It’s no secret to my friends and readers that I like to specialize in a particular sport from year to year to really get “into” a particular discipline. Over the years, I’ve focused on the marathon, trail running, ultra-distance running and the Ironman distance in triathlon. I like to do this, because it allows me great focus on that specific sport and to learn the methods that work in some depth so that I can write about them here in this forum. For 2011, I decided to make it my year of the duathlon and now, on the eve of the Duathlon Nationals in Tuscon, I am reflecting on this sport and what makes it challenging.For those that don’t know about this lesser known sport, duathlon is a sport that is quite distinct from its cousin the triathlon. It requires particularly good speed out of the runners and a unique blend of strength to be able to run at high-speed multiple times in the same race. Although some people might think of duathlon as a “triathlon without the swim” this somehow implies that duathlon is easier than triathlon, which may in fact not be true depending on the athlete. Runners should “like” this sport, although they need to be equally proficient at cycling if their going to be successful here.
What is a Duathlon?
Duathlons can take on several different forms, but the most common is what is called the “run-bike-run” format. In the most common type of these run-bike-run events, athletes would run something like 5K, ride 40K, and then run another 5K. There are shorter and longer duathlon events, as well as events in which the runs are different lengths (e.g 5K then 10K). Long-course options can take athletes as far as half-Ironman and Ironman distances as well.
Some triathlon organizers will offer a duathlon “option” in which they remove the swim and have the athletes do only the bike and run. This really is a triathlon without the swim and doesn’t offer that unique blend of challenge that the run-bike-run format provides, but these can still be fun events especially for those that don’t have the time or resources to work on their swimming and want to participate in a particular triathlon event.
What makes the duathlon unique?
First, as with any multi-sport race with shorter distance runs, a sprint or Olympic distance duathlon requires great speed and intensity to be competitive. Any time runners are faced with a 5K run, the most competitive athletes will run these at speeds competitive with other 5K road-races. At last year’s Duathlon Nationals the age-group winner ran the first 5K in just 15:19. That’s a pace of 4:56 per mile. That’s screamin’ fast. Similar to the sprint triathlon, the top athletes need to be competitive in each sport individually to be competitive in their multi-sport counter-parts.
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