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Duathlon: In It For the Challenge

By Matthew Payne | July 02, 2014, 12 a.m. (ET)

matthew payneDuathlon and I have a bit of a love/hate relationship. On the one hand, I’ve managed to get fairly good at it, and it’s always fun to do things you’re good at. Also, as someone who lives in a cold weather climate and likes to race frequently, duathlon is great in that it extends our local multisport race season about one month each direction, allowing me to squeeze in a few more races each year without the expense and hassle of airline travel. Another great thing about duathlon is that without the swim, you can of course leave the wetsuit, goggles and any other swimming gear at home. It’s always nice to have to have less junk to lug around and keep track of.

But on the other hand … duathlons are HARD. Really, really ridiculously hard. Way harder than a triathlon of equivalent duration. I know there are those who disagree with me. I hear them talking in the transition area before every race. The consensus seems to be that not having to swim makes the race easier.

Maybe this is just me being a mediocre swimmer, but I’ve found that in the water there’s a very sharp inflection point on the effort vs. speed curve right around 80 percent effort (with zero being treading water and 100 percent being an all-out 25-yard pool sprint). Sure, I can push a little harder, but the increase in speed is marginal at best and if I’m really tired I might even get slower due to my technique going haywire. So I often find myself cruising along at 80 percent, getting out of the water a minute or three behind the leaders, then biking my way to the front. All of my best triathlon results have been some variation on this theme. If I’m doing it right it rarely starts to really hurt until the latter stages of the run, and by then I’m almost done anyway.

Swap the swim for a run and it’s a whole new ball game. On your feet, the effort vs. speed curve is much more linear. If you try to cruise through the first run of a duathlon at 80 percent, the guys who have the ability and desire to push harder (and in a competitive field, there will be many) will be so far up the road by the time you get out on the bike that you may as well just pack it in for the day. Accordingly, my best duathlon results have involved getting into the puke zone about 30 seconds into the race, then holding on for dear life the rest of the way. How anyone can consider that to be any type of easy is beyond me.

By now you’re probably thinking, “Wow … why in the world would anyone race a duathlon? This guy really makes them sound awful.” Well … that’s exactly why we race them. As multisport athletes, we do things because they are hard, not because they are easy. So mix it up and throw a few duathlons into your schedule each season. Yes, it will hurt. Yes, you may puke. But trust me, it will be worth it when you cross the finish line knowing you gave it everything you had. And if you would rather chill out, not work so hard and enjoy the journey, there’s plenty of room for you as well. Just don’t tell me about it in transition.

For more info or to register for the race, visit the 2014 USA Triathlon Duathlon National Championships event page.