Editorial Musings – Why Not Try 5k/30k/5k?

PROLOGUE: The following editorial is mostly speculation with a sprinkling of fact. Many references and suggestions on where to go from there are made to rumours that are still unconfirmed being true. This is an idea that I came up with for Championship/qualification races only, to ease the burden on race directors who have already invested time and funds to be a qualifier, and possibly help participation. Local races, keep doing your thing…the more of you there are out there, getting people excited about duathlon, the better! I also don’t propose any changes to the draft legal development. It’s small but growing, and needs a chance to mature. All duathlon distances in this article are quoted as Run #1/Bike/Run#2.

Details have started to trickle out about the Triathlon Canada Multisport Qualifying Series over the past several days, with TriBC and Triathlon Quebec officially releasing their calendars and whispers popping up about other races. (NOTE: we have updated our Events page, and will attempt to keep our 2018 Schedule and Results page as updated as possible as more events are announced). It’s already shaping up to be an interesting year of racing, with some intriguing quirks…but I’ll leave that for a later post, once more events have been announced (namely Nationals). Of note, there are currently 3 sprint duathlon qualifying events during 2018 (all in Quebec), but none are draft legal.

Earlier this month we posted about the new qualifying criteria for 2019 Worlds, as well as the plan for qualifying beyond that. Thanks to Alberta Triathlon Association Executive Director Calli Stromner, duathletes were able to take a look at the exact bidding criteria for Nationals and World Qualification races. This year, the provinces had a chance to buy qualifying spots for $750 each (as opposed to $250 previously), with a maximum number available to be allocated based on percentage of national membership base) from Triathlon Canada. This is a stepping stone to a potential “domestic progression” (photo from Alberta Triathlon Association Newsletter, November 2017), where athletes would qualify for Nationals at provincial championships, and then qualify for Worlds at Nationals.

Even with qualification occurring one year in advance (ie. qualify in 2019 for Worlds in 2020), this domestic progression idea would require two standard distance races (at minimum) in a year. And that would mean going into Provincials cold, without a tune-up race, or committing two years to the task to work out the standard distance kinks the year before. Alternately, TriCan’s bidding criteria told me this little golden nugget of information:

Click to enlarge. Taken from “2018 Bidding and Hosting Fast Facts” (Triathlon Canada, 2018)

This got me thinking: why not make the championships distance a 5km run/30km bike/5km run format for non-draft racing? Maybe not for Nationals at first, but definitely for the smaller, locally operated provincial championships. We’ll get into three reasons why this might work, but first…

Fitness expert Dr. Steve Jonas had some interesting tidbits on the history of duathlon in Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals. Among them was a reference to the original duathlon distances, in the US at least, being a 3 mile run/18 mile bike/3 mile run format (which equates approximately to 5k/30k/5k). The USAT stuck with this format at their National Championships until 2016.

Powerman International (the world’s premier duathlon brand) also builds its races around the 5k/30k/5k distance format, with the “classic” long distance being twice that (10k/60k/10k). While 10k/40k/5k and 5k/20k/2.5k align better with the ITU standard and sprint triathlon distances, ask any duathlete and they will tell you that the toll of 10k/40k/5k is exceptionally high…it’ll definitely bring you to your knees more often than not!

One of the fairest courses I know in Canada is the Bare Bones Duathlon in Penticton BC, which combines a flat and twisty 5km run with a difficult lakeside 32km bike course. It’s difficult enough to break you, but short enough that you can bounce back the next day (perhaps to race the Blossom 10 Miler?). In fact, it was Bare Bones that got me thinking about this. Here’s why I think this could work:

1) Emergence of Draft Legal Sprint Duathlon – Before the ITU switched to draft legal for the sprint distance, there was a need for two championship distances. However, the advent of draft legal has eliminated that. Draft legal race options are going to be sparse while it establishes its niche, and even the USAT hosts only a single National Championship. So if there can only be one non-draft option, why not make it a more marketable distance that can be raced and practiced more often? At least for smaller Provincial level races.

2) Accessibility for Wider Athlete Ranges – Why more marketable? Duathlon is often an entry sport to multisport. With championship sprint racing now presenting a bigger entry obstacle, ambitious novices now have no option but to set their sights on an event that is twice the distance. If domestic progression is indeed coming, then it stands to reason that the events progress as well to present newer athletes who aren’t lacking in ambition an opportunity to start smaller and move up in distance as they progress through the stages.

The established longer distances surely won’t disappear from the local scene for to use as race day training. And Nationals should probably stay aligned with the ITU distance unless waning participation dictates a change, as there should already be a draft legal sprint option. This would help newer duathletes, especially those unaccustomed to the training load, ease into the sport and develop an enjoyment for it over time, rather than getting discouraged off the hop by a poor performance at a HARD distance.

3) Centralized Participation and Competition – One single distance for championship racing centralizes the talent and participation into one race. Having it be 5k/30k/5k eliminates the choice of distance, and forms a great compromise between a fast-twitch sprint battle royale, and a grind-it-out endurance test. Sprint specialists move up a bit, long distance athletes move down a bit, everybody is put a bit out of their element, and we meet in the middle to find out who truly are the best athletes on that particular day. I’ll bet the added competition will help participation numbers and foster more of that atmosphere of camaraderie we know and love.

The other upside of this is for the organizers of the small local races who sacrifice so much so that we can have these races. This would eliminate the logistical challenge of holding two separate races and cut out little costs like extra signage, water and on-course nutrition, permits for extended stretches of road and trail, and police for traffic control (due to shorter races), which could be saved or shifted to create a richer athlete experience. The organizational effort could be much more streamlined with one event, right down to not having to ask “which event?” at registration. A definite win-win for both athletes and race directors alike!

I’m not sure, but I’d sure love to find out. Duathlon is small enough that 5k/30k/5k provincial championships could qualify for both standard and sprint distances (unless TriCan goes the open registration route like the USAT does for duathlon), giving athletes the choice at Nationals if the events are the same weekend, or the chance to double up if they are held separately.

Some of the most competitive races I have ever been in were 5k/30k/5k. They were the perfect blend of speed and endurances, and in that small sample size they always seemed to bring out the best in athletes. Plus, they were fun to watch! Don’t agree? I’d love to hear about it. Hit us up on Facebook, Twitter or in the comments!

Until next time…keep Du’ing it!


3 thoughts on “Editorial Musings – Why Not Try 5k/30k/5k?”

  1. Jesse,
    Your insistence on standardized distances for the duathlon event
    (5km./30km./5km.) ignores one segment of the racing scene. That small part includes us +60 year olds who still love to participate for various reasons. If Duathlon Canada did adopt such a format, then I am suggesting that the sprint du be normalized to 3 km./15 km or 18 km./3 km.) What do you think of that option?

    Keith Tapp,
    72 year old duathlete

    1. Keith, this is for championship races only, and is proposed as an alternative to dual 5k/20k/2.5k and 10k/40k/5k options at races where qualification is at stake. Certainly, the option would remain for shorter non-qualification races at the race director’s discretion :). Without being handcuffed to the distances quoted above, reallocating resources to a 3k/15k/3k distance becomes more possible. If a race director is already doing something that works or that they are passionate about, then I hope they don’t change that formula. I am looking for a solution for the fact that there is a push to make the sprint distance qualifiers draft legal as in 2015 and 2016, which has proven to add a barrier to entry for those events.

      As for a shorter distance for qualification races, I would be hesitant. Perhaps at lower levels of a domestic progression for the sprint distance, though that would likely have to be draft legal. The ITU isn’t going to change anytime soon, and I think qualifying at 3k/15k/3k would be doing you a disservice in your preparation for a 10k/40k/5k event at Worlds.

      I hope this didn’t come across as an “insistence”. It’s an idea I came up with for championship races after assessing the scene as it currently stands, one where it’s probable that three distances on a weekend combined for 50 participants. I don’t believe in standardization for local races at all…the more the better, in whatever form they exist! I’ll amend my prologue to reflect that.

    2. Sorry Keith, just re-read this comment. Ignore the part about qualifying at 3/15/3 for 10/40/5, as I realize now that’s not where you are going with it. I’m 100% with you is participation dictates. But I’m not advocating the elimination of the sprint distance. Just the option to meeting in the middle at events where it is difficult or not possible to host non-draft 10/40/5 AND draft legal 5/20/2.5

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