London Duathlon 2023 – Pre-Race Bike Course Review for Novices, Richmond Park
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The London Duathlon offers a unique experience when cycling on roads in Richmond Park that are closed to traffic. If you’re unfamiliar with the bike course, here’s a detailed guide to help you navigate the clockwise lap that’s the central part of each race distance. You’ll have to complete 2, 4 or 7 laps depending on your chosen event.
- Half Duathlon: 5km Run – 22km Bike – 5km Run
- Full Duathlon: 10km Run – 44km Bike – 5km Run
- Ultra Duathlon: 20km Run – 77km Bike – 10km Run
- Duathlon Relay: 10km Run – 44km Bike – 5km Run (2 or 3 people)
Table of Contents (Click to Expand)
Bike Course Overview
Type: Easy, Undulating. Few danger points. Zero chance of making a wrong turn.
Best for: TT bikes with tri-bars or road bikes ridden on the drops. Mountain bikes work too, albeit considerably slower.
Comparative Analysis – for novice duathletes
If you can pull off a 20-minute 5k run with fresh legs, you can likely do a 20-minute lap of Richmond Park on a normal road bike, assuming you train for both equally. A half-decent TT bike will knock off a minute or more from a single bike lap. However, running the 5k sections of the duathlons in 20 minutes and completing every lap in 20 minutes will be a challenge even for committed multi-sport athletes.
Hills or Undulations?
While the course has its share of short, challenging inclines, I’d describe it more as undulating than hilly. For a seasoned triathlete/duathlete like me, it’s an easily manageable course. But for beginners, those hills might seem a bit intimidating.
I would rank the road surface as 9/10. Many parts are pancake smooth.
The section between Robin Hood Gate and Kingston Gate was resurfaced with road gravel 6 or so years ago. That’s all mostly either bedded into the tarmac or washed away. That section is perhaps not quite as good but still a 7 or 8/10.
There are 5 (ish) speed bumps plus a couple of rumble strips which are all designed to slow cars down but which shouldn’t annoy you too much.
The ideal Tyre Pressure is linked to the road surface amongst other factors: You will want to max out the tyre pressure to the upper end of what you normally use. If it’s raining then take the pressure down a notch or two. If you accept that lower tyre pressures are faster then you’ll find that track cyclists on perfect surfaces use 120psi. Personally, I’ll use 90-100psi depending on the tyres I decide to go with.
Mapping It Out
Here is the official map showing the bike lap which is the same for everybody and the 5k and 10k run laps which are used by the different events. The Full duathlon uses the 10k run lap and the 5k run lap at the end.
The 10km and 5km run laps are straightforward. Each has one significant hill, but the 10km run begins with fresh legs, easing the challenge.
Each lap is just over 11km long and has two notable uphill sections, one short and one long with, and correspondingly short/long fast descents. Laps are clockwise and this is the safest way to loop Richmond Park. Almost every duathlete will be in first gear for short periods up the steepest hill and the faster athletes will easily top 60km/h on the long downhill section towards the end of the lap.
More Strava CW Lap Starting at Roehampton Cafe (this lap/segment approximately replicates a complete lap of the London Duathlon Course). It shows the elevation profile.
Bike Course Insights
I’ve easily done more than 1,000 CW laps of this course over the years. Hopefully, my experience can translate into some insights for you on race day.
These are the highlights of a lap in the order you encounter them
- Starting Off from the NE part of the route (Event Village/Roehampton Gate Car Park area): The bike mount area is smooth and flat, on a shared road. Watch out for considerably faster cyclists on their second lap as you pick up speed.
- Runner Intersection: This is a potential danger spot because the road narrows and there will be slower and faster cyclists on this narrow road. Stay alert for runners and faster cyclists, some speeding at over 30mph. (The last part of the run is here and may have been moved off the road, that would be safer for all)
- Broomfield Hill Challenge: The steepest point. The hill gets progressively steeper and you will need your easiest gear for the last 30m or so. EASE OFF here and keep your legs turning, DO NOT push super hard as you will easily exhaust yourself by the top. Note to cyclists with power meters: you should definitely go over your FTP here, maybe 115% to 120% is reasonable. Some people will walk up this hill but it’s not especially hard if you regularly cycle.
- Downhill Respite: After Broomfield Hill, there are a few bumps on the road, and then a bit of downhill before gearing up for an easy small incline. Ideally, you will be pushing yourself on this section to the average effort you hope to maintain for the entire bike course, you can only do that if you’ve eased off beforehand on Broomfield Hill.
- Dark Hill S Bend: This is a flat-out downhill S bend and perhaps the most dangerous part of the course at the same time. Skilled cyclists can go full throttle here and brake hard for the 90-degree bend over the flat roundabout. Be very wary about finely cutting the bend at the roundabout as there is often gravel on the inside (right) of the bend. It’s unlikely the organisers will have swept the surface and the sand/gravel appears after rain. If you want a super-fast lap time check this roundabout out before you start the race. The exit from this bend, if you cut it, crosses cobbled road furniture so you need to be confident of your line. Again, check this out before the race.
- Olympic Road Race Route: Push up a very shallow hill after Kingston Gate, and remember, you’re now tracing the path of 2012’s Olympic athletes all the way to the end of the lap!
- Pembroke Lodge Ascent: A mildly challenging, prolonged uphill that progressively steepens. Again go over your planned ‘average effort’ but not by too much. Assuming you are exceeding your average planned effort maintain that effort by decreasing your speed as the hill steepens. At the Pembroke Lodge Car Park, you have a minute or so until you get to the next roundabout. If you can increase your speed and maintain your effort.
- Richmond Gate Roundabout: Be cautious even Fabian Cancellara fell off here and the roundabout is harder now than in the 2012 Olympics as you will almost certainly be unable to cut the corner due to oncoming runners on the 10k course. You’ve almost certainly been slacking over the last 90 seconds or so, get out of your saddle and accelerate quickly up the slight incline, decline and another incline. It’s all downhill from here. Pedal hard until you can pedal no more, there’s a good chance your speed will top out, if it does there is no point in pedalling furiously, get aero and enjoy the speed without pedalling. Before you get to the trees you’ll definitely want to start pedalling again.
- Final Stretches: There’s a road hump and then straight over a roundabout soon after. Then another road bump, keep the high effort level up unless this is your last lap.
- Roehampton Roundabout: Cut this 90-degree bend as best you can and get up to your planned average speed ASAP. Be extremely mindful for the next km as novice riders will join the course here.
Wind Factor: The course can be windy and unpredictable because of the trees. The wind direction will make little difference to your lap time unless there is a Westerly wind which blows you all the way down the long straight from Richmond Gate to the finish of the lap. The Westerly wind will disproportionately boost your lap time, no other wind makes much of a difference, you can’t control it in any case although an early morning start might be calmer on average if you are considering the change of the wind throughout the day if a mate has a much later or earlier start time.
This is a safe course by normal race standards. If you go slowly it’s not dangerous at all. Obviously, it’s a race and there will be a full range of abilities from complete beginners to former elite athletes all on the same course. That said there are a few points I’ll highlight
- This is a Royal Deer Park – Deer are unpredictable and everywhere. It’s best to make an ‘unusual’ sound as you approach them. This will likely not scare them but rather make them pay attention to the unusual sound and less likely to run in an unpredictable direction. If a deer is crossing the road then I wouldn’t ride in front of it but would ride behind it.
- Kingston Gate Roundabout and Richmond Gate Roundabout are sharp 90-degree turns. You will have to brake here (but nowhere else). Only brake in a straight line before the turn. If you brake while cornering and especially if you use your front brake while cornering at speed, you will crash.
- There are oncoming runners in several places however this will only be a problem in the short section approaching Robin Hood Gate Roundabout, as mentioned earlier as the course is wide enough elsewhere.
- Since I last raced the London Duathlon there are new road humps and new wooden road gates that narrow the road. These gates will certainly be open but be mindful of the gate posts which I would imagine cannot be removed for the race. Marshalls should be there to warn you.
- High winds and rain and additional and more obvious dangers. If the wind is above 15mph then more experienced riders with deep-section front wheels might want to think about wheel choice. I doubt those wheels are faster in cross-winds if you are fighting to stay on the bike. Even with constant wind, the actual effect on the course can feel gusty.
Slower Riders: Just keep left. If you hear people shout ‘Stay’ or ‘Keep Left’ that means keep left but don’t swerve to get there.
they’ll be going at 30mph, you don’t want to crash with them.
Richmond Park is pretty. I doubt you’ll notice as you’ll be focussing on your race 🙂 It will be VERY pleasant to walk around any part of it after the race. You’ll perhaps notice more of the scenery when running and you’ll be going to the middle of the Park and past the super-pretty bits including the large lake and Royal Ballet School building. Richmond Park is not really a ‘natural’ park and its landscape has been designed by man for long-gone absolutist monarchs, enjoy some of the deliberately tree-lined walkways and views.
A Good Time?
What’s a good time for the London Duathlon?
When you’ve finished, check your overall time compared to the winner in your 5-year age band. If your time is within 120% of the winner, I’d say that was a very good time and that you might want to consider trying to qualify for GB’s Age Group Duathlon Teams…you should be able to do it.
A 20-minute bike lap time is easily possible for a trained cyclist and as you can see from the Strava link, the maximal performances are less than 15 minutes for a single lap.
17:30 minutes is generally recognised as ‘decent’ by proper cyclists but there will be very few people in the Duathlons who do that speed as they have to complete multiple laps and run.
Past race results show that trained multisport athletes will be able to consistently clock 19- or 20-minute laps with decent TT bikes.
Run Times: Try not to extrapolate your parkrun time to your goals for the race. For a start, the hills on each lap will probably add about a minute to what you could achieve for a one-off 5K. You’ll be completing at least two 5Ks! Basically, your run speed for the shortest Half Duathlon will equate to something like your one-off 10-mile PB speed and for the longer duathlon distances, your running target should equate to something between your Marathon and Half Marathon speed (as a rule of thumb).
Richmond Park offers a blend of challenges and scenic beauty. Whether you’re racing or leisurely cycling, there’s always something to appreciate.
It’s a good course to go safely hard and be challenged. The inclines are not challenging for Alpine Cyclists or UTMB runners but they are challenging enough to make anyone mindful about how they will pace them
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