The 2012 Cloverleaf Duathlon: A Fun Introduction to Multi-Sport Athletics
Whether you are a casual aerobic participant or a former college athlete, multi-sport athletics may have some appeal to you. Besides the typical triathlon, various permutations of running, biking, and swimming exist in different lengths and skill levels. One such combination is the duathlon; this involves two runs (often of the same distance) separated by a bike ride.
The 2012 Cloverleaf Duathlon, held in Evans, Georgia in March this year, is a good starting point for those new to multi-sport athletics. The legs of the event are relatively short: a two mile run followed by a 10 mile bicycle ride and then another 2 mile run. You don't need incredible shape or extremely consistent training to complete the event. For example, I have never consistently ridden a bicycle, but I placed 23rd in the event out of over 100 finishers.
Multi-sport athletes tend to have a high focus on expensive gear (carbon fiber Specialized and Cannondale bicycles running $3000 or more) that looks intimidating. The nice thing about small events is that this gear isn't necessary in order to have a good time. The overwhelming majority of participants did have purpose-built carbon fiber road bikes, but at least ten utilized heavy mountain bikes.
Do expensive bikes give you an advantage? Yes, to a point. The bicycle I rode in this event was an absolute bottom dollar Pacific mountain bike (a WalMart brand of vintage year approximately 2002) which featured extremely thick and heavy steel tubing. It probably weighed three times the more expensive road bikes, and this was certainly painful up hills. Interestingly, though, road bikes have little advantage at high speeds downhill, when the aerodynamic inefficiency of the bike and rider trumps the obvious weight advantage. To put it in perspective, the winner of the Cloverleaf Duathlon finished his bike leg in about 30 minutes, while I finished in 41. Depending on your level of shape, a road bike can give you about 15 to 25 percent time advantage over a heavier bike.
The nice thing about the duathlon event is that aces in one discipline aren't necessarily the winners. It takes good strategy and endurance to post a good duathlon time. You need to conserve on the first run in order to keep from being too tired when you mount your bicycle. Everyone is exhausted by the time they make it to the second run, but good fitness will carry you through.
The most unfamiliar multi-sport task for an athlete new to this form of athletics is the transition. For a duathlon, you basically need to locate your bicycle and mount it, or do the reverse depending on which transition you are at. I made the mistake of leaving my water bottle at the transition area to conserve weight, but if you have the capability, you should bring it with you on your bike. There are plenty of opportunities to take a drink on the bicycle.
As you improve your equipment, transitions can increase in complexity slightly (such as adding clip shoes for the ride), but duathlons are a great way to enjoy multi-sport athletics (even if you don't hav the money for competitive equipment).