Duathlon training as a city dweller

Close your eyes for a moment and picture your favourite cycling route.  Now think of your go-to running circuit.  Chances are you're imagining safe, open roads, perhaps treelined paths, the occasional hill and fresh air.  Did you conjure up stoplights, traffic, and crowded sidewalks?  Likely not.  These are but a few of the challenges faced by urban duathletes and triathletes, particularly those of us who live in more densely populated areas of cities. 

Here are some of my experiences - and a few tips & tricks - as a condo dweller who has embraced a sporty urban lifestyle.

I've lived in apartment-style dwellings for nearly 20 years, since leaving rural Ontario to move to Toronto.  I now live in the heart of the city, in a district where 78.7% of residents live in buildings of five or more storeys.  I live on the 29th floor of my condo tower!  Only 8.6% of the area's residents live in houses.  In other words, not many of us have a "pain cave" in the basement, as we don't have basements!  Nor do we have traffic-free roads for long distance cycling.  Our training plan requires a little creativity to make it all work. 

So where do I cycle outdoors in the city?  It's not impossible to get a good bike workout on the streets of Toronto, it just requires a little creativity.

A starting point is riding with others, which offers the benefit of workouts on established routes and safety in numbers.

A huge benefit of city living is the wide range of training clubs.  The Morning Glory Cycling Club, Dark Horse Flyers and Cabbagetown Cycling Club are three downtown clubs on my radar.

Tip: Before you join a club in your city, make sure they allow TT bikes, unless you've got a road bike.  The Toronto Triathlon Club hosts evening rides and welcomes those of us with an affinity for aerobars.

Given my location and work schedule, club rides usually don't fit, so I make like world-class long distance triathletes Cody Beals and Lionel Sanders and hit the trainer.  It's safe, convenient and because there is no drafting or coasting, you're legs are working harder for the same amount of time.

My pain cave: AKA our spare bedroom.  
Note: this bedroom has been staged to appear cleaner than usual!

My #1 personal rule is to remember that in the city, I'm not alone.  As an apartment-dweller, I'm living in a community and I must take precautions not to disturb those around me.  That means I need to pay close attention to the noise I make with my bike trainer, music, fans or any other accessories. 

Tip: An inexpensive yoga mat from Winners will both help absorb the sound of your cycling and keep your floor clean of sweat.  They're also cheaper than the products sold specifically for bike trainers.

Here's my usual bike set-up.  It ain't fancy, but it works. 
I set a small fan and a water bottle on a bar stool.
My iPad controls my smart trainer and sits on the bed beside me.
I may also have snacks on the bed and occasionally... 
MultiSport Canada medals laid out for motivation!

While we can rarely hear noise between units in our building, I still schedule my indoor cycling at times that are the least likely to potentially annoy neighbours.

My noise level mid-ride, measured via the Decibel 10 IOS app. 
By comparison, our dishwasher is louder. 

I limit my cycling to after work or weekends - no 6:00 a.m. rides that could wake the neighbours!  I also do most of my cycling in the spare room, where I hope the bed absorbs some of the sound.

My gear storage space: behind the door to the bedroom. 
Anyone want to buy an old, hardly used, Nintendo Wii?

My personal rule #2 is to support as many races as I can in the city.  It's a win/win situation.  If lots of us participate, the event will succeed and happen again next year.  If I take part, I get to have a fun workout without leaving town.

A snapshot from my first ever duathlon -- on Toronto Island.  

As I've written elsewhere on this blog, the Toronto Island duathlon hosted by Skechers Performance MultiSport Canada was the race that sparked a passion that continues to this day.  I love, love, love this race, which happens in one of the most beautiful parts of the city.  I will miss it this month for the first time in years, because I will be competing at Worlds in Penticton, B.C.  Otherwise, I'm there!

Shifting gears back to combining training with high-rise living....

Tip: Elevator etiquette - If I'm taking my bike in the elevator, I've learned to put it in inside a cover and I don't push on during busy periods.  A little kindness goes a long way.  I also take it in and out of the building via the parking garage.

Speaking of which, after my bike was stolen from a locked SUV in our garage in 2015, I've been paranoid and don't store it down there.  I know others have had their bikes taken from locked racks in our building and condos.  When I filed a police report when a thief took mine, the officer told me bikes are stolen from garages across the city all the time.  Now I won't take the risk.

While about 95% of my cycling year-round is done inside on the trainer, the reverse is true for my running: I'm nearly always outdoors.  It's easy to pull off a great workout in the city.

For starters, various run clubs have shown me great routes through the cities parks, trails and ravines.  Varied terrain, shade (in some cases) and few, if any, stop lights?  Perfection!

When it's time to throw in speed work, I've got options.

I suggest seeking out a neighbourhood with limited traffic with O or U shaped roads where you can run 400 or 800 repeats.  I've also mapped a 5 km out and back, with just a single stoplights - great for brick training.

A 5 km run with just one stoplight - a critical component of a city dweller's route repetoire.
I've got two such routes, as well as a 6 km that has only two stoplights. 

Even running straight up and down a quiet street is an option and as a bonus, you'll practice 180 degree turns, which will come in handy on race day.

It isn't all smiles during gruelling track workouts, but I managed one here!

Tip: Lately, I've joined the Nike Run Club for some painfully good Tuesday night track work.  Best of all, it's free.

I know I'm lucky to have a gym in our condo building with three treadmills - even if running a minute on them feels like an eternity.  They are useful when the weather outside is frightful, although when I hit any speeds above 8.0 (the equivalent of 4:40/km), they rattle and threaten to spontaneously combust.

While there are a lot of great things about living and training in the city, let's be honest: it's not without its challenges.

We don't own a car, which makes it really complicated to take advantage of the great indoor bike training studios (like X3 Training) this city has to offer.  But if you're willing to leave your bike at the studio (for a small storage fee), these facilities are a great place to train with a group using power-based technology. 

Still on the automobile theme, when I travel to most races, it will be at least a two hour drive, so rather than leave home at 4:00 a.m., I rent a car and go up the night prior. 

Tip: A car in the "full size sedan" model will fit your bike, if you fold down the back seats and  slide it in through the trunk.  There is no need to pay for a SUV. 

With congestion on the major highways getting worse, I need to thoughtfully plan my rental period, calculating what time I'll need to leave after a race in order to battle traffic and get the vehicle back on time.  I admit, it's stressful pulling up to traffic jams as I return to the city, praying I won't be late in returning it.  (Hey Avis, are you out there and willing to sponsor a duathlete?)

Tip: If you're racing in rural Ontario, make sure to pick-up some local baked treats while you're there. They are usually way better than what you'll find in the city and they'll help energize you for the drive home!  (Okay, so it might be a stretch to call this one a true tip....)

While there are challenges to city living, very few of us have the perfect training set-up, no matter where we live.  After all, we're balancing our passion for multisport with everything else in our lives.

My absolute favourite part about training in the city?  It's knowing that there is a huge community of like-minded athletes out there, hitting the streets together every day of the week.  Whether I'm up for a pre-sunrise run, cycling hill repeats in High Park or hitting the gym downstairs, I know I will see and be inspired by others doing the same thing.

Happy training!