The Road to New Clark City Duathlon and Titan 77.7 Philippines: The Duathlon Training Guide

By Coach Don Velasco

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Duathlons sometimes don’t get the respect they deserve. Being a two-sport affair, it’s sometimes wrongly set a tier below triathlons in terms of skill and difficulty. Let me make it clear, this cannot be further from the truth.

Duathlons may be more “newbie-friendly” since you only need to learn two sports instead of three. However, it presents unique challenges and difficulties that make it just as (or even more) challenging than other multisport events.

The main dilemma with duathlons is the pain and muscular fatigue one would have to endure. Run-bike-run might seem simple enough but just remember that running takes its toll on the body more than swimming or running. The act of running burns more fuel, demands more oxygen consumption, and also beats up the body significantly more than the other legs. This means, even if you pace things well, you go into the bike leg with more strain than what most would expect. As a result, it gets harder to pedal, muscles tend to cramp up sooner, and pain and suffering are commonplace. Now, imagine having to push really hard on the run again once you’re done with the bike! Needless to say, these are phenomena that are unique to duathlons and are why it gets a lot of respect from me as an athlete and coach.

Earlier in my career, I used to shy away from duathlons because of the reasons I mentioned above. However, duathlons were easier to sign up for post-pandemic than triathlons, so I decided to give it a go and prepare well for them. Luckily, GoClark Sports and Events hold duathlons (and other multisport events) just a couple of hours away from Metro Manila. I get to race with world-class organizers and hone my run-bike-run skills like never before!

Here are a few tips and workouts you can include in your preparation for your next, best, duathlon!

Aerobic Sets

Whether you’re a beginner or advanced athlete, aerobic development is key. Despite the intense, high-octane surges in duathlons (and triathlons), the main foundation is still endurance and steady-state power. Training at this intensity (i.e. Zone 2), allows the body to sustain longer workloads at higher intensities. The body’s ability to stave off fatigue and bonking are rooted in this particular zone. As an added bonus, a strong aerobic foundation results in faster recovery times and better resilience between hard efforts!

Tip: Instead of riding or running continuously at a steady state, you can do longer intervals to allow your body to adapt to a higher workload easier. The easiest way to start is to do several reps 15-20mins long at an effort that feels moderate yet sustainable. As you get fitter, you can either extend the work set duration, lessen recovery, or both! Using a power meter and heart rate monitor can help you keep an eye on your progress and effort!

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Big Gear Work

The body’s ability to put out power on the bike has two components: first, how fast you’re able to spin your cranks, and two, how much force you’re able to put out. As a more seasoned athlete, I like to include one heavy gear set every week or two. This allows me to not only develop more power during harder efforts, it also helps me race better. A common problem that athletes face when riding is the inability to turn a big gear. This becomes even more important during rolling hills where it becomes disadvantageous if you drop to the smaller chainring (i.e. shifting delay, drop in power, and the risk of your chain dropping). Over the past few months, I’ve been using big gear work to allow me to work my way out of steeper hills whilst staying in the big chainring. As a result, I’m able to transfer power sooner and crest past the hill faster. This also allows me to go faster downhill as I’m in my ideal gear sooner.

Tip: This works best on a smart trainer since you’re able to control the resistance and recovery times better. After a long aerobic warm up, I like to set the resistance to the highest possible setting. From there, I adjust my gearing so I can hit lower cadence values (50-60rpm work best). I try to stay aerobic during these sets and vary my work intervals between 4-8mins long.  Lastly, rest intervals are kept to 2-4mins depending on how hard I intend to push.

Threshold Work

This is tricky and usually needs advice and guidance from a coach. Also, I only recommend it if you’ve already developed a solid aerobic base. If you’ve got those boxes ticked, let’s take a dive into threshold intervals.

The goal of this session is to improve the body’s ability to tolerate and utilize lactate at higher intensities. Sadly, it’s not as easy as going hard as you can, as often as you can. There’s some structure and science to it!

The easiest way to pinpoint your lactate threshold intensity (Zone 4) is to do a lab test like what I do in the lab (www.flyingdonv.com). However, you can try and estimate it by relying on feel. This is an intensity that feels tough and challenging, but somehow, your body is still able to hold and cope for a few minutes. By the end of each set, your legs should feel tired and burning; however, if you pace it right, you’ll feel moderately recovered in a couple of minutes.

Tip: Warm up for at least 15mins and mentally prepare yourself for the workout. Ease into the first interval and dial in your target power. Hold this effort for 4-8mins long and recover for one third or one fourth of the time. You can start with as little as three reps and work yourself up to 5. Take note that you will probably feel like giving up by the third set. Just remember to concentrate, get your head down, and push!

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While nothing beats the real thing, doing run-bike-run workouts are a good way to familiarize yourself with the things you should expect on race day. Doing this as often as once or twice every two weeks is useful as it desensitizes your body to the pain of biking and running under fatigue. Make sure you do these workouts with equipment and nutrition you plan on using during the race. Take note that the intensity and duration doesn’t need to exactly match the race. Instead, work your way up until you’re reasonably close to the demands of race day.

Tip: 15min run – 45min bike – 15min run is a common workout I prescribe for newbies. However, as you get better at it, you can focus more on target zones rather than just sheer duration. Adding structure will allow you to adapt to the demands of the race without overshooting your fatigue and strain. For example, more advanced athletes would need to hold zone 2 for 30mins then transition to 3 sets of 20mins zone 2 on the bike, then wrap it up with a harder run off the bike. You can play around with the sets as long as you don’t overdo it!

To wrap things up, let me point out that the key to confidence and success in any race is to prepare well for it. Doing the hard work consistently and progressively is the best way of making sure you have the tools necessary to nail your race. Other than that, my advice is just to enjoy the race, respect fellow athletes, and of course, do your best!


Don has now transitioned into a full-time triathlon coach as he continues to make his mark in the triathlon community. He is the first Ironman certified coach in the Philippines. He’s also one of the first PrecisionFit certified bike fitters, one of the first ISSA certified Sports Nutrition Specialists, and the first and only DNAFit certified professional in the country. A staunch advocate of smart and scientific training, he continues to innovate and pursue his unquenchable thirst for knowledge. In January 2015, he set up the first triathlon specific performance lab in the Philippines bringing in blood lactate testing. vo2 max testing, dynamic bike fitting, sweat rate analysis, form/gait correction etc.  His lab has done over 2000 performance tests for hundreds of athletes. By using data and personalizing programs specific to the needs of each individual, drastic improvements can be seen. It’s all about understanding your body!  Reach him at his website>> https://flyingdonv.com/

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