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!
Co-Chair, Duathlon Committee
…USAT Chief Operating Officer Tim Yount contributed to this report.