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Talking with patients about "doin' the 'du'".

In the Summer/Fall issue of last year I discussed talking with patients about competing in their first multi-sport races, with a primary focus on triathlon. In this column I am turning to a consideration of triathlon's cousin, the duathlon. The duathlon is a three-segment event, like triathlon, but it involves only two sports, running (or walking) and cycling--no swimming. If you have patients thinking about getting started in multi-sport racing who don't look forward to training in three sports; or who are looking for a challenging event but one less demanding than even a short, "sprint-distance" triathlon; or who are weak in or not thrilled with swimming; or who are desirous of doing a multi-sport event that is logistically simpler than a triathlon; or who are most comfortable on their bikes and perfectly happy to do the bulk of training while cycling; or any combination of the above, then suggest that they think about "doin' the 'du.'"

The duathlon is easier for most people to contemplate and execute than the triathlon. The usual distances are 2-3 miles for each of the two running segments and 12-18 miles on the bike. The format also appeals to race directors: duathlons are significantly easier and cheaper to set up and manage than are triathlons.

While the essence of multi-sport racing has changed little, if at all, there have been some important developments over the past 25 years. The number of races, at a wide range of distances, has increased markedly. The proliferation of duathlons (as well as sprint-distance triathlons) has made it much easier for first-timers to get into the sport and for recreational, relatively light-training multi-sport athletes like me to stay in it. There have also been major advances in technology and design for bicycles, running shoes, and clothing marketed for the sport.


The Name

Duathlons are sometimes called "biathlons." There has been some controversy over the name. Since both "tri" and "bi" come from the Greek numbering system, when the event first appeared in very limited numbers in the early 1980s it was called the "biathlon." But as the international campaign to gain inclusion for triathlon in the Olympics got underway in the late 1980s, the need to come up with a new name for its two-sport off-spring became apparent.

In the Winter Olympics, a well-established Nordic event that combines cross-country skiing and target-shooting is known as the "biathlon." Understandably, members of the International Biathlon Union did not want another event in the Olympics with the same name as theirs. So, using a Latin prefix with a Greek root, the name "duathlon" for the two-sport race was created. Some non-USA Triathlon-sanctioned two-sport races are still called "biathlons."

Some Logistics

Regardless of what it is called, we have a fun race here. It is quite manageable for many people. The logistics are much simpler than they are for triathlon. Along with no swim, there is no swim stuff to be concerned with. Almost all duathlons have just one transition/finish area, and making the first-to-second leg transition is obviously easier and faster in duathlon than in triathlon. Because there is no worry about water temperature, in many parts of the country the duathlon season is considerably longer than the triathlon season. Duathlon can be one's gateway to triathlon. Or, if swimming is just not one's thing, it can be the multi-sport race format that can be done for as long as one remains in the sport.


Because the runs are short, many competitors (including the author) wear bike clothing for the whole race. On the cold windy days of early spring or late fall, sometimes I add a windshell and tights to make things more comfortable, especially on the bike segment. On a hot summer day, you may want to doff the bike shirt and wear a singlet on the run, especially the second one.

Because I'm not concerned with saving a couple of minutes in transition and like to be thoroughly comfortable on the bike, I usually change from my running shoes to my bike cleats and back again. However, in duathlon many people ride wearing their running shoes. They will use the flat strapless pedals found on entry-level road and mountain bikes, or the pedals with straps that can be tightened over their running shoes, or one of platform devices that can be attached to "clipless" pedals.

Choosing the First Race: Tri or Du?

Several criteria are involved when choosing the first race. First, will it be a triathlon or a duathlon? Ability and interest in swimming is obviously the central consideration here, as will be available time to train. Second, if a triathlon, of what length? For duathlon, almost all races are at the relatively short distances described above. The handful of longer duathlons held around the country could come to be of interest if a patient stays in this version of multi-sport racing. There are also national and world championships for those who like the appeal of such competition.

Important factors include: time available for training; previous distance-sport experience, if any; availability of races on convenient dates and in accessible locations; and the degree of challenge that is desired and desirable. For someone already in reasonable aerobic shape, a training program in both sports averaging 3.5 to 4 hours per week over 13 weeks will prepare them to finish happily and healthily as long as they don't try to go too fast in the race.

Race Length and Course

Based on my own experience, and that of many of my friends, the time it will take to complete any given race can be determined as follows: In the first run and on the bike, a competitor will probably race at training pace or slightly faster; in the second run, a pace at or slightly slower than training is likely. In addition, transitions between segments take 5-8 minutes. Thus, unless one is very slow (that is slower even than I am!), a duathlon of the usual length will take one and a half to two hours.

For the bike and the run, the course criteria to consider are similar. Is the course a single loop or laps? The former is more interesting but the latter may make the race more comfortable and seem to go faster as one begins to deal with familiar terrain. What is the road surface like? Is there going to be any running done on uneven surfaces? What about shade? When the sun is brightly shining, the temperature is 85[degrees]F, and the humidity is 90%, running on a tree-lined road will be a lot more comfortable than running through a wide-open stretch of farmland.

Finding One's First Multi-Sport Race

As I noted in my column on multisport racing last year, would-be competitors can look in several places for that first race. To start, the two national triathlon publications, Inside Triathlon and Triathlete usually run race calendars in every issue, plus they have their own websites ( and, respectively), which have readily accessible calendars.

One can also find race notices at "pro" bike and running stores. Many of the notices advertise events sponsored by local/regional triathlon clubs or organizations around the country. My club, the New York Triathlon Club (NYTC), has a very busy race calendar, which can be found at (NYTC happens to run a lot of what they still call "biathlons.")

A number of organizations post race calendars online and/or provide online race registration services for race organizers who have signed up with them. A comprehensive list can be found on the American Triathlon Calendar (, which has links to many of the listed races' own websites.


Choosing whether to compete in a duathlon or triathlon for that first race becomes easier each year as more multi-sport races of both types are sponsored in all parts of the country. One should have an ample number from which to choose, regardless of the region in which one lives. The major factors to consider are: length of the race, the combination of events, location, cost (of the race itself, as well as for any travel/accommodations), time of year, training requirements, course characteristics, and--of course--one's ability.

The choice of race will be the result of the balancing and weighing of these factors--and others not on my list. Whichever race is chosen, with proper training, the odds are that one will finish happily and healthily and the experience of that first race will be unforgettable, as it still is for me, no matter how many more one does. "Doin' the 'du'" is less demanding than starting out with a triathlon, but is still challenging enough to be fun--especially on courses like that of NYTC's "New York Biathlon," held twice each season in Harriman State Park. And so, while some people go on to triathlon from duathlon, many others stay out of the water and stick to two-sport races. And that's good thing!

by Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS, FNYAS

Author's Note: This column is based on text that appears in the forthcoming 20th anniversary 2nd edition of my book Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.) which will be released at the Nautica/Ford New York City Triathlon on July 16, 2006. The text is used with permission.
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Title Annotation:multi-sport races
Author:Jonas, Steven
Publication:AMAA Journal
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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Next Article:35th AMAA Medical Symposium at the Boston Marathon[R].

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