Life in the Fast Lane


Lessons from a Duathlon First-Timer

By 8:18 AM , , , , , , , , ,

A number of triathlete friends I've talked to through the years have said that doing a duathlon is much, much harder than doing a triathlon. And even if I hadn't done one yet, I found myself agreeing with them.

A triathlon, as many people are familiar with by now, consists of a swim-bike-run in succession. However, a duathlon consists of a run-bike-run in succession. Many people who aren't swimmers but know how to bike and run would instinctively join a duathlon and would probably excel in it. However, many swimmers (like me) who are daunted by the idea of just running and cycling would be hesitant to try it out.

Unlike a triathlon where you slowly warm up your body and activate your muscles with a swim, a duathlon shocks your leg muscles with a run, before transitioning to a long bike ride, and sprinting back to the finish line with another run. Your legs really take a beating in duathlon, unlike in triathlon, because the swim uses more muscles distributed "evenly" (so to speak) before easing into cycling.

A teammate of mine, however, challenged me to register for one with her (this would be her third), and being the sucker that I am, I agreed.

So after doing triathlon events as a relay swimmer thrice over a period of six weeks, I had to cram my duathlon training in just five weeks. I said goodbye to lap pools and hello to my bike trainer.

And when I could, I took my (racer) bike out on the road.

(I have two bikes: my first road bike, which has an alloy frame, and is now perpetually attached to my bike trainer; the second one is what I use for outdoor rides and racing.)

Of course I also ran a few days a week, and on weekends, that's when I would usually do brick training (either a run-bike in succession, or a bike-run).

Practicing transitions with my bike shoes, then running shoes

And before I knew it, I found myself at the starting line of my first-ever duathlon, Bike King Duathlon, with my teammate, Elaine.

The first run was fairly easy. I think I kept a good pace and followed my target times.

Going into the bike, though, I was kind of winded. I could already feel the heat beating down on all of us. 

Photo by Run Cabanatuan

I had to find my pace in the first few kilometers of the bike. Thankfully, there were a lot of flats and downhills initially, with just a few climbs, so I managed to get into some kind of rhythm.

Photo by Bike King Philippines

I was going at almost 50kph on the flats and downhills, then would slow down to 13-15kph on the climbs. But I was hitting my ideal average pace, so I was happy. I also consumed one energy gel early on in the ride.

Photo by Run Cabanutuan

At the halfway mark, I refueled my water bottles (I really drink a LOT of water) in the hydration tent. Then realized that when one goes down, one must go up. And the return ride would mean a lot of climbing.

Photo by Run Cabanatuan

Around the 27th kilometer, that's when I hit a wall. Literally and figuratively.

My right leg would not follow what my brain was telling it to do, and a sharp pain shot up all the way to my thigh.

I had to break instantly on the side of the road, and my bike somehow crashed into my shins and I fumbled, trying to avoid falling with or on top of my bike.

It took a good ten minutes to shake off the pain, stretch my leg, and calm down (I was panicking because: a) I thought I wouldn't be able to finish the race; and b) I was worried that I would cramp again at some point in the race). There were three people who stopped by to check on me (thank you, whoever you were!) on their way back up, and I reassured them that I'd be fine, so off they went. Being an athlete myself, I didn't want to hold them back from placing in the podium or setting a personal record, LOL!

Eventually, I hopped back on my bike, pedaled as much as I could without re-cramping my leg, started reciting Psalm 23 in my head, and just kept pedaling until I finished that very hot, hard bike leg.

The second run was a blur, honestly. I could feel my sugar level depleting, the heat at 9am in Porac, Pampanga, was on a different level altogether, and I just wanted to see the finish line. I didn't know what my pace was anymore, I would walk when I felt tired, and I didn't care anymore when people would pass me by (unlike in the first run leg, when I'd will myself to run past people).

Photo by Bike King Philippines

Photo by Bike King Philippines

Finally, when I saw the finish line, I sprinted towards it as much as my wobbly legs would let me, and the race volunteers saw my exhaustion. 

Photo by Run Cabanatuan

They led me to the medics tent where my cramp was addressed, I was cooled down with ice packs, and made to rehydrate.

Needless to say, this finisher's medal was my hardest sought-after one. 

Thanks to Elaine for the motivation! I was proud of how hard she ran (considering she hates running) and biked. 

Looking back on this race days after it happened, I tried to figure out what caused the cramp, fatigue, and overheating (not that anyone can really predict what will happen on race day).

Here are some of my theories:

  1. I was tired. I had a shoot the night before the race and only slept a total of three hours.
  2. My breakfast wasn't enough. I had 1.5 blueberry muffins for breakfast at 5am, thinking that those would be enough. By the time the race started close to 7am, I had already digested the muffins. Plus, I wasn't able to eat a banana (which I normally do) before the race began.
  3. I should've taken an energy gel before running. I only had one energy gel for the entire race, which I consumed during the bike leg. Unfortunately, I dropped the other gel I had during the bike ride.
  4. I should've done more heat training. Heat is always my biggest enemy. I'm still trying to master to how to manage it, and I could've trained during hotter hours (I normally train when the sun isn't quite up yet). 
Will I do another duathlon? Yes. I want to redeem myself for sure, and see if I'm capable of doing a better job next time. Although it was fulfilling to be able to complete one and call myself a "duathlete", despite not being a strong cyclist nor runner, I want to cross the finish line of a duathlon feeling fulfilled.

But no, I don't see myself doing one again in the foreseeable future. HAHA! Maybe sometime next year, though.

Congratulations to Bike King for what seems to be a successful event, and congratulations to all the finishers and winners of this event! We did it!

As always, thanks to my family, friends, and teammates for the support, and thanks to the Lord for sustaining me from start to end.

(Most photos used for this entry were taken by Randie Jocson, our team's unofficial but trusted bike mech and race day assistant.)

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