Duathlon’s humble beginnings

Welcome Du It For You guest contributor Steven Jonas, author of Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals®: Getting Started and Staying with It (Globe Pequot Press/FalconGuides 2012).

Duathlon for ordinary mortals

Now in his 35th year of multisport racing, Steve, age 80, has completed more than 250 duathlons and triathlons. He is a member of USA Triathlon’s Triathlon Century Club and expects to join the Duathlon Century Club this year.

Here, Steve takes us back to duathlon’s beginnings: who started it, why, and how it got its name. Got questions about duathlon’s early years? Post them in the comments below. Enjoy!

Duathlon: A Historical Perspective

The racing sport that for quite some time has been called “triathlon” originated sometime back in the mid-1970s in San Diego, California. No one is absolutely certain of when the first such race was run, who thought it up (although there are a variety of claimants to that honor), and under whose auspices it was put on. But we can be fairly certain of the original history of what is now called “duathlon” and who came up with the idea.

Daniel Honig was an early organizer and promoter of triathlon in the New York Metropolitan Area. I first met him at my second triathlon, a race held on Long Beach Island, New Jersey, at the end of September 1983. Right next to the transition area, Dan had set up a table for what he then called the Big Apple Triathlon Club. An inveterate joiner, who had actually fallen in love with triathlon during my first race two weeks previously, the second running of the Mighty Hamptons Triathlon (then held at Sag Harbor, New York for the first time), I jumped at the opportunity to enroll.

The next spring, when I received a notice from Dan of a race to be held in May 1984, something he called “biathlon,” I was intrigued. For there was a race one could do locally well, before the water at any of the then-available triathlon venues was warm enough for swimming. And that was the idea that originally inspired Dan to come up with biathlon. How about a variant of triathlon that could extend the season in the colder climes? It would still have three segments, but the swim leg would be replaced by an opening run.

Other two-sport variants of triathlon appeared around the same time under a variety of names: “Byathlon,” run-bike, “Cyruthon” (cycle-run). But the run-bike-run format, as developed by Dan, in the first instance quickly came to be seen as an entryway into multi-sport racing for weak or non-swimmers, some of whom might then stay with the form indefinitely (as do many of the readers of this journal).

“When I was a boy” in multi-sport terms, I did my first biathlon in May 1984 at the old Floyd Bennett Field (a former Naval air station) in Brooklyn, New York. It was a cold, wet day, but I was determined to do what then would be my third (what we now call) multi-sport race. I hadn’t raced in the rain in a very long time, for reasons both of safety and comfort. But having looked forward to the race for a couple of months, nothing was going to stop me on that day. Furthermore, it was on a flat, closed course, which made it somewhat safer than being out on a road with traffic. I don’t know what the distances were, but in my race record I do have that I was out on the course for 1:38. That first full season I stayed with both tri- and biathlon, and have done so ever since.

Of course, we now know the sport as “duathlon.” Internationally the name change from “biathlon” came about in the mid-1990s, when the International Triathlon Union applied for the inclusion of triathlon in the Olympic Games. As the campaign got under way, even though there was no idea of including the run-bike-run biathlon in the Olympics as well, the need to come up with a new name for triathlon’s two-sport offspring became appar­ent. In the Winter Olympics, there is a well-established Nordic event that combines cross-country skiing and target‑shooting. It is known as the “biathlon.” Understandably, the International Biathlon Union did not want an­other event in the Olympics, summer or winter, that was associated with the same name as theirs. So, using a Latin rather than a Greek prefix, still with the Greek root, the name “duathlon” for the run-bike-run races was created.

In this column, I will share with you some duathlon thoughts, experiences, and recommendations that I have had over the years. I hope that you will find them useful, and please, if you would like to get in touch with me, don’t hesitate to do so.

This column is drawn in part from Chap. 1 of my book, Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals®: Getting Started and Staying with It. © Steve Jonas, All rights reserved

Race director celebrates 3 years cancer-clear

I’m sharing this story because it’s good news (and we could all use more of that these days) and because it’s good advice for staying all-around healthy.

Gary Westlund, a coach, race director, and founder of Charities Challenge, a nonprofit that puts on a host of running and walking programs in Minnesota, is celebrating three years clear of melanoma.

Fortunately, Gary caught the cancer early. A mole on his left knee looked suspicious. He immediately visited his doctor, who performed a biopsy and confirmed his suspicions.

Gary’s story is a good reminder to:

Wear sunscreen.

Check your skin monthly for possible melanoma. (If it’s oddly shaped, has an uneven color, or if it gets bigger or changes over a period of weeks or months, get it checked.)

Visit a dermatologist annually for a “mole check.”

Gary also reminds us that even though we stay fit with running and cycling (and more running), we may not be overall, full-spectrum healthy. Proper nutrition doesn’t just fuel your training and races, it also helps keep your blood pressure and cholesterol in check. If you have a family history of heart disease, keep an eye on your numbers.

And remember to have fun and enjoy life, even when you’re off the bike and not on a run.

See you soon!

What to “Du” When Your Training Route Collapses

Understatement of the year: it’s been a little wet in the San Francisco Bay Area this winter.  Most of the region is well above normal in rain totals this month, and it seems like most of  it came in a three-day period last week. As a result, almost half of the state is no longer in drought. This is good! But we’ve also had a lot of flooding, fallen trees, sinkholes, and muddy crud and debris in the road.

One of the biggest rain repercussions occurred on a section of Alhambra Valley Road that’s one of the East Bay’s popular riding routes. A creek that passes under the road rose higher and higher, and eventually washed away a hunk of the road. Check it out: It’s a canyon! Too wide even to bunny hop, unless you’re especially talented.

alhambra valley road
photo courtesy of Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group

Obviously officials have closed the road until they can fix it. Who knows how long that will take.

Bear Creek Road
Elsewhere on the course – Bear Creek Road. Photo courtesy of Ryan Masters, Santa Cruz Sentinel

On any typical day, motorists and cyclists can choose another route. But when it’s the most logistically feasible bike leg for a popular duathlon series,  what to do?

That’s the dilemma Wolf Hillesheim faced the past few days as he figured out how to hold his next event, Du 3 Bears, on January 28.

Here’s what he’s come up with: He cancelled the USAT-sanctioned short- and long-course duathlons. The five-mile run will go on with a new start time and location. Wolf will bring his transition racks for any athlete that wants to ride an out-and-back route after the five-mile run. He will time and hand out awards for the run as usual, but the bike is self-timed.

If you decide to “du” this modified run-bike, he asks you to pre-register via the printed entry form. Run-only participants can register either online or by snail mail.

Race directors face all sorts of strange last-minute challenges: no-show volunteers, signs and course markings blown away, extreme weather conditions, construction, you name it. It’s not everyday your road disappears! Kudos to Wolf for making the best of a bad situation. He could have canceled the entire event. Instead, he got on the phone with city officials and park officials and figured out a way for the show to go on. And a loyal duathlete following is ever-grateful!

What is your strangest weather-related race experience? Let us know in the comments below!

— GoRunBikeRun

Motor Doping coming to 60 Minutes (Updated)

UPDATE: 60 Minutes aired “Enhancing the Bike,” its story about hidden motors in pro cycling, on January 29. Reporter Bill Whitaker did interview Istvan “Stefano” Varjas, inventor of a motor system. He said pro cyclists have used some version of his motor on “professional tours.”

Watch the full story, and read the transcript, here.

Stay tuned for another doping exposé! But this one’s not about TUEs or EPO. Bicycling magazine recently reported 60 Minutes producers are investigating professional cycling’s motor doping issue for an upcoming episode.

In June 2016, 60 Minutes correspondent Bill Whitaker visited Budapest, which is the home of Istvan “Stefano” Varjas, who claims to be the inventor of hidden motor systems that pro cyclists have allegedly used since 1999.

Varjas has hinted at a forthcoming exposé to more than one news outlet. Among other claims, he says pro riders have used hidden motors in Tour de France and other races for “years.” Varjas’s system is hidden in the wheels. Another product allegedly used, from Vivax, hides in the seat tube.

motor doping
Race officials caught a motor in the spare bike of Femke Van Den Driessche during the U23 cyclocross World Championships last year.

Both UCI and ITU use fraud software to detect these hidden motors. Varjas claims the technology is sub-par.

Read Bicycling‘s full account of the supposed 60 Minutes story and the motor doping issue here. For more on motor doping: what is is, how it’s done, and who’s accused of doing it, check out this article from Cycling Weekly.

If I could add something invisible to my bike, in light of all the rain we’ve gotten lately in Northern California, I would add an invisible, retractable rain shield to hover over and in front of myself and my bike. It might need invisible windshield wipers too. That way, I wouldn’t be stuck riding indoors. Like today.

Whether you’re running, riding or both, indoors or out, enjoy! Work on building up the only motor that matters — the one that powers your legs and your lungs.