Du It For You

Duathlon training and racing: stories, advice, and views from the top

Tag: Team USA

Exclusive: Q&A with USA Triathlon Duathlon Committee

Duathlon is the second-most populous sport governed by USA Triathlon (USAT). Yet, we represent less than 10% of its membership. Of USAT’s nearly 500,000 members, somewhere between 21,000 and 36,00 compete in duathlon.

In 2000, the USAT Board of Directors realized our small-but-passionate group of run-bike-run athletes warranted a Duathlon committee. For nearly 20 years, a revolving group of committed volunteers has worked hard on our behalf to support and grow the sport.

Duathlon Committee Cochair Dave Lasorsa agreed to answer a few questions about the Duathlon Committee, how it functions and its plans for 2019 and beyond. Lasorsa addresses many of the concerns I’ve heard in Duathlon Town Halls, on social media and in “real life” conversations. It’s worth the read.

I welcome your comments below. If you have questions, please also respond in the comments section. I’ll “du” my best to get them answered.

DuItForYou: The USAT site mentions the duathlon committee refined its mission in 2008. What is that mission?
DL: Starting in 2008, the Duathlon Committee began the creation of a Duathlon Master Plan. The mission of the Duathlon Committee is best described by the opening paragraph of the plan:

“The USA Triathlon Duathlon Committee was formed in an effort to grow the sport of Duathlon throughout the United States. Led by Committee Chair Tonya Armstrong (now co-chaired with Dave Lasorsa) and assisted by USAT staff liaison Tim Yount, the Committee works to implement best practices for the sport, innovates new and creative ideas to reach a wider audience, and is a voice for Duathletes nationwide.”

The plan is constantly being revised and in fact we are currently in the process of modifying the Mission Statement. One key point is that the Committee provides recommendations to USAT but is not involved in its decision-making.

How are committee chairs and committee members selected?
We currently have 14 members of the Committee, plus Tim Yount, acting as our liaison with USAT and Keri Serota, serving as the USAT National Board liaison. Members are chosen by invite from current members and from those who have approached USAT, asking to volunteer.

All members go through a series of interview questions, with USAT having the final decision on acceptance. Since the Committee serves as a voice for athletes nationwide, we strive to have representation from every USAT Region. Tonya Armstrong and Dave Lasorsa are the current Co-Chairs, although tasks are usually divided up into Sub Committees, each with their own lead.

How often does the committee meet?
We teleconference at least once per quarter with the entire Committee, although some of the more challenging tasks (such as choosing Duathletes of the Year) require weekly, sometimes daily conversations within the Subcommittees. Emailing and calls between members are done as the need arises, although rarely a week goes by without some topic being discussed.

Our most important event is the annual meeting held at Nationals, usually the day before racing. Here we set the priorities for the year and finalize topics for the Town Hall Meeting, held the last day of racing. Finally, quarterly reporting is done to keep all members and the USAT informed on the progress of our Action Items (see below).

What do you talk about?
The Committee responds to requests by USAT, as well as athletes, so the topics can vary. In the past we have worked on the Duathlon Series, distribution of duathlon grants, a sounding board for National Championship site selection and the recommendations for Duathletes of the Year (DOY). The DOY selection is particularly long, tedious work and the subcommittee responsible for this spent days (and many nights) combing through hundreds of well qualified athletes to narrow down the list to what we felt were the best of each category.

In the past we have set priorities for the Committee to strive for in the coming year. This year we formalized the process with the identification of Action Items—those areas where we felt we could best put our resources into helping grow the sport. These items currently are the backbone of our discussions.

What is the committee’s plan to grow the sport?
At the end of 2017 we identified the following goals or “Action Items” to pursue for 2018 and 2019:

  • Du50. Based on the success of the Tri60 program, we are engaged with USAT on expanding the number of venues to offer a Du50 program. We hope this will work well for those fitness centers and Ys that may not have access to a pool, but that can host an indoor Du50 (30-minute bike/20 minute run). We have a goal of 8-10 events in 2019 (although the organizational goal is five events).
  • Social Media. We are creating a Facebook page specifically for Duathlon, “All things Duathlon” and hope to launch it in the coming months. We intend this to be a place where athletes can discuss such topics as upcoming races, training tips, nutrition, and engage in constructive conversation on the status of the sport.
  • Duathlon E-Flyer. This will be an online advertisement for Race Directors. We hope it will be something that duathlon race directors can place on their sites and even consider placing in packets if budgets support it.
  • Kid’s Events at Nationals. In the past we have encouraged Race Directors to add more youth and novice races into their events, as well a relay division, to drive interest by creating a more family-friendly atmosphere and hopefully attract more athletes into the sport. We are setting an example by adding a youth fun run to Nationals at Greenville, to be held Friday April 11th.
  • Great Grandmaster Category for Duathlete of the Year. The number of older athletes in this sport is increasing. For 2018 and beyond, we are recognizing this this by adding a category in the DOY award for females 65+ and males 70+.

The Subcommittee Leads for each of these Action Items submit quarterly reporting on the status of progress. In 2019 we will evaluate these and decide what new Action Items to undertake.

Duathlon is the second-largest sport under USAT’s umbrella. How has participation changed over the past few years? I’m encouraged that the nationals in Greenville, SC this year had record participation. But I’ve also heard reports of a gradual, slow decline.
Duathlon saw tremendous growth in the late 80s and early 90s with the Coors Light Series and up to 2004 with the Dannon Duathlon Series. These races attracted thousands of athletes.

Yes, the sport did show decline in numbers after those years, with the rise of other endurance and multisport events. In 2008, USA Triathlon sanctioned 400 duathlons in 48 states. In the years that followed, USAT sanctioned 441 events in 2009 and 475 events in 2010. Since 2011 the number of events sanctioned by USAT held steady between 610 and 660 events, although 2017 did see an anomaly with only 541 events.

Since 2012, the number of athletes competing in duathlon has fluctuated between 21,000 and 36,000 per year. Nearly a decade ago, the 2009 and 2010 Nationals in Richmond had 1700 and 1805 athletes while last year’s Nationals had great attendance with 990 athletes. Finally, the Team USA at World Championships is typically one of the largest of all countries. We are encouraged by this participation and hope, with well-planned and ideally-located races, we can attract those kind of numbers in the future.

What are the Duathlon Committee’s short and long term goals?
The overall long-term goal remains to grow the sport. To meet this, the Master Plan identifies the following:

  • Support more duathlon events nationwide by encouraging Race Directors to piggyback with existing events.
  • Increase the number of athletes that participate in duathlon through strategic positioning of the sport at running and cycling events (expos, registration booth, packet pickup, etc.).
  • Create new education platforms to train existing race directors and triathletes on the sport of duathlon.
  • Promote the sport of duathlon to single sport specialists (Triathletes, Cyclists, Runners).
  • Create alliances and fruitful collaborations with community organizations (i.e. local sporting organizations, health centers, recreation facilities, YMCA, therapy groups, hospitals).
  • Look at different race formats to keep the sport fresh (i.e. Formula-1).
  • Create high-end deliverables for USAT development staff to secure corporate partnerships/sponsorships.
  • Look at Collegiate Duathlon options as extensions for growing the sport.
  • Create duathlon high school clubs similar to existing High School triathlon programs (of which 130 exist).
  • Encourage Team in Training (Leukemia and Lymphoma Society) models that exist for running/cycling and related disciplines as arms of recruitment.

There’s a “chicken and the egg” issue in duathlon. People interested in getting into duathlon have a hard time doing so because there are very few races compared to triathlon. Race directors don’t put on duathlons—and don’t often include them as a choice in triathlon events—because of low participation. How do we stop spinning in circles here?
While triathlons are still the dominant multisport race, we are seeing more Race Directors hold “Festival Events” where a variety of multiport options are offered, such as Aquathons, Aquabikes, Novice, as well as sprint, standard and long distance triathlons and duathlons.

Individually, Committee members have reached out to Race Directors in their regions, encouraging them to add more duathlons to their triathlon events. I think you will see more of these combination events, since the cost is relatively small to add a duathlon to a triathlon.

One of the positions that we take with Race Directors is that the time to do a 1.5km swim is nearly equal to a 5km run. Essentially that means you can do both at nearly the same time if you want to reduce the footprint and save time…so that athletes then enter the same bike and run courses with more ease. Many have done this successfully. We just need to do a better job of explaining how those that do this, having done so with great success.

Finally, the addition of the draft-legal sprint category to Nationals and World’s opens up duathlons to a new type of racing, attracting a wider audience.

What is being done to encourage more elites to compete in duathlon?
The Duathlon Committee has not historically spent much time on elite athlete recruitment although doing so would present some challenges for us because the ROI is probably too small. We are charged with the task of growing the sport and leveraging the contacts and resources that we have.

With that said, if we were to help USAT in this capacity, our focus would be on the creation of a recruitment and talent identification plan similar to USAT’s current Collegiate Recruitment Program that Barb Lindquist has successfully created and developed. You should note that the Powerman Series will return to the U.S. in 2019, with several races on the calendar, and a healthy purse. Powerman Zofingen still remains the premier long-course World Championships. In 2018, the U.S.’s Albert Harrison placed 6thin the elites for this race.

Why doesn’t USAT promote duathlon in its marketing efforts? Can something be done to change that? For example, I see consistent social media posts mentioning triathlon and triathlon only. I see many articles on the USAT site related to triathlon training. Duathlon? Rarely. If they have an interest in growing duathlon, wouldn’t it make sense to give it some attention? Ditto to poor Aquabike and Aquathon.
There is a very delicate balance with USAT between what drives their bottom line and ways that duathlon can help create supplemental/incremental revenue for USAT. We won’t change the model, which supports what 95% of USAT constituents support, but we can certainly create some very positive and forward-thinking additions to what they are doing to drive more business.

As noted previously, the Committee recognizes this as a major issue and is trying to expand the sport’s exposure by creating a Duathlon-specific Facebook page. In the past we have created USAT flyers focusing on Nationals, and provided these in RD goodie bags. This year we have created a Duathlon “E-Flyer”, which can be used for any RD employing an online goodie bag, and/or use with advertisements.

We are also going to be having discussions this next year with USAT on how they can create additional soft goods with duathlon as the leading brand, produce additional giveaway items for members like stickers, and support duathlons with soft good purchase options through USAT partners (signage for example).

Part of the issue is finding people who can contribute good duathlon-specific articles to USAT Magazine, Triathlete [Ahem: Here’s an oldie but goodie from yours truly. — Ed.] and local race publications. Maybe this is a good “Action Item” the Committee can take up in 2019?

“I feel the strongest asset we have is the dedicated athletes who show up to their local races, support their Race Directors, and encourage them to continue.” — Dave Lasorsa

What can we, as duathletes, do to help keep the sport strong?
I feel the strongest asset we have is the dedicated athletes who show up to their local races, support their Race Directors, and encourage them to continue. Reach out to your local fitness center, parks and recreation department, hospital, YMCA, Chamber of Commerce, high school, etc. about hosting a duathlon. Many of these local organizations are looking for events to dovetail in with a community event (i.e.,  4th of July and Memorial Day celebrations), and want to attract people to stay for a weekend, adding to hotels and local retailers.

Additionally, if every duathlete promised to bring one new athlete to an event in 2019, that would double the duathlon population in one year. Imagine how fast that would grow the sport.

One area of additional focus might be to build on those duathlon markets that are currently drawing well for us. If we did that with a laser focus, these markets could essentially drive the sport for us, and would support our initiatives of strategically growing the sport both in athlete participation and event numbers.

Imagine what the Race Director response would be for those races where participation increases double digits? It would be hard to NOT move on the idea of a duathlon as part of the growth continuum. Key will be for this slow build to gain momentum, which we know is not always seen as a viable option for Race Directors who are trying to build their businesses.

Anything else you’d like to add?
Duathlon remains an active, popular sport. Whether it’s a triathlete seeking early and late-season racing, a novice trying to break into multisport, or a serious competitor competing at Nationals and Worlds, the sport is available anyplace with a road (no water needed) and in many areas of the country, year-round.

Duathlon is a great multisport for people who are not as competitive swimming or just don’t like to swim. The Duathlon Committee is an all-volunteer organization that feels it can contribute to keeping this sport strong. Most importantly we have the full support of the USAT National office staff. They allow us to integrate our desires with their day-to-day operations.

Thank you for the opportunity to answer some of these questions and I hope to see you at the next race!

Dave Lasorsa
Co-Chair, Duathlon Committee

…USAT Chief Operating Officer Tim Yount contributed to this report.

Powerman Zofingen: what to know about the longest ITU duathlon

powerman zofingen

Photo by Ozzymate [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Michael McCormack, a former professional Ironman champion who won Ironman Canada in 1991 and 1995 and broke the course record, once told me Powerman Zofingen was the hardest race he had ever done.

Considering McCormack trained with and raced against some of the best in the world in both triathlon and duathlon, that’s a statement not taken lightly. His words echo the sentiments of most athletes that complete this grueling race. It doesn’t seem so bad on paper, but executing is a different story.

What is Powerman Zofingen?

Thanks for asking! Launched in 1989, Powerman Zofingen is the longest championship duathlon. It’s also the most prestigious, as many call it the “Kona of Duathlon.” It’s one of the few duathlons that attract spectators. I’d say it’s one of the most competitive, and it is, but everyone from front to back suffers in equal measures. It’s the ITU Long Distance World Duathlon Championships as well as the International Powerman Association duathlon final.

The event consists of a 10K run-150K bike-30K run. Much of the runs traverse up and down through forests, while the bike goes up and up and up (and down) through hills, valleys and villages.

Here’s what I know about the course, until they changed it for 2018:
The first 10K starts with a steep 1.5K climb (about 8% grade) and continues up and down gravel trails. You do one 5K loop twice.

The bike consisted (until this year) of three 50K loops. Each loop has/had three solid climbs ranging from 5 to 3K-ish, which grades up to 10 to 15% on the Bodenburg ascent, as well as sweeping descents and a flat stretch. After 93 miles of riding, you get to “du” a 30K run.

For the final run, once out of transition you head(ed) up a long climb and then run up or down to complete three or four loops, depending on the year (the course has been tinkered with through the years).

Powerman Zofingen: a few historical tidbits

• In 1989, its inaugural year, the event was still called a biathlon. Yet, it was a three-legged sport: a 1.5K run, 150K bike, 30K run. In 1990, banana-hammock-wearing American Kenny Sousa won the men’s race.

Kenny Souza

Kenny Souza in 1993. Hope he wore more clothes in Switzerland. It can get chilly in September!

• In 1993, the prize money in Zofingen totaled $200,000—more than Ironman Hawaii.

• In 2000, attendance started to fall in Zofingen and at other duathlons worldwide. Why? Triathlon became an Olympic sport, which means the major players started swimming, biking and running for what became the more lucrative sport. [Biting my tongue here]

• On the 25thanniversary, in 2014, combined Powerman Zofingen events attracted 1,480 participants. (That includes PowerKids, charity and long and short distances)

• In 2018, nearly 700 athletes will line up for this incredible race (that’s not including PowerKids and charity, only long and short). About 383 athletes will do the full long-course event, according to today’s start list.

Powerman Zofingen today

Due to what were essentially permitting issues, Powerman Zofingen changed the bike and second run course. (Honestly I can’t remember if they altered the first run.)

The 2018 bike course is still 150K, but traverses through different villages and takes athletes over one of the hills in a different direction. It still has a comparable overall elevation profile—from a little over 1800 meters of climbing to a little under1800, depending on who you talk to.

The new course also features about 300 meters of cobblestone. The race directors promote this as a perk (oh yay! Like riding Paris Roubaix!). I see it as a potential tire-puncture risk. The descents are either technical or sweeping, depending on who you ask.

 

Best of luck to all the Powerman and ITU competitors. By the time this posts, I hope you are all sleeping soundly and wake up early in the morning feeling fantastic and ready for the path ahead. I’m cheering for you all!

CODA: Powerman Zofingen will be missing a bright light this year: professional triathlete/duathlete Alistair Eeckman. He died when a bus collided with him while he was on a training ride in Austria. He had just finished sixth in Powerman Austria and was gearing up for Zofingen. He is deeply missed.

Team USA, it’s not goodbye. It’s see you later.

I am officially on Team USA Duathlon sabbatical until at least 2019. Maybe longer. Maybe until I turn 50 (2021), or maybe I’ll revisit the hiatus in 2018 if I get ridiculously excited about an event. Regardless, I am a one-sport athlete for the time being.

USA Triathlon Duathlon

I didn’t make this decision lightly. The duathlon burnout tugged at me all year, despite ambitious goals. My original plan: USAT Long Course Duathlon National Championships in April, standard course nationals in June and the World Championships (standard course) in August. I felt the first two would prepare me well for the worlds in Penticton, which was my “A” goal.

I didn’t train as specifically as I could have for the first of those three races. I could blame it on the deluge of rain that hit the Bay Area through last winter and early spring. Really, it was lack of interest.

I was ready for a break from duathlon and the demand of my time it required. I looked forward to competing with my team at local running races, but rarely looked forward to intervals on the bike and long brick workouts.

By June, I had fit in more duathlon-specific training. The malaise stuck with me, even in beautiful Bend, Oregon. The voices in my head during the bike leg were the loudest they’ve ever been. You’re so slow. Everyone is passing you. You’re going to be the last one out here. Just quit now. This is not fun. I finished, and only about a minute slower than the previous year (all on the bike). So I wasn’t last, but dang it sure felt like it!

I ran well and had a great time at a one-mile race in late June and a Fourth of July 5K. No transitions, no lugging the bike here and there, no goofy one-piece outfit. I worked on getting excited about the ITU Multisport Championships in Penticton, BC, but the feeling wasn’t coming. I trained anyway.

 

And then, something happened on Fourth of July that sent my motivation for everything plummeting into the abyss. My cat, Soleil—my companion for the past 15 years—got sick. Not the sniffles or coughing up a hairball. Serious sick. On July 5, the vet put her on antibiotics for 21 days, which didn’t help her condition.

And so began a long journey of cat worry, combined with a seriously heavy workload, and training for and planning for a trip to Canada. As the days went on, Soleil got more tests, and I got more overwhelmed about this trip.

I canceled the whole damn thing. On August 20, the day I *should* have raced in the Duathlon World Championships, I took Soleil to the vet to have a tumor removed from her bladder. The tumor was cancerous. Now, two months later, she’s on what the cat oncologist calls “hospice care;” which, in this case, means TLC and pain meds. My heart breaks every day.

I officially started my duathlon hiatus when I called Tiki Shores hotel in Penticton to cancel my reservation. I’ll return when my excitement for the sport returns. Until then, I’m a runner that rides her bike a lot.

USAT, you could do better

I absolutely love duathlon, the challenge it brings and the community of people dedicated to this demanding multisport event. I don’t love a lot of what USAT requires to compete in major events. Its demands also played a role in my hiatus, though burnout definitely starred in the decision.

USAT talks about making multisport accessible to everyone. Yet, national championships, and especially world championships, are not accessible to everyone.

They’re accessible to people that meet or exceed the current median USAT athlete income of $100,000+ per year. They’re accessible to people that can afford to take off a few days from work, travel across the country for a race, and invest in an expensive TT bike, an “aero” helmet and other garb. If the average middle-class aspiring athlete scrapes up the cash to acquire the gear and travel to a big race, and lo and behold qualifies to compete in the worlds, they’ll have to pay dearly. Again.

USAT doesn’t make it easy, or affordable in any way, to compete as part of Team USA. The “travel packages” assembled by its travel agent partner are a joke. I compared the costs one year of booking my own travel vs. working with their travel partner and saved well over $1,000 by planning myself.

If you choose to stay in the “host” hotel, know it will likely be one of the most costly in town. In Pontevedra, Spain, for the 2014 worlds, USAT chose the only four-star hotel in the city, while the rest of the countries stayed in nearby, slightly more modestly priced hotels.

Uniforms? You pay for them. About $220 for a uniform, which changes every few years. In 2017, they also started pushing Team USA athletes to buy a “parade kit,” which was a small $200 (approx.) collection of Team USA apparel it supposedly “required” athletes to wear when they weren’t racing. I assume this was another way for USAT to make money off its amateur athletes. I would never be seen in public in this stuff.

Oh–don’t forget the race entry fee. That sets you back another $200 to $300. And don’t forget airfare, hotel/Airbnb reservations, meals, bike transport fees, and other costs. Start doing the math, and you’ll see anything beyond a local duathlon is not accessible to most people.

Want diversity in the sport? Make it affordable to a more diverse population. Consider at minimum, a discount off uniforms, membership fees, race entry fees and the stupid parade kit for people that meet certain income criteria.

Study USATF’s requirements for regional and national championships. The difference in monetary requirements and pain-in-the-you-know-what factor is remarkable.

Some of the costs associated with national and world events are unavoidable. Race organizers pay a fortune, I’m sure, in insurance, permitting, security, police support, venue reservations and other expenses. But really, a “required” parade kit? After all the athletes sacrifice to compete in a dream of an event, requiring us to wear stuff we’ll never wear again (and pay for it) is like swatting us upside the head with a racing flat.

Having said all that, will I compete in regional and national USAT events again? Absolutely. Do I plan to fulfill my mission of competing in Powerman Zofingen, the ITU long-course duathlon world championship? Absolutely. I don’t know when, but when I do, I’ll be physically and mentally “all in.”

Do I think USAT does a few things right? Yep. It promotes a sport that welcomes beginners. In a country faced with an obesity crisis, the more people we have engaging in healthy activities, the better.

It offers a wealth of training tips through its website, newsletters and magazine that athletes of all ability levels can learn from. It sanctions races all over the country, ensuring a greater chance we’ll participate in reasonably well-organized, safe events. It established solid programs for college and youth. It established a complicated rankings system so competitive age-groupers like myself can see how we stack up.

And it hired COO Tim Yount. I don’t know everything his job entails, but I know he is passionate about promoting and growing duathlon, and I know he works hard for USAT’s membership body. He travels all over the U.S. and world as a USAT liaison. I’ve seen him lead course preview rides, town hall discussions and rules briefings. I’ve heard him emcee big races. I’ve seen him stand near the finish line for hours to hand little American flags to athletes approaching the finish line of world championship events.

What do you think? How can USAT make duathlon more accessible to all? To keep the sport going, it has to bring in more participants, and to bring in more participants, it should be more accessible to more people. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Racing weekend: NOLA and NYC

Two big races take place on the first day sans Daylight Savings Time: the New York City Marathon and the USA Triathlon Draft-Legal Duathlon World Qualifier in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Draft-Legal Duathlon

Who’s racing in New Orleans? Do tell! The sprint-distance races kick off bright and shiny at 7:30 a.m. (Men 16-49), followed by the 50-plus men at 7:45 and the women at 10 a.m.

With lows in the mid ’60s, the men will have comfortable temps on race morning. Things will heat up for the women’s race, when the thermometer climbs to 72-75 degrees.

It could be worse. Have you ever visited New Orleans in the summer? Don’t! The hottest, sloppiest weather I have ever experienced was in New Orleans in August. It was well in the 90s, I think, with steam room humidity. The swimming pools felt like bath water and had big bugs floating in them.

There will be none of that this weekend, thank goodness. The course looks pretty straightforward and runs along the water, so I assume it’s pretty flat. I don’t remember hills in New Orleans. Of course, there’s lots I don’t remember about those trips, many years ago, for reasons you might expect.

For the curious, here is the start list. What’s draft legal racing all about? More about that in one of my previous blog posts.

Before I start my long run on Sunday, I plan to watch the TCS New York City Marathon. Will Dathan Ritzenhein do something special? Will Molly Huddle hit the podium in her marathon debut? Will super-triathlete Gwen Jorgensen break 2:30? (Let’s Run predicts 2:27.) We’ll find out in a few days!

Here’s what the men’s marathoners have to say leading up to race day. And here’s the scoop on the women’s race.

Whether you’re running, riding, or both this weekend, enjoy the fresh air and the gift of good health.

 

ITU Duathlon World Championships: results, feedback

The ITU Duathlon World Championships took over Aviles, Spain, June 4 and 5. Here are the preliminary results courtesy of USAT, plus a few images from the competitors. Stay tuned for race reports from some bad-a** age group athletes!

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