Tired of Tri? Duathlons, Aquathlons Provide Multisport Fix

So you've run a marathon. And now you think you're pretty hot stuff hard-core and extreme, in an athletic way.

Well, sorry, Charlie. These days, if you haven't competed in a duathlon, triathlon or another multisport event, then you haven't really pushed yourself to the limit of your potential and prowess.

The most popular multidiscipline sport now in America is triathlon, a grueling combination of swimming, bicycling and running.

"The feeling of getting out of the water, wet, and jumping on the bike and then running right afterwards it was just a new challenge and I enjoyed it," said Ben Regan, a 22-year-old senior at California State University, Fresno, and president of the school's triathlon club.

"You suffer a lot when you get off the bike to run," said Felicia Gomez, 35, a professional cyclist and the club's faculty adviser. "Your legs literally feel like wood sticks of wood."

Triathlon participants first jump into a pool, lake or ocean and swim a certain distance. After the swim, they hop onto their bikes shoes already fastened to the pedals and ride the longest leg of the race. At last, hamstrings quivering, the racers don their running shoes and run, jog or crawl their way across the finish line. The Olympic triathlon is 1.5K swim, 40K bike and 10K run.

In recent years, the sport has seen unprecedented growth.

USA Triathlon, the sport's governing body, reported an increase in membership from less than 27,000 in 2000 to nearly 57,000 as of March, 2005. This measures only race participants who are USAT members; the overall participation figure is even higher.

The introduction of the triathlon as an Olympic medal sport, beginning with the Sydney Games in 2000, boosted the sport's exposure, and the influx of pro and amateur races of varying distance and skill levels over the past several years also has been crucial to the sport's growth, according to Sporting Goods Business, a trade publication.

Two out of three

An option for those who look at the triathlon and think, "I hate swimming," or "I hate cycling," but still are interested in competing in a multisport event is a duathlon or aquathlon.

These are not to be confused with the biathlon, a winter Olympic event based in Nordic tradition that combines shooting and cross-country skiing.

Duathlons and aquathlons are similar to triathlons in that competitors must complete three legs. But while triathletes compete in swimming, cycling and running, duathletes run, cycle and run again. Aquathletes run, swim and run again.

Trying to figure out which multisport event is the best for you is really a matter of preference and skill, said Troy Stiles, duathlon coordinator for USA Triathlon.

"Is duathlon harder than triathlon?," Stiles said. "Honestly, it really depends on the athlete, where their strengths and weaknesses are."

For some athletes, Stiles said, a triathlon is harder because they aren't strong swimmers and would prefer to stay out of the water. But for those who may be excellent swimmers while not as strong in running, the idea of running twice in one event is not their ideal.

"That's the nice thing about multisport," Stiles said. "You can be good in one and OK in another, but because one compensates for another, you can do really well in competition."

Stiles, who has competed in duathlons and triathlons, said that in some respects, competing in a duathlon was harder because it demanded 100 percent use of his leg muscles.

"In a triathlon, you're using your upper body for the first segment of the race," he said. "But in the duathlon, in the first leg, you're running all out, as fast as you can go, (so) when you jump on your bike, the burn in your legs that you already have from your run is just multiplied.

"Then when you get finished with that leg and have to run again, it's about trying to focus on the mental challenge of staying in the moment," he said. "Just focusing and pushing through the pain and pushing to the limit, that's how I approach it. Duathlon is a challenge to the legs, that's for sure."

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