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What is a "Real" Triathlete/Duathlete? Revisited

By Steve Jonas | Oct. 01, 2015, 1:49 p.m. (ET)

Talking Tri-/Duathlon for Ordinary Mortals®: A Series, (No. 26, 2015, 10-1) by Dr. Steve Jonas

Just a bit over two years ago, I visited this subject on these pages. A recent editorial in another triathlon magazine made me want to return to it. The author was talking about drawing more women into the sport — certainly a laudatory goal — through a new organization. (Of course the USA Triathlon Women’s Committee has been on the case for many years, and my good and longtime friend and colleague Sally Edwards has been at it even longer, with Trek and Danskin, among others). But what struck me in particular about the column was its emphasis on IRONMAN races. 

Here we go again, I thought. When are we going to get away, in certain quarters at least, from the emphasis on the IRONMAN distance? Without any mention of all the distances triathlons and duathlons come in, it’s an ethic that can — no, will — be a turn-off to so many potential participants in our sport. And so I am revisiting the subject, with some of the text from that earlier column.

Is there some absolute standard for what qualifies a particular race as a “real triathlon?” Well, as of this writing, I’ve been racing for 33 years and have done 246 triathlons and duathlons. I surely don’t think that there is some absolute standard for that qualification. If some folks think that the only “real’" triathlon is an IRONMAN (or at least a half), all that means is that the only “real” triathlon, for him or for her, is an IRONMAN.

Over the course of my triathlon career, I happen to have raced the ultra distance (started five, finished three, ran out of time on the marathon in the other two). But every race that I have done, whether one of the ultras or one of the sprint-distance duathlons that I do two or three times a year in New York City's Central Park, has been “real” for me, in the context of that race, on the day of that race.

For what does the word “real” really mean, in personal — not scientific — terms? It means something that you experience objectively, something that you can see or taste or hear or feel, that has an actual existence for you, not necessarily for anybody else. So whether the race is long, short or in between; whether it’s on a hot, cold, windy, calm, or in between day; on a hilly, flat, or in between course; was it real for you? Was getting to the start line and then crossing the finish line whether you went fast, or slow, or in between, real for you? That’s all that matters. Then for you it was a real race, a real experience, a real triathlon or duathlon.

Are none of the folks who compete the sprints or the Olympics real triathletes/duathletes?  What does that makes those age-groupers who compete in the USA Triathlon Sprint (triathlon) or Duathlon National Championships or the International Triathlon Union Sprint Triathlon or Duathlon World Championships? For me, regardless of your finishing time or the length of the race, if you've had a good time at the race, if you feel good and feel good about yourself after the race, then you are a real duathlete or triathlete.

I just think of the 250 pound woman I met at a race a couple of weeks ago at which she finished her first sprint triathlon, last overall. (I did the du that day and finished not too far in front of her.). She is likely in her mid-50s. She told me that she had already lost 50 pounds and that by next year she would be another 100 pounds lighter and would be coming back to do her next triathlon then.  Believe me, that race was real for her and her next one will be, too!  THAT is reality for you!


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 and

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 and

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.

Dr. Jonas recently was featured in World Class Magazine. Click here to read the article.