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).
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