Are you (or a friend, child, parent, other loved one who you might refer to the USA Triathlon Blog) thinking about getting started in multisport racing? Or are you (or they) possibly a triathlete who is: getting tired of training in three sports; looking for shorter events that are still a challenge but not as demanding as the usual triathlon; weak in or not thrilled with swimming, desirous of doing multisport events that are less-demanding logistically than triathlon; most comfortable on the bike and perfectly happy to do the bulk of your training on it? Well, these are a bunch of reasons why it might be time to think duathlon.
Duathlons (as most, but not all, readers of these pages know) are two-sport races, which may have two or more segments. The sports are most commonly running and biking and the most common format is the run-bike-run sequence. Distances can vary from the sprint, plus-minus 3-kilometer run, 25-kilometer bike, 3-kilometer run to the standard, plus-minus 5k run, 35k bike, 5k run, to longer or much longer.
The event first appeared in the mid-1980s. (In fact, I competed in what its organizer, my good friend Dan Honig, President of the New York Triathlon Club, thinks was the very first one of its type, a race called The Brooklyn Biathlon, held [in a downpour, but it still wasn’t a triathlon] on the old Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York, in May 1984.) The original purpose was to offer to athletes who liked multisport racing but didn't like to or couldn't swim, an alternative to doing triathlons. Also, the concept appealed to race directors because duathlons are obviously easier than triathlon to put on as well as to do.
There has been some controversy over the name. Dan called it biathlon, in part to rhyme with triathlon. However, in the 1990s when the International Triathlon Union applied to the International Olympic Committee to include our sport in the Olympics, it was of course found that there was already a sport with the name biathlon, that is the winter one that combines cross-country skiing with target-shooting. And so, to avoid unnecessary confusion and controversy, the Roman prefix “du” was attached to the Greek root “Athlon,” and duathlon was born. For some local races, especially Dan’s, the name biathlon hung around for a long time, but now he even calls his duathlons.
Now regardless of what it is called, we've got a fun race here. Most of them have relatively short distances. You don't have to worry about swimming. As well, while I'm not concerned with saving a couple of minutes in transition for comfort on the bike, I do change into my cleats, many people use their running shoes while riding. But overall, the logistics are much simpler than they are for triathlon. Further, because, of course there is no worry about water temperature, the duathlon season in many parts of the country, the duathlon is significantly longer than the triathlon season.
As for training, you can get away with somewhat less even for a standard-distance duathlon than for an Olympic-distance (2k swim, 40k bike, 10k run) triathlon. For the latter, many of the standard beginner training programs (mine, Joe Friel’s, Gale Bernhardt’s), average 5-6 hours per week over 13 weeks (assuming that you already have an aerobic base of 2-3 hours per week). You can certainly do a shorter duathlon on 3-4 hours per week for 13 weeks.
So, think about doin’ the du. You may eventually get around to tryin’ the tri. But many folks du it for the whole of their multisport racing careers.
This series of thoughts and recommendations about multisport racing by Dr. Steve Jonas is, over time, drawn in part from his book, 101 Ideas and Insights for Triathletes and Duathletes (Monterey, CA: Healthy Learning/Coaches Choice, 2011), from which text is used with permission. The book can be purchased here and is available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.
Steve’s most recent multisport book is Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals®: Getting Started and Staying with It (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press/FalconGuides, 2012), available at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
His first book on multisport racing, Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals®, 2nd Ed. (New York: WW Norton, 2006) also can be found at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.