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Why Try the Tri and Why Do the Du?

By Steve Jonas | April 25, 2013, 9:53 a.m. (ET)

Regular readers of these pages likely know what triathlons and duathlons are, but just in case you are just coming into multisport racing, it might be helpful to go over those definitions. Triathlons are distance races with three separate legs.  The usual combination is swimming, road cycling, and running — in that order. However, there are other combinations, such as: downhill skiing, cycling and running (and I did a couple of those some years back); running, cycling and canoeing/kayaking; and swimming, off-road cycling and running. But by far the most common combination is swim-bike-run, with the latter two done on the road. They come in a variety of lengths from short to very, very long.  And in that regard, do you know what, for a triathlete, is a crazy triathlete? Why one who has done a longer race than the longest one she or he has done.

Why try the tri? Let us count the ways. Whether you already do a distance sport, you are looking for a new challenge in your life.  Or you want to try it because it looks like fun (and, done right, it is). You are a swimmer, a cyclist, or a runner, and whether you already race in your sport, the idea of combining it with two others in a race intrigues you. You are interested in getting into what's called cross-training, that is training in more than one distance sport at the same time.   Cross-training reduces your risk of sport-specific injury in any one of the sports because you are spending less time in each one. Too, cross-training can reduce the boredom that can come with doing just one distance sport. And so, if you are cross-training, why not do the racing event it was originally designed for? Triathlon also provides a great excuse to buy some new toys — like a bike and a wetsuit.  

Yes indeed, you can try the tri for whatever reason or reasons pull your chain. But, don't like to, want to, or just cannot swim? Well then, let's look at duathlon, next. Duathlons are two-sport races that have two or more segments, usually three. The most common format is run-bike-run. The distances for most such events are about 2-3 miles each for the run segments, 10-15 miles for the bike. So, if you are thinking about getting started in multisport racing but don't like the idea of  swimming for one reason or another, or you are possibly a triathlete who is getting tired of training in the three sports, or you are looking for shorter combo events that are still a challenge but not as demanding as the usual triathlon, or you are most comfortable on the bike and perfectly happy to do the bulk of your training on it, or what have you, it might be time to "think duathlon." 

It happens that you may encounter duathlons under the name "biathlon," about which there was some controversy. When they were first developed by Dan Honig, President of my own New York Triathlon Club in the mid-1980s, the run-bike-run events were called “biathlons.” Until the International Triathlon Union moved to get triathlon added to the Olympic Games that was fine. But as many readers know, "biathlon" is also the name of the winter Olympic sport that combines cross-country skiing with target-shooting. Understandably, the winter biathlon people didn't want another event in the Olympics associated with one that had the same name as theirs. So by substituting the Latin prefix for the Greek one, the official name of the event was changed to "duathlon." Whatever it is called, I do them on a regular basis throughout the season and they are a great change of pace from triathlon.

This series of thoughts and recommendations for beginner and recreational triathletes and duathletes by Dr. Steve Jonas is drawn from his book, 101 Ideas and Insights for Triathletes and Duathletes (Monterey, CA: Healthy Learning/Coaches Choice, 2011), text used with permission. The book can be purchased at:” 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 Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals.”