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This article originally appeared in Inside Triathlon

The Long-Course Duathlon

By Joe Friel and Eric Schwartz

Long distance duathlons offer a unique challenge to multisport athletes. A long-distance duathlon combines a mix of the intensity required for a shorter race with the endurance required for a half ironman. A growing number of Powerman duathlons (with a common distance of a 10k run, 60k bike, and 10k run, or slightly shorter) and similar distance races offer North Americans several chances to test their fitness. These races take 2.5 to 5 hours to finish and are significantly more taxing than a standard distance duathlon (10k/40k/5k) or an Olympic distance triathlon.

Powerman Alabama (8k/55k/8k), taking place in March, is the most popular long-distance duathlon in North America. Powerman Tennessee (7.5k/50k/7.5k), in its third year, has moved to October and will again hold the title as the USAT Long Distance Duathlon National Championships. A new race in November, the Dannon Desert Princess Duathlon (10k/60k/10k), revives the old Desert Princess Duathlon that was popular a decade ago. Add in the long-running Strutters Duathlon (10k/74k/10k) in Texas and a smattering of other races around North America and the options for going long in a duathlon have never been so plentiful.

In addition to duathletes, these races attract triathletes looking to test their bike and run fitness. As those who have completed one know, a long-distance duathlon is challenging. There is a feeling associated with doing a second run of 8k or longer that is unique to duathlons. Good planning and training will help minimize that pain.

General to Specific

As a rule of thumb, your training should become more race-specific as the race gets nearer. This means that the workouts will gradually take on the characteristics of the race you're training for in terms of both duration and intensity. The course profile and even the weather should also be training considerations as you get closer to race day.

A solid fitness base is necessary, however, before the more specific race training begins. This Base period of training is marked by workouts centered on three fitness abilities: endurance, force and speed skills. Endurance is the easiest to understand involving simply long, slow distance training. This is where most of your bike and run time will be spent in the Base period. Building an endurance base requires about eight weeks of seven- to ten-hour weekly volumes, or more depending on your level and time available. Base fitness also includes force training, generally involving weights and hill work, and speed skills, drills that improve your running and pedaling techniques.

Getting Specific

In the final 10 weeks it's time to focus on race specificity. That means a lot of muscular-endurance training. Muscular endurance is the ability of the muscles to maintain a relatively high force load for a prolonged period of time. This is the heart and soul of long-course duathlon training.

Muscular endurance can be improved by performing sustained aerobic efforts of 20 to 60 minutes at a medium effort (3 zone), and then by increasing the intensity of the aerobic efforts (4 zone) with intervals of five- to fifteen-minutes duration with recoveries between the intervals that are about a third of the interval duration. Examples of this progression are:

30-minute, medium-effort (3 zone) run
20-minute, medium-fast (3 zone) effort bike
4X6-minute, medium-fast (4 zone) bike intervals with 2-minute recoveries
3-4 X 1-mile run (4 zone) with 2-minute recoveries

The key is to keep them fast and moderately hard but always aerobic — no labored breathing. These workouts must also be followed by adequate rest days to allow for recovery. Doing these workouts frequently without rest will lead to sub-par performances and, eventually, overtraining. Conversely, doing all your workouts at an easy effort will not result in maximal performance gains.

Brick workouts, combining a run and a bike, are a necessity for duathlon training. A ride of 1.5 to 3 hours followed by a 20- to 40-minute run simulates the latter portions of the race. Runs of more than 60 minutes after a bike ride are not necessary for race preparation. Use the run as a chance to help your legs adapt to the final run of a duathlon. Everybody remembers the first time they ran after hopping off their bike, and it isn't a good memory. Regular brick workouts will nearly eliminate that feeling.

Also include a few brick workouts that include a 30-minute run immediately before your ride. Four weeks out from the race do a race simulation – an easy 30-minute run followed by a two-hour bike and then another 30-minute run. Include 30 minutes at race pace at the end of your bike and do the first 15 minutes of the second run at goal pace.

Long workouts are crucial to success at this distance. Long runs of 80 to 120 minutes should be done consistently, but not necessarily every week. Three long runs in a period of four or five weeks are adequate to build endurance without beating up your body. More advanced athletes should try finishing their long runs with 20 to 30 minutes of medium-effort pace. Long bike rides of two to four hours can be combined into your brick workouts or done separately. Your long workouts also provide a great opportunity to test race day nutrition.

Race Strategy

Without a good race day strategy all your careful planning and training will be wasted. Here's how to develop a strategy.

Break the race into its three obvious parts – the first run, bike, and second run. Look at the first run as a prelude to the race, and nothing else. A bad first run can ruin your race. A smart first run will set you up for success. If the race begins with a 10k, set a goal pace that is two to four minutes slower than what you could run in a 10k running race. Figure out the pace per mile and stick to it. You will finish the first 10k feeling strong, confident, and ready for a good bike ride. Losing 30 seconds in your first run by going too slow will be meaningless by the end of the race. But running 30 seconds too fast may deplete your energy stores, overly fatigue your muscles, and cost more time later on.

After a smooth transition the all-important bike leg comes next. You will spend significantly more time on your bike than running, so this is the most important leg. Again, pacing is key, and so is nutrition. Monitor your power output throughout. A constant power output should feel relatively easy in the first quarter of the race and then get progressively harder. Heavy breathing or heavy legs early in the bike is a sign to back off. Plan on ingesting 300 to 400 calories per hour – closer to 300 for a shorter race (less than three hours) and closer to 400 for a longer race. These numbers assume someone who is 140 to 175 pounds. Bigger athletes may need more calories and smaller athletes fewer.

The final run is the toughest part. A lot of time can be lost here, but you've trained properly and followed your race plan. If you began with a 10k and finish with a 10k, expect your time to be two to five minutes slower on the last 10k. As good as you may feel in the first 5k of the last run, don't forget to take in fluids and calories, especially if it is hot. You can go from feeling great to feeling awful in a matter of minutes.

After you finish cross the line congratulate yourself. You finished a tough race. That same day write down your thoughts on the race – the good and the bad, nutrition, how to improve, etc. Then save those notes and review them when you prepare for your next race. And don't forget to take time to recover. Regardless of how good you think you feel, it takes a full week to recover from a duathlon of this distance. Refrain from hard training for seven days.

Joe Friel is the author of The Triathlete's Training Bible. Eric Schwartz is a pro duathlete and the editor of Duathlon.com. Both are Ultrafit coaches.

Sample Build Week for Long-Course Duathlon

Monday – Day off
Tuesday – 50-minute run with 30 minutes at medium effort
Wednesday – Recovery day: 30-minute run and 90-minute bike
Thursday – 90-minute bike with 20 minutes at medium effort
Friday – Recovery day: 30-minute run and 90-minute bike
Saturday – Brick workout – 1.5-3 hour ride with 5X6-minute intervals followed by 30-minute run
Sunday – Long aerobic run (80-120 minutes) or long aerobic ride (2-4 hours)

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