross this line before getting on your bike or you will receive a penalty.  If your shoes are on the ground, put them on and then run to the mount line.  After the bike, you MUST get off the bike (put one foot down) before the dismount line or again you will receive a penalty.  There is no riding in transition.  Make sure you locate the mount and dismount lines before the race.  Return your bike to your transition spot and rack it by the seat the same way it was racked originally.  Grab your shoes and head out on the final run.     

Warm Up
It is important to get a warm up in before the race.  If you are concerned about finishing the distance, some short dynamic exercises and a little running will suffice though more is preferential.  If you are comfortable with the distance, I recommend a 15-20 minute bike and 5-10 minute run.  Those who are used to a lot more volume would benefit from getting in a little longer warm up, especially on the run since that is the first leg of the race.  I also suggest including a little race pace intensity in the warm up to prime the legs for action.  Again, this should be customized to your goals and can be skipped if your goal is to simply complete the distance.  If you are doing a full warm up, you should start this around 45-60 minutes before your race start and try to finish as close to race start as possible. 

The First Run
Most will run this segment too hard.  You need to be working but don’t treat this like a 1 mile (beginner course) or 2.5 mile (advanced course) race.  Instead, you need to hold back slightly and come into transition with a little in the tank.  Duathlons are rarely won on the first run.  With that said, there is an advantage to getting on the trails first so don’t take it easy either.  It is best to run this first segment around threshold pace if you know this for yourself.  If you are around a group near the end of the first run, it is worth it to put in a little surge to get to the front by the end so you can get in and out of transition first to get clean trail. 

The Bike
Once on the bike, you want to race this segment strong like a normal mountain bike race but without the massive surge / sprint at the end.  Once on the trail, try to relax your breathing and focus on your technique.  Going harder at the expense of your technique will only result in more fatigue and a slower time.  Find your rhythm and get your biking legs under you expecting it to feel a little strange at first coming off a hard run.  Focus on riding smooth, catching anyone in front of you, and making clean passes.  Make sure you are drinking (sports drink) here as this is your only opportunity to do so.  As you approach the end of the bike, stand up a few times to get more in a running position and otherwise keep the cadence a little high which will help prepare you for the run.

The Second Run
As you start the run, you should feel tired – RELAX, FOCUS ON YOUR FORM, & TAKE DEEP BREATHS.  You will feel better as you get past the first half mile of the run.  Focusing on a quick turnover and trying to stay relaxed will help tremendously here.  Keep your eyes up the trail and run the course smooth and smart.  The second run in duathlon is hard so be strong and keep pushing – you are almost done and the finish line will be a blast. 

I have written extensive articles on race nutrition which is too much to cover here but I am happy to send you if you contact me.  Make sure you eat and hydrate well the day before (mostly carbohydrates and water), get up early and have a good breakfast of carbohydrates race morning, and fuel smart during the race.  Have a final small snack about 75 minutes before the start when you begin warm up and sip on sports drink the hour before the race.  In this length of a race, most nutrition is taking in before the race and all you need is a sports drink during the race.  For longer races, you will want to fuel with some gels and possibly solids as well depending on the length of the race.  If you have a tendency to cramp which is common in off-road races, I suggest sodium supplementation before and during the race as well with a product such as s-caps. 

Final Thoughts
You are about to embark on an amazing journey if this is your first time attempting a multsport race.  It is challenging and tons of fun!  It is understandable that you might be nervous but don’t be too much – it is just a really fun day enjoying your fitness.  Soak it up, cheer on the other participants, and have a blast.  When you find you love it, give us a call at Endorphin Fitness and lets plan your next multisport challenge! 

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN A FREE TRIAL WEEK OF TRAINING.... Drop us a line through the 'Contact' on the Left Side of this screen!

Michael Harlow is the founder and director of Endorphin Fitness.  Michael has been racing multisport, including off-road triathlon and duathlon for over 24 years since the age of 10.  Endorphin Fitness coaches hundreds of adult and youth triathletes across the country out of its headquarters in Richmond, VA which also have a triathlon retail shop.  They also have satellite programs across Virginia and Florida.  To contact Michael or learn more about Endorphin Fitness, you can email him at

Founder & Chief Executive Officer

Service Manager Bike Shop

Dane King is the service manager at the Endorphin Fitness bicycle shop in addition to a bike fitter and coach.  Dane grew up building cars and fixing heavy machinery at his father's rental business before he fell in love with bikes and decided to focus his expert mechanic skills there.  You can reach Dane at or
by calling 804-741-1599

Andrew Callihan
Personal Trainer

Andrew Callihan has been certified as a personal trainer with the American College of Sports Medicine since 2006. He is known by his clients for his passion for fitness and a healthy lifestyle, his attention to the detail of every workout, and his desire for each client to meet the goals they set. Overweight and unhealthy as a child, Andrew understands what it takes to get fit. More importantly, he knows firsthand how getting fit can positively change your life. In fact, in 2012 he found a passion for triathlon and will be racing Eagleman 70.3 in June of 2013 – something he’d never have dreamed of years ago. Through his career and personal achievements, he has seen the incredible difference strength training can make in not only your endurance but in your daily life and works every day to pass that on to his clients.



Endorphin Fitness began as Virginia's premier endurance coaching group and has since expanded into bicycle retail and service because of a desire to fully serve the endurance community. The Endorphin Fitness Training Center and Bicycle Shop are located in the West End of Richmond and carry Scott, Cervelo, and Felt road, mountain, and triathlon bikes.  Learn more about their coaching and shop at

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