[Editor’s note: In my view, anyone who competes in a run-bike-run format event is a duathlete. There is no “real.” Everyone, no matter where they finish in the pack, is an athlete that’s doing their best. As Steven Jonas writes, not everyone agrees. The situation he describes reminds me of many conversations I’ve had with non-runners about my weekend activities. I tell them I’m racing on Sunday. “How far?” they ask. 5K, I tell them. “Oh,” they say flatly. “That’s not so bad.” Really? Had I told this person I was running a marathon, their eyes would light up. As if anything less isn’t a “real” race. Tomorrow I’m racing a mile—just one mile!—one week after competing in the USAT Duathlon National Championships (standard course) in Bend, Oregon. That mile will feel as much like a “real” race as the two-and-a-half-plus-hour effort in Bend, for sure! So whatever, wherever, however you’re du-ing it, be proud of yourself for du-ing. You are a duathlete. And now on to Dr. Jonas… – Du It For You]
As you are sure to know by now, duathlons come in a variety of distances and levels of difficulty. I’ve been reading duathlon/triathlon literature for a long time. And every once in a while, I come across something like this [modified] quote from a letter that appeared back in the October 2008 issue of Inside Triathlon magazine:
“Some time ago, I participated in a sprint-distance duathlon. The race took me a few months to prepare for, was a lot of fun, and got me excited about multisport…Here’s my problem: Some say that I didn’t really do a duathlon and that I’m lying whenever I tell people I did, even though I always use the ‘sprint-distance’ qualifier. Some say that only something like the Powerman Zofingen—a 10 kilometer run, a 150 kilometer bike, and a 30 kilometer run—is a ‘real’ duathlon. Am I misleading people, including myself, when I say I did a duathlon if the race was only a sprint?”
So, let’s see. Is there some absolute standard for what qualifies a particular race as “real?” Well, as of this writing, I’m about to start my 35th season in multi-sport racing and have done over 250 duathlons and triathlons.
And no, I don’t think there is some absolute standard for a “real” multi-sport race. If, for the person who told the letter-writer that the only “real” duathlon is something like Powerman Zofingen, all that means is that the only “real” duathlon, for him or for her, is such a 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 to anybody else.
So whether the race is long, short, or in between; done on a hot, cold, windy, calm, or in between day; hilly, flat, or in between…was it real for you? Did getting to the start line and then crossing the finish line, whether you went fast, or slow, or in between, mean something significant for you? That’s all that matters. Then for you it was a real race, a real experience.
Then how about doing a sprint duathlon or a standard-distance duathlon that the quoted letter-writer put down? Are none of the folks who compete in them real duathletes? What does that make age-groupers who compete in the annual USA Triathlon Duathlon National Championships like I did last year at Bend, Oregon? Or the International Triathlon Union Sprint-Distance Duathlon World Championships, which I hope to be doing at Penticton, British Columbia in August?
Over the course of my career, I’ve raced up to the Ironman distance (started five, finished three, ran out of time on the marathon in the other two) as well as several ITU World Championship triathlons at both the Olympic and sprint distances.
Every race I have done, whether an Ironman or one of the sprint-distance duathlons that I do a couple of times a year in New York City’s Central Park, has been, as the word is defined above, “real” for me, in the context of that race, on the day of that race. 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.
This column is adapted from one that appeared on the USA-Triathlon Blog in 2013 and is used with permission.
2017 marks Steve Jonas’ 35th season of multi-sport racing. Steve is the author of Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals®. The 2nd Ed. (New York: W.W. Norton, 2006) and Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals®: Getting Started and Staying with It (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press/FalconGuides, 2012). All of his books on multi-sport are available at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.