By combining trail running with mountain biking at the beloved Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, the Whiskeytown Off-Road Duathlon is a great summation of the Redding area’s outdoors ethic. And here’s the best part: If you’re a mildly proficient runner or a notch above a beginning mountain biker, you can do the duathlon. This year.
Now in its fifth year, the duathlon is the result of cross-pollination between the SWEAT running club and the Redding Mountain Biking club. That result is a rare beast – a truly off-the-pavement running and biking event, but of manageable proportion. There are few similar events.
This year’s Whiskeytown Off-Road Duathlon is scheduled for May 21. The Shasta Mine Loop trailhead parking lot serves as home base. The event is open to individuals as well as relay teams with one runner and one rider. The event starts with a 3-mile run on a short piece of the Shasta Mine Loop and the Clear Creek Water Ditch trail. The first run is followed by an 8-mile mountain bike ride on the Water Ditch, Buck Hollow and Shasta Mine Loop trails, with a couple short pieces of Mule Mountain Road to tie things together. The event closes with the same 3-mile run, but in the opposite direction.
The fastest teams and individuals will finish in close to an hour and 20 minutes. Plenty of people need more than two hours. Last year, about 120 people participated, about 40 as individuals and 80 on teams. The number of teams increased by about 50 percent last year.
“It’s a do-able event for people who want to find a teammate,” said race director Tori Parks, who is willing to hook up potential teammates if needed.
If you are considering participation, here are a few factors to consider.
The run route is fairly flat and the trail tread pretty even, except for an approximately half-mile section at the end of the first loop and beginning of the second loop. This piece has some short, steep hills and the trail is rough.
The mountain bike loop has a bit of everything – flat and fast sections, short steep descents, a couple sustained climbs, and a few technically challenging sections. “It’s not an advanced course, but it is an intermediate mountain biking course,” Parks warned.
To get ready for the duathlon, the best bet is to get on the course ahead of time, especially if your technical skills need sharpening. If you’re going solo, concentrate on your weaker event for the next month, recommended Redding’s Jeff Worthington, who has completed the event solo twice. You not only want increased proficiency, you want confidence for race day, he said.
If most of your running is done on streets around home or on the Sacramento River bike path, you need to get off the asphalt at least a handful of times prior to race day. Road running and trail running are different disciplines, said Sheri Richmond, who has served as the running teammate to mountain biker Max Walter for all four previous Whiskeytown duathlons.
“If you’re not a trail runner, you need to get used to running on trails. You’re going to flop around and just automatically slow down,” Richmond said.
Someone who is primarily a mountain biker should get in a few trail runs during the next month, Parks said. However, a good mountain biker could also simply hike the run quickly, she said.
For mountain bikers, course reconnaissance is important. The mountain bike course includes a couple of “super technical” sections, said Worthington “By all means, stop and get off your bike and walk those sections,” he advised tentative bikers. “Don’t try to ride stuff for the first time on race day.”
Walters, author of the book “North State Singletrack,” added, “I’d recommend a first-time duathlon mountain bike racer pre-ride the 8-mile course several times so there will be no surprises on race day concerning the location and difficulty of climbs, condition of the trails, and knowing the prime areas for passing an opponent.”
Parks promised to organize one or two course pre-rides in coming weeks.
Physically, you can prepare for the event if you run two or three times a week for 30 to 60 minutes at a time, and get in at least one hour-long mountain bike ride every week. That’s only about three hours a week over the course of three or four days for the next month. If you’re planning to go solo, practice transitioning from one discipline to the other, especially if you intend to switch from running shoes to cycling cleats and back.
“Definitely practice a run-through where you are doing both events,” Worthington said. “Practice that transition. You don’t want to do that for the first time on race day. It’s really difficult to swap your shoes when your heart rate is maxing out.”
What equipment is necessary? Good running shoes are essential, but purpose-built trail shoes are not necessary, according to Parks. Unless you’re truly an expert, don’t bring anything less than a well-tuned mountain bike with fairly aggressive knobby tires. You might want a hydration pack that has room for a few bike tools. (There are aid stations on the course and mechanics for bike emergencies.) A bicycle helmet is required.
Then there is the question of shorts. Running in padded bike shorts is a bit awkward and can cause chafing. Riding in flimsy running shorts can cause a sore butt. Plus, running shorts can get caught on the bike seat.
Parks recommends bike shorts. Worthington wears triathlon shorts, which are similar to bike shorts but with less padding. The best bet is to experiment ahead of time, not on race day.
Speaking of race day, exactly how you want to approach the “racing” aspect is purely a personal decision.
Worthington: “Run your own race. Don’t worry about the person in front of you or the person behind you. You just want to finish.”
Walter: “I’d suggest seeking out a race experience. Either silently or verbally, personalize the race against one or more opponents. And don’t give up. Don’t ever give up. You never know what will happen in front of you.”
If you’re not sure about biting off the whole event, the team relay is your best bet. “You get to participate in the race as well as be a spectator for it,” said Richmond. Runners gets 45 minutes to an hour to cheer on others and socialize while waiting for their mountain biking teammates, she noted.
For a course map, entry form, contact information and other details, visit the event website.
Paul Shigley is senior editor of California Planning & Development Report, a frequent contributor to Planning magazine and won’t chafe your behind. He lives in Centerville. Paul Shigley may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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