Duathlon vs Triathlon – Which is best or hardest?

Pictograms of Olympic sports - Triathlon. This...
Pictograms of Olympic sports – Triathlon. This is unofficial sample picture. Images of official Olympic pictograms for 1948 Summer Olympics and all Summer Olympics since 1964 can be found in corresponding Official Reports. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you ask a runner they will laugh at you. If you ask a good cyclist they will laugh at you. If you ask a great swimmer they will laugh at you. Many excellent single sport athletes will point out to you that triathlon and duathlon are for people who aren’t that good at running, cycling and swimming.

This is of course a kick in the teeth for us multi-sport people. But I guess if you look at some of your split times or, say, your 5k PB time you will understand why they are saying it. Of course if they are such great athletes then let’s put Mo Farrah on a bike or in a pool and see what happens. I’m certain Mo has never ‘dissed’ multi sport athletes but you get my point. I really don’t think he would do that well (overnight at least).

I would also point to our distant TV sporting memories. If you are of a certain age in the UK you will remember the BBC superstars program where world class athletes compete against athletes from other disciplines across many disciplines EXCEPT their own. I seem to remember Brian Jacks winning…the judo ‘player’. Hmmm not a runner, cyclist or swimmer. Unsurprisingly the smoker and general fun guy James Hunt of F1 didn’t win.

Anicdotaly my good mate who has been better than me at just about every sport for the last 20 years finally got on his bike to go ‘fast’ with me. Hmmm again. He didn’t quite seem to be able to keep up for a fast undulating 30 minute TT-style run. I seem to recall that at the end of our ‘close’ run he was exhausted and I was hardly sweating. Of course he can trounce me in a 5k or 10k. But I think I will beat him by a couple of minutes in a duathlon. And, in his day, he was running 800m at a VERY good club standard and remains a very fit personal trainer. .. sub 17min 5k etc etc

So, to the point. Duathlon vs triathlon which is the best or hardest? There are many of us who can’t swim. So there must be more skill and technical expertise involved in triathlon because of the swimming. I don’t think we can dispute that. There is skill in running technique and ‘skill’ in acquiring a good bike or aero position but both sports (duathlon/triathlon) share those and the distances of those individual elements are broadly the same. Looking at each individual discipline, I would say that the skill set is probably greatest for swimming. So clearly we are asking whether RUNNING before a cycle-run combo or SWIMMING before a  cycle-run combo makes the combo the hardest. Well I would have thought clearly running before makes it more physically demanding. Swimming has much body weight supported by the water AND relies a lot on upper body muscles. The ‘running before’ exhausts the same muscle groups that you are about to use again in the most exhausting way possible..ie a long run where your legs support all your body weight.

So Duathlon must be the hardest. Probably

I would admit that triathlon is probably better (or the best of the two if you like) as it is much more of an all round physical sport.

Yet I know people who are very similar standard of running/cycling to me and who do very well in triathlon AG Group races, obtaining top positions. I probably struggle a bit in duathlons when up against the really good guys…there seem to be a lot of really good guys in Duathlons. Why aren’t there so many such good guys, apparently, in triathlon? I guess the triathletes would argue that they have to spread the same amount of training time that I have over three disciplines rather than two. Maybe.

I would say as well that triathlon is more widely known and so perhaps attracts more casual athletes or novices than duathlon. This is backed up by there being more triathlon events available to compete in. I would also add that, at an Age Group level, Duathlon is probably more competitive as the top competitors are often VERY good runners/cyclists and being excellent at one of two disciplines makes more of a difference than being excellent at one of three disciplines. So the excellent runner or excellent cyclist is likely to place higher in Duathlon.

Yet at elite level, where limited money and glory lies, then triathlon is probably more competitive.

I think that’s a fair summary. What do you think?

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