Fitness / Outdoor Running

Multisport 101: Common Triathlon and Duathlon Questions

Are you ready to take on multisport training?

Ready for a new challenge? Multisport training could be just what you’re looking for. Whether on-road or off, a multisport race makes for an exciting, and at times hard, new fitness goal.

Instead of training for one sport, you’ll be training for two or three—which can be daunting for first-timers. While we’ll be getting into more training specifics in later articles, we thought we’d give you a broad overview of multisport events.

What’s the difference between Duathlons and Triathlons?

A duathlon is a two-sport event: run, bike, run

A triathlon consists of three sports: swim, bike, run.

Both have transition zones in between each portion. The transition zone is where you will change gear (like getting your bike or changing into your running shoes).

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Do you need special gear?

You do need some specific gear but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a ton of money. Chances are, you already have most of what you need to compete. Cindi Bannink, a USA Triathlon certified coach and 2011 USAT’s National Coach of the Year, gave us some “must haves” for multisport competitions:

Swim: a bathing suit or tight fitting outfit such as a tri kit, goggles, swim cap (these are often provided by the race)

Bike: bicycle, helmet, shoes (chamois cream is a wise addition to prevent chaffing)

Run: socks and shoes

You’ll probably also want to bring a hat, visor, or sunglasses for your run and bike portions. Comfort is first and foremost here; you don’t want rubbing or pinching during your race. Make sure all your gear—from bike to sports bra—fits well and give it a test run before your race.

What are the typical race distances?

You can find triathlons and duathlons in a multitude of distances. Triathlons are typically broken down like this:

Ironman: 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run

Half Ironman: 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run

Olympic Distance: 1500 meter (.93 mile) swim, 40k (24.8 mile) bike, 10k (6.2 mile) run

Sprint Distance: 0.5 mile swim, 12.4 mile bike, 3.1 mile run

Likewise, duathlons can range from 2 mile run, 10 mile bike, 2 mile run to a 6.3 mile run, 37.3 mile bike, 6.3-mile run.

For either event, Bannink recommends starting with a sprint distance race. “Once you feel comfortable with a few sprints under your belt, then can progress to Olympic distance. To me it’s all about falling in love with the sport and the healthy lifestyle afforded through multisport training. If you go too big from the start, it’s common to miss out on the fun of your progress into the sport,” says Bannink. Sprint races are relatively easy to find, so there’s a good chance there’s a race close to home.

What should my training look like?

Training for a multisport event depends on your current fitness level. Per Bannink, a true beginner will probably need three to four months to get in shape for a multisport event.

“For someone brand new to the sport I like to see them doing two workouts in each discipline each week. Minimally, this is about four hours and can progress quickly to eight hours a week in preparation for a sprint distance tri. You’ll want to make sure you can complete the race distance of each discipline as you build up your training,” says Bannink.

If you’ve never competed in a multisport event, training for one will push you out of your comfort zone—and that’s ok! “The biggest challenge for someone new to multisport is figuring out how to balance the training in three sports,” says Bannink. “New athletes often default to the one they like the most, which is usually the one they are best at. Instead, new athletes should be spending more time on the disciplines that they aren’t as proficient.” If you need to, go on a group bike ride with more experience cyclists or hire a swim coach. Creating positive experiences during training will give you a huge mental advantage on race day.

Other training tips:

Again, being prepared for different (and sometimes unfortunate circumstances) will help you feel more confident in your abilities come race day.

When do I eat and drink?

Nutrition is individual specific. During training, you’ll want to be trying out different ways to fuel. Do you feel best with blocks, gels, or liquids? Or real food like a banana? Take a cue from pro endurance athletes and give your body whatever is easiest to digest, be it gummy bears or Gatorade. “We have a rule in the sport “Never try something on race day that you haven’t tried in practice,” and that is true for nutrition too. Practice your pre-race meal on a training day and see how your stomach handles it,” says Bannink.

Bannink suggested this general plan:

Eat breakfast at least two hours before your race time, then sip water and 100-200 cals of easily digestible carbs up until race time. For a sprint race you could take in 100-200 calories on the bike, in addition to water. During an Olympic distance race, consider taking in 100-300 calories on the bike and maybe an additional 100 cals on the run. For longer events, it gets a little more complicated.

What can I expect on race day?

Try to arrive an hour early for check in, setting up your transition zones (we’ll talk about how to do this in a coming article), and warm-up. Typically, the transition areas “close” 15 minutes before the race starts, so you’ll want to get your gear arranged before that time.

Most races will start in waves, with the elite and pro competitors leading the way. Depending on the race, the following waves could be divided by age group or entry number. Ask organizers what wave you’re in if you’re unsure.

For safety reasons, headphones are not allowed during the swim and bike portions. Some races allow headphones during the run portion(s), but double-check with race organizers to be sure. Also for your safety, you must always wear a helmet when you’re on your bike, even if you are just warming up.

You will have a timing chip, usually as an ankle strap, to wear. After you complete the race, take off the chip before you re-enter the transition area to gather your things. This will help avoid mistakes with your time.

If you have any questions on race day, always feel welcome to ask another competitor or volunteer. Everyone had a first race!

Most importantly, be courteous to other racers and volunteers.

More about Cindi Bannink

Cindi is a successful athlete with over 25 years of experience in competitive endurance athletics. Cindi began racing triathlons following successful high school and college running and swimming careers, raced competitively for 15 years, and is now retired from elite racing to focus more on her coaching career. She is an eight-time USA Triathlon All American, a two-time Hawaii Ironman World Championship finisher and Sprint distance World Champion. Cindi has five times represented the state of Wisconsin at the Best of the US Amateur Triathlon National Championships.

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