The State of Duathlon in Ontario

Duathletes (and triathletes),

Much has been said on various social media about the tardiness of important announcements regarding provincial and national duathlon championships. Most of them center around either the difficulty in planning a season when these dates are not established well in advance, or around a perceived “lack of respect” shown to duathletes. I too fight the same battles, and feel similarly slighted when a new national championship date pops up in April or May. However, consider an alternative explanation, and take a look at two scenarios this past year that highlight the other side of this issue:

The Triathlon Canada championship schedule was announced well in advance (January), but did not include a duathlon national championship. That particular announcement did not come until March (or May for the sprint race)…likely because there were simply no locations bidding to host the championships. Yes, it was a debacle, but the result was slow registration and a poorly attended national championship. To add icing to the cake, the organizing committee chose not to renew the duathlon for 2015 (as was the case in 2012/2013 at TTF).

The second scenario was the release of the Triathlon Ontario championship schedule. Again, announced well in advance (January) and this time INCLUDED a duathlon championship at Lakeside. True, the original date was changed from mid-August to mid-September for reasons beyond our control. However, we were given options by the hosts, and Lakeside remained. We pushed the race hard on Duathlon Central and on social media for months, and even managed to convince MultiSport Canada to let us do live coverage for the event. This was essentially the ideal situation for duathletes with regards to provincial championship exposure. And the result was…slow registration and a poorly attended provincial championship.

The above represents two very different scenarios with very similar results. As an organizer, that would signal to me that there is quite a bit of risk involved with bidding for a duathlon championship. Unless a very specific set of conditions are met, the reality is that there is a very good chance of less than 50 athletes showing up to a championship race. Hence the difficulty finding a willing host for a duathlon championships! It is a brutal catch 22, as duathletes feel they should not be expected to re-arrange other commitments to attend events with announcements coming as late as they do, and organizers do not feel they can justify the expense and extra work of preparing a bid without some more assurance that the event will be a success. So we are left with some options:

1. Keep doing what we are doing. Minimize risk, sign up a week or two in advance and hit the races that are closeby. With the uncertainty involved for big events, it is definitely hard to rationalize several rearrangements to your schedule as the announcements trickle in. And trying to guess the dates is about as sure of a thing as Russian Roulette! Alas, if we continue on the same path, the catch 22 continues. Race directors often already have their minds made up before raceday registration. Signing up the day of often doesn’t do more than salvaging the event for one more season. Getting more races or amenities? We can probably forget it. Stagnant growth may be better than decline…but not by much. The vicious circle will continue.

2. Take charge. Registration is open, or opening very soon, for most of the races on the schedule. Pre-registration shows commitment and leaves an excellent impression in the minds of race directors. A good pre-registration, or several in a row, can save a race indefinitely. A strong pre-registration takes the guesswork out of an RD’s job, as bib numbers can be ordered, and t-shirt, award and food orders can be firmed up to reduce waste. This puts their mind at ease when it comes to big and potentially expensive decisions…like putting in a championship bid.

3. Head to some new locations that offer what you want if you have to. I understand this is not always possible for those with families and commitments but regardless, a championship loses relevance if a race organization is laying out the resources to cover the costs of a championship, only for a mainly local field to show up. If race directors see athletes willing to travel to races to get what they want, they may be more willing to put in that bid…knowing that they will see a truly national or provincial field as part of the return on their investment. Fair or not, if we’re not willing to go out of market for championship races, then we risk losing them for good.

4. SPREAD THE WORD. Do you have friends who are runners but are looking for a new challenge? Why not turn them on to duathlon? I have never understood why duathlon isn’t more popular relative to triathlon, despite having only two sports to train and eliminating the most logistically challenging! If every duathlete brings a friend who wants a new challenge, or one who is intrigued by triathlon but just doesn’t have the time to spare to get to the pool, then we double the numbers of every race. New blood is just another way of showing RD’s that we are committed to making our sport sustainable!

And triathletes…why not try out a duathlon once or twice next year? A full schedule can be found here. Such a fuss is made about races where you have to get wet, but what about one where you do not? No fiddling with wetsuits, goggles, water temperatures, sand and frenetic swim starts. Just a simple RUN-BIKE-RUN, and the need to truck half the amount of stuff to a race that you normally do. Sure, the first run makes the rest of the race tough…but in a sport where the pinnacle is Ironman, isn’t challenge what we are all looking for? Duathlons can make great rust busters before that first tri, fun season finales once the water cools off too much, and an excellent change of pace in the middle of a long season. Come join us once in awhile, we don’t bite!

5. OR…we can all learn to swim. Just kidding. Sort of.

As much as we would like to be held on the same level as triathlon, the reality is that triathletes get the things that duathletes want because they have the numbers to back it up. The risk of hosting a championship that exists with duathlon does not with triathlon, because hosts of triathletes will travel to Magog, Edmonton or Toronto to race a championship event. They know the race will sell out, or close to it, which eliminates a lot of the risk of not getting a return on their investment. It may take time, but change takes time. The options above are just the first steps.

The powers that be and the organizations that care are willing to work with us.There have been rumblings and discussions among the big names in the sport (*cough* notably absent was Trisport Canada *cough*) to discuss the state of duathlon in Ontario. Duathlon is a sport that is steeped in multisport history, and they want to get there again, just as much as we want to. We need to convince the race organizations that we are willing to do what it takes to generate a return on their investment…that the next big star in multisport might just be a duathlete…that the next can’t-miss race on the calendar could be a duathlon. We are very spoiled to have race organizations like Multisport Canada who do so much for such a small community. Not many race organizations would stick to their guns and continue to put on events that draw 40 people, but they do. I’m not sure about you, but I think it is about time that we return the favour and step out of the large shadow cast by triathlon. Help resurrect this great sport.

Yours in run/bike/run,

 

A Duathlete and Passionate Duathlon Enthusiast

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