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An article from way back on the future of Duathlon by GB Duathlon Team Manager (AG) Jez Cox. Interesting reading.
Here are some additional thoughts on this subject from me. I’m going to add more to this article over time but some initial thoughts are as follows:
1. Duathlon or “Du” just sounds rubbish. I don’t know why linguistically but it does. Tri and Triathlon just sound better.
2. Ironman. That sounds even better and that I think gives Triathlon some of the mystique that Duathlon hasn’t got. Furthermore Olympic status again adds to the Kudos. I guess Duathlon’s POWERMAN doesn’t sound too bad but no-one has heard of it.
3. Duathlon is not a great spectator sport (IMHO). It’s pretty much friends and relatives of those competing who watch. Unless you have this vested interest it is boring to watch (actually I have only watched 5 minutes of one myself and was ‘lucky’ enough to see a bike crash in an elite race – the elite rider pedaled on a fast leaning corner…oh dear ‘elite’…hmm). Similarly I find triathlon boring to watch as well. A close finish is where someone is only a minute ahead of someone else. Ridiculous. It just shows that the depth of competitiveness is not there even at elite level…yet (probably a little harsh as an Olympic marathon could be the same margin of victory).
Edit: Women’s photo Finish at 2012 Olympics ! Well that was quite exciting I guess 🙂 As were the bike crashes.
4. People want to do hard things eg a marathon. Fair enough. Everyone seems to do one these days now though. Whereas, an Ironman really is a challenge. It really is difficult. I could knock off a marathon next week without ever having done one and without further training but I certainly couldn’t do an Ironman. But why? Just ticking off that ‘done it’ box in life’s long list is fine for many, but not for all. I come from the camp that if I do something I want to do it well ie I want to get faster. Age Group racing makes this meaningful and possible. For non-professional athletes we don’t have time to train to the peak of our abilities (well most of us don’t). That’s why ‘sprint’ events are great. Firstly they are great for beginners and secondly they are great for people who want to hone their skills without wasting all their life training. So going faster is hard but not as time consuming as some other activities.
5. Age Group racing is basically sport-tourism. Which after you’ve done one international event you pretty much realise is true. Still you don’t have to tell your friends that! Anyway what’s wrong with sports tourism? (Other than the cost)
6. Progression. Triathlon offers competitive progression of distances for those who want that element of the sport (eg from super sprint to IronMan). Duathlon doesn’t really. Within Age Group racing there is also a hidden progression. Even at “international” level there are journeymen there for the T-shirts, some serious competitors and near elite-level competitors. There’s always someone to aim higher to beat.
7. Cross training. Triathlon is a good full body workout with great x-training. Duathlon much less so. Duathlon is physically harder of course don’t get me wrong. I suspect that many of us in Duathlon either can’t swim or are good at either running or cycling. Therefore the single sport athlete who is OK in that single sport suddenly becomes actually quite good when another discipline is added. BUT make it 2 disciplines added for triathlon and it becomes harder to be excellent. I am reminded of GB Age Group Duathlon World Champion Peter Wheddon: I read in one of his interviews a couple of years back where his coach persuaded him to stick at Duathlon saying “Do you want to be a good club cyclist or a world Duathlon champion?”. Go figure! He stuck with Duathlon.
8. SW London must be the world capital of Tri and running (parkruns) and cycling. There are runners and cyclist out on show everywhere (swimmers of course hidden away in the water). The London Duathlon each year gets more than 1000 people to compete. 2011 it was well in excess of 1500 across all the events. That is a pretty good turnout and many of the better duathletes do not enter the event because of the bias towards runners. However, any criticism aside, they are doing an amazing job at getting people into the sport. 10 years ago I used to cycle in Richmond park and there were few runners and cyclists even at weekends – now the roads are bike-jammed full of cyclists with hundreds of competitive-looking cyclists on the roads every hour. Sure this is anecdotal evidence but, like tri, duathlon must be a rapidly growing participation sport. I suspect it will continue for as long as middle life crises continue.
9. I think when the distances are looked at and then the terrain of the event looked at; duathlon seems to differ from triathlon in terms of the popularity of the various sub-disciplines. I’m just going to make up the following ‘facts’ but I’d have a small wager that they are true. Let me try to explain what I mean. When going off-road, Duathlon seems to be a growing pass-time…cross country running and mountain bikes ((HH Series, GRIM and many others). I don’t think the triathlon equivalent is as popular as a cold winter’s swim is one of the reason why Duathlon was invented!. This off-road event is also a great area for the fun-duathletes to literally get their feet wet and to add another challenge to their belt. When we look at the long events then I’d bet the recent (Swiss?) ultra-duathlon was not quite so popular, say, compared to Kona! So Duathlon is not prospering at long distance but IS prospering off-road.
10. Returning to the road. I think the 10:40:5 standard duathlon is the key distance. I can’t see longer distances becoming too popular. And because duathlon is less popular than triathlon any longer events will always be small. Now the newly world-championised Sprint Duathlon is another matter (5:20:2.5). This is a very accessible distance. I imagine it is probably looked down at by many people in the standard distance Age Group races. But if you are a road cyclist doing 30min or 1 hour TTs then you have the fitness to jump straight into that event with a bit of run training. Similarly it’s only a small fitness level up for a 5k runner (again I draw the reader’s attention to the popularity of 5k parkruns) and an easy buy-a-bike leap for a 10k runner…not much extra training needed to put in a creditable performance.
11. So for the more serious, potentially competitive age-group types the BTF should, IMHO, continue to do what they are already doing ie well-organised standard age group distance races. The obvious target markets for these are tri clubs, running clubs and cycling clubs (parkrun too)
12. However for the newbies I think a trick is being missed. I’m not sure myself what the trick is but it’s being missed! A mate did the fun distance at the London Duathlon. If you consider yourself as vaguely serious then you can’t do a fun race and brag about how high you finished (he did). Any credibility just goes! But that’s only because of the ‘fun’ name. Yet that event had 240 entrants. x £50 entry fee and that’s £10k towards the whole show for little marginal cost…all profit. The great thing, as with Sprint Triathlon, is that some of these people will go on to take the sport more seriously. The great thing for the event organisers is that these ‘add-on’ races can make the difference between profit and loss. Add in a relay, add in a kids event, add in a run-only and so it goes on. Easy(ish) money. Well the trick I think the BTF are missing here is that they want the Sprint Duathlon Qualifiers (I guess sprint triathlon as well) to be on different weekends to the longer distance events. Fair enough it allows people to enter both BUT IT DOUBLES THE COST for the organisers. I don’t think that Duathlon has the sufficient critical mass yet to have solo sprint events. I could be wrong.
13 .Drafting. Jez’s article (link above) is of course right to point out the anomaly of the pro’s doing legal drafting and the AGers not being allowed to draft. This takes the joy out of comparing yourself to the pros. Personally that aspect doesn’t bother me too much. With respect he was/is probably more at the front of the field than most of us and so such comparisons were meaningful for him! On the other hand there are commercial interest: I would imagine that if drafting were allowed then tri-bars would not be allowed for safety reasons (you can’t brake in a group when you are on the bars). This then starts to question the validity of some of the expensive aspects of kit we have. So I’m happy with non-drafting. However what I am not happy with is the blazen cheating that goes with it. There, I must be British, I’d rather come last than risk having to avoid that motorcycle outrider catching me. I guess we Brits are worried about the DQ wasting our multi-hundred pound investment in competing in the race overseas – the locals perhaps don’t have that financial worry. Or perhaps the locals just know where best to cheat, there are lots of them and with the exception of Brits everyone may be genetically so inclined! EDIT: Draft-legal Sprint Tri (ITU) racing is added for 2015/2015 – might start a trend.
14. Venues. Road racing in the UK is problematic. It’s a small country with lots of cars. Even at 9AM on a cold Sunday morning in Milton Keynes (Big Cow) I’ve personally witnessed safety problems with some car drivers. In the UK we love lights and roundabouts and of course jumping a red light can cause you a DQ or waiting there can cost you more than a minute. The Thames Turbo Sprint Tri race series takes these into account to a degree with a non-compete period for a crossing but still I can’t see that many urban duathlons springing up any time soon. However Goodwood, Clumber Park and Oulton Park all do spring to mind as venues that can either be closed off or are a race track of some sorts. Fantastic surely the way to go as well as often being near something interesting to see other than the race. Also, especially the race tracks, are infrequently used so this is a great way for them to bring in new revenues. So one area of future growth is for organisers to look at Parks and Stately homes and race circuits of all sorts and organise new events…imagine a duathlon around the Silverstone GP circuit!! Wow. (compare to the Dubai Triathlon based on the GP course)
15. Multi-lap events. Having said that race tracks are great they are, of course, “not REALLY great”. It’s amazing how many people cannot count to 6 when in the heat of battle and end up doing an extra lap. This sort of course must surely not be trusted for ITU/ETU qualifiers unless some other mechanism is in place to ensure no mistakes or cheating with lap counts? And of course it gets a bit boring doing the same bit of the course again and again (and again).
16. Funding. Sponsorship is going to keep growing barring a renewed financial meltdown. There are just too many richish middle class people with cash to burn on gadgets. For sponsorship read advertising. Properly run events must be expensive to run and/or rely on the goodwill of many volunteers. They are also expensive to compete in. £50 is still a bit steep in my 1990’s jaundiced view of the world and >£100 for a World Champs is taking the Mick somewhat.
17. Cross event subsidisation. The world and European champs seem only to be held because of the monies generated from AG participants…1000+ people at an ITU sprint Final x £100. As an estimate that’s a lot of money!! plus a lot of money over and above that for the local economy. hold the standard distance at the same event and we are talking serious money. I’m not sure why the AG events subsidise the main event, really most people are there for the AG event – either as competitors or spectators. Do we even watch the elite event when a good local beach beckons? Something is a bit wrong on that front. Sure there is sponsorship money and that should be targeted at the elite races. (Hmm seems to be some contradictions in my argument there)
I’ll come back to this. Comments below please.