Niagara Half Duathlon Cancelled, and What It Means to Duathlon in Ontario

Word came from Multisport Canada this weekend that the new Half Distance Duathlon added to the BarrelMan weekend would have to be cancelled. While the reasoning behind it is sound, this comes as a huge blow to duathletes in Ontario banking on the long distance race to end off their season. With Peterborough and possibly Welland on the schedule for a similar distance, 2014 was shaping up to be a rare year for long course duathletes to be able to focus on the longer distance. While triathletes generally have a wealth of options to choose from when it comes to race distance, the scarcity of longer distance duathlon offerings makes it very hard for those with long course ambitions to gear a whole season towards the distance. That’s a lot of stress to put your body through for a pay-off of one race, but 3 offerings makes it much more feasible. Duathlete friends that I have like Larry Bradley of Mississauga and Daryl Flacks of Windsor seemed to be reveling at the possibility of a long course season!

The long course duathlon race at the BarrelMan triathlon was aggressively lobbied for by Larry, in the interest of duathletes around Ontario. However, declining registration for longer distance duathlons has been a chronic problem in Ontario, with some fantastic races at excellent courses drawing only 20-25 competitors to the line on race morning. As such, a minimum registration number of 25 entrants was instituted in order for the race to be staged. A preliminary survey suggested enough interest for MSC to open registration and plan the logistics for the first run, with even some interest south of the border! However, registration was slow to develop, and with only a week until the deadline, registration had just cracked double digits. The deadline came, was extended, and went with a final registration tally of less than 15 competitors, spelling the end of the dream.

I’m not here to dispute the decision, which I believe to be sound and justified. Staging a race for less than 20 competitors just seems ridiculous, especially when the race is a large-scale, point-to-point course that requires the design and implementation of a completely new run course in Welland. Sounds like a losing proposition to me. The guys at MultiSport Canada work themselves to the bone to provide a top-notch race environment, and to expect that same commitment when we can’t even prepare ourselves to commit 6 months in advance is absolutely absurd. No, I’m here to to implore duathletes in Ontario to reassess our priorities here and save our sport, and to figure out why we let such a wonderful opportunity slip away.

The problem seems to lie in the length of the commitment. Perhaps we were just…too afraid of laying out that investment without knowing whether or not we will be fit or healthy come race day. It is quite the commitment. However, I think the more likely answer may just be apathy. I am relatively new to the sport, having only competed for 2 full seasons, but I have already noticed that the effort put in by race directors is not matched by the commitment of the competitors in duathlon. Too many people just expect to be able to show up on race day and for there to be a race for them to compete in. I hope we realize the behind the scene logistics that have to go into putting on a duathlon! Building a second run course, coordinating the start times and the timing systems, making space in a transition area by taking away spots from the (more popular) triathlon…even colour coded bibs so that each race can be differentiated…this all costs something! And to do it for 20-some athletes…well that seems like a disconnect.

There is an alternative explanation, one that I can understand because well…this was my reasoning. I’ll admit I’m just as guilty here. I didn’t enter because I am just plain not up to the distance. It took me 9 years of running experience and endurance-building to attempt my first half marathon, and that left me a sniveling mess for hours after the race. With only 2 seasons of cycling under my belt, a race with a 90k ride is nothing more than a distant dream. I would have loved nothing more than to support my sport and compete in Niagara Falls…it just wasn’t in the cards for 2014. Maybe others were in the same situation. Maybe there just isn’t a market for long course duathlon. Duathlon is incredibly hard on the body in the first place. That first run trashes your legs, and more often than not the second run consists of a lot of just trying to hold it together. In terms of difficulty, I’ve heard comparisons between international distance duathlons and half iron triathlons. Most who have moved up in distance have gotten themselves into the water to go chasing after the illustrious Ironman label. That in itself could be a big contributing factor to declining registration numbers for long duathlons, even the 10k/40k/5k distance. Agree? Disagree? Discuss in the comments or join the discussion on Twitter.

Regardless of the reasons why only 13 athletes registered for the race, there is no doubt that this will have a detrimental effect on duathlon in Ontario. If we have not lost the faith of race directors already, we must be mighty close. For a race to be lobbied for, created, and planned only to watch it fail for lack of interest would not make me want to go out of my way to create opportunities for a group. We have two separate race series that run duathlons alongside almost EVERY triathlon weekend on their schedule. This is a luxury that not all duathletes have, and most are forced into the water very early due to lack of race options. We are LUCKY to have what we have, NOT entitled to it. Duathletes, we need to work a little bit harder and show a little bit more initiative in order to continue to be pampered by race directors the way that we are. So this is my open plea to Ontario duathletes: PLEASE don’t let this sport die. I love it too much, and I am nowhere near ready to get into the water yet. Let’s use 2014 to prove to race directors that we are a strong group with a stronger voice.


  1. Here’s my opinion Jesse, for what it’s worth. This year I switched training to triathlon, after 2 years of fairly competitive sprint age group duathlon. Why? Two reasons. I was about as fast as I could get competitively over that distance. So logically one wants to move up to the next challenge, but my body would simply not hold up to two long fast runs. Which means a switch to non competitive triathlon for a new challenge and not worrying about the speed I might also be able to challenge myself with longer distances(if I don’t drown). I believe that many people start in duathlon, because of the lack of swim skills. On the positive side I know for a fact the Multisport duathlon sprint races have been more and more competitve each year and John has gone out of his way to improve courses and signage for the races. I just believe, that the longer iron distance duathlons take a very special breed of runner and many have years of running background. I for one certainly hope the sprint and Olympic distances become more popular, because so far I’m not sure that I like the taste of chlorine. Cheers! Randy

    1. And I think that’s valid. Those who choose to move on to a different challenge are not the subset of people I was targeting with this…on the contrary, I think that’s fantastic and wish I could do it haha!

      What I’m trying to get at here is that duathlon is in danger of losing support from race directors, and this may be a critical tipping point that has demonstrated to these race directors that duathletes (those who have not switched their focus to triathlons) are not worth the trouble to go out of their way to make duathlon more than a side event at a triathlon weekend. And the demise of duathlon could spell the end of an important starting event for budding triathletes to compete in multisport while improving their swim skills. So this affects both sides of the duathlon spectrum.

      Maybe there just isn’t a market for long course duathlon. I agree with you there that long course duathlon takes a special breed of athlete, a breed that I definitely am not. But what hurts us is the fact that before registration opened, Larry had significant interest from 30-35 people in registering for the race. But when it came time to put up the commitment and the money to ensure the survival of the race, that interest evaporated. As a race director, that would not make me want to spend the time to organize logistics and registration for a race geared towards that group of athletes.

      That’s why my open call to duathletes is this: let’s use the rest of 2014 to fix this and prove to RD’s like John Salt that we ARE worth going the extra mile for, that we may be a small group, but we are a determined group with a strong voice. So that it sticks around to serve as a launching point for aspiring triathletes. Because hey…where would Lionel Sanders be without duathlon? (probably in the same place, but I need a good comparison).

      PS…good luck with the triathlons this year Randy! One day I will get there…

  2. I am new to duathlon having completed my first season last year. I have been running (long distance) for several years and was looking for a new challenge, so added cycling into my training and of course competed in a few duathlons… Anyway excited by the idea of a half iron distance was disappointed to find out (when I signed up before Christmas) that the only option for me was a bike run. I did not find out about the whole duathlon thing until last week when it was too late to possibly change to the duathlon event. Not sure if they had many other people signed up already for the run bike, however a direct email to those competitors may have brought out a couple more sign ups? My sense is that numbers for tri’s and du’s should increase the next few years. Running has certainly seen number increases in our area the last five years. So I anticipate more people moving on to new challenges like these…

  3. Ya Lionel….. That’s a whole other evolution of racing. Which begs the question. Are you averaging 42 on the bike yet? 😃

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