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Multi-Sports - A History and Guide

The term Multi Sports is used to describe a variety of events, the aim of this article is to introduce you to each of them, give a brief insight into their history, what each event involves, its challenges, its distances and its cost. We will also give a brief introduction into equipment and finally where to go for further information. We hope you enjoy it.

Triathlon is a challenging sport for all concerned. As a multi-sport event, it combines swimming, cycling and running consecutively, which to many would seem a daunting thought; but to race from one to the next adds that extra bit of spice! After all ‘what is sport all about’ if it’s not to test yourself to the limits?

The origin of triathlon lies in Southern California, where the first informal races were held between a group of friends with sporting backgrounds in swimming, cycling and running to break the monotony of their individual training schedules. Jack Johnstone and Don Shanahan of the San Diego Track Club conceived and hosted the first Mission Bay Triathlon, held on 25th September 1974, in which some 46 athletes participated. Amongst those competitors was a U.S. Naval Officer John Collins, who took the concept of triathlon to Hawaii; and so began the development of the sport….

Combining three pre-existing endurance events: the Waikiki Rough Water Swim (2.4miles), the Around-Oahu Bike Race (112miles) and the Honolulu Marathon (26.2miles) the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon was first held in January 1978. Only twelve men completed this race, but in only it’s third year the race attracted hundreds of entrants. By 1982 ABC World Wide Sport’s coverage of the event, and the first national publication ‘Triathlon Magazine’ had raised the profile of triathlon to new heights.

Throughout the 1980’s triathlon saw phenomenal growth, such that there are now thousands of races held every year around the world. The International Triathlon Union (ITU) was formed in 1989 with 25 countries represented at their first congress, which oversaw the first annual World Triathlon Championships held in Avignon, France in August 1989. The ‘Olympic’ (1.5k swim, 40k bike, 10k run) distance was set as standard for international events by the ITU.  In 1991 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognised the ITU as the sole international governing body for the sport, and in 1994 approved Triathlon as a medal sport to be on the programme at the Sydney Olympic Games.     

Most multi-sport events are a by-product of triathlon and triathletes, duathlon is no exception. Duathlons format is run, bike, run. They started to appear in the mid 1980’s primarily as early and late season training races for triathletes. The temperature of the large lakes used for open water swimming in Europe and North America were still too cold, so a run replaced the swim leg and duathlon was born. Since then the sport has gone from strength to strength with the first major duathlon championship, Powerman Zofingen taking place in 1988. World and European Championships soon followed, taking place for the first time in 1990. Duathlon has continued to grow in popularity and races now take place throughout the year all over the world.

It is often the case that duathlon is confused with biathlon. In order to clear up any confusion duathlon and biathlon are two completely different sports. They both comprise of two disciplines, however, biathlons disciplines are cross-country skiing and small bore shooting. 

Rowathlon is once again based on triathlon, the format being row, bike, run. The origin is not certain but is probably based on “variety being the spice of life” There is now an annual Concept 2 sponsored rowathlon series of events at various venues throughout the UK. Concept 2 are the machines used for the rowing leg.

Aquathlon comes in various formats, normally swim, run, but also run, swim, run. It would seem that aquathlon is the more popular of these two events, given that since 1998 it has had its own World Championships. These have been held at the same time and venue as the Triathlon World Championships.

Triathlon: As suggested in the introduction, triathlon comprises three disciplines: Swimming, Cycling and Running. Each competitor is issued with a ‘race number’, which is an individual identity for that particular event. This number should be displayed on the front and/or back (specified by each race organiser) of the body at all times from T1 onwards. A ‘race belt’ is sometimes easier so one number can be attached and worn on the back for the bike, and turned to the front for the run.  A triathlon race begins with a shot of a gun, sound of a hooter or a shout of GO at the top of the starters voice. With the swim being first of the three, depending on the event venue, competitors may start in or out of the water, completing the set distance before exiting the water and running to a preset ‘Transition area’ for ‘T1’, to prepare for the second section, the bike leg. When they have prepared themselves, removing wetsuits and/or donning extra clothing, cycling safety helmet and shoes, they may collect their bike and must push it out of T1 to a preset ‘mount line’ before setting of on the cycle route. On completion of the cycle route they must again dismount before the set ‘dismount line’ and push their bike into transition area for ‘T2’, where they prepare themselves for the third and final stage, the run. Leaving the transition area this second time they begin the run route, which leads them to complete the entire event by crossing the finish line.

Transition areas are usually set out by the race organisers, with some form of ‘racking system’ to hang your bike and a small area next to each bike for personal items of clothing and equipment to be set out neatly for the race. Occasionally ‘boxes’ are supplied for personal items to be left in, to keep the transition area safer and ‘clutter-free’.  Most transition areas are organised according to ‘race number’.

The swim may be held in an indoor or outdoor swimming pool, or ‘open water’ (OW) such as lake, river or sea, and according to the conditions wetsuits may be required. A swim hat is recommended, but is most often provided by the race organiser, and goggles are most beneficial for visibility and comfort. Feet and hands must be bare; the wearing of paddles or fins is not permitted.

T1 is the transition between the swim and bike sections of the race. Particularly in this transition, it is important to observe the regulations of ‘no nudity’ in transition.

The bike section is most commonly a measured distance on open roads, but some events may have the benefit of closed roads. The normal rules of the road must be observed in all circumstances, except where the road is closed and official directions are given. Some events, which specify ‘off- road’, may use tracks or trails. Any bicycle used must be judged ‘road worthy’ and well maintained. A bicycle safety helmet must be worn and is to be fastened before removing the bicycle from the racking in T1, and not unfastened until the bike is re-racked in T2.

T2 is the transition between the bike and run sections. This is quite a difficult transition, taking quite some practice to master running after cycling a distance.  

The run is usually on roads or tracks unless specified as ‘off-road’ or ‘multi-terrain’. A measured course is used which terminates in that grateful crossing of the FINISH LINE, together with a fantastic sense of achievement!

Distances for each discipline and cost of entering events vary considerably, but a standard/rough guide is as follows:


   Sprint  Olympic  Half Ironman  Ironman
 SWIM  0.5mile / 750m  0.93mile / 1500m  1.2mile / 2km  2.4mile/ 4km
 BIKE  13miles / 25km  24.8miles / 40km  56miles / 90km  112miles/ 180km
 RUN  3.2miles / 5km  6.2miles / 10km  13.1miles/21km  26.2miles/ 42km

In smaller, local races the competition is usually open to all to enter and some prizes may be offered for top male and female places. Larger and more prestigious events, particularly national series and international races are split into age-group categories of 5year intervals: 20-24, 25-29, 30-34 and so on. The top national/international athletes compete in the Elite category, usually in a separate race or ‘wave’. These age group categories allow people of all ages to participate and compete within their own category!

Junior and under 23 age groups exist to encourage younger participation, but races are limited distances.

Most events also allow entry as a relay with each team member doing one discipline.

Duathlon: As stated previously duathlon is a multi-sport event consisting of a run leg, a bike leg, and a second run leg. With the exception of the first discipline and the “wrestling match” that ensues removing your wetsuit in T1, duathlon is identical to triathlon.

Typically, duathlons take place on tarmac road surfaces. Competitors are able to run in lightweight race shoes and ride aerodynamic time trial bikes. However, there are occasions when the run sections are run off road. More recently off road duathlons have made an appearance, where all disciplines are run off road, the bike leg being completed on a Mountain Bike.

As with triathlon, duathlon is competed in 5-year age group waves, with the exception of the top athletes who are classified as elites. Nearly all events are open to all to enter, the exceptions being the World and European Championships. Cost of entry to duathlons varies from event to event but range from £10.00 for a short event (4kms-16kms-4kms) right up to £150.00 to enter Powerman Zofingen (10kms-150kms-30kms).  

Distances vary but generally are the following


 Type Run 1  Bike Run 2
 Short Course 3-5 Kms 16-30 Kms 3-5 Kms
 Standard  10 Kms 40 Kms 5 Kms
 Powerman  10 kms  60 Kms  10 Kms
 Long Course 10-20 Kms 75-150 Kms 10-30 Kms

“Duathletes = Guys with bikes and running shoes who don’t know how to swim….but want an excuse to shave their legs!!”

The above quote was taken from a website and was written (presumably) by a triathlete commenting on the World Duathlon Championships held in 2004. Whilst there is no doubt a lot of duathletes would, if they were better swimmers, compete in triathlon, there are a large number of triathletes who are reluctant to compete in duathlon, finding it a more demanding event.

Aquathlon/Rowathlon: Aquathlon is yet another off shoot of triathlon. The format for this event is generally swim, run. Distances vary but are usually in the order of 400-1000m swim and 2-5km run. A typical venue would be a local swimming pool, but occasionally open water is used. Since 1998 there has been a World Aquathlon Championships. These are run at the same venue as the triathlon World Championships. The format for the World Championships is run, swim, run with the distances being 2.5kms, 1000m, 2.5kms. Entry fees are reasonable in comparison to some of the triathlons and duathlons today, with the average cost being around £10.00

Rowathlons are sometimes known as an indoor triathlon. The first ‘swimming leg’ is replaced by indoor rowing on a static rowing machine (Concept 2).

Throughout the series points are awarded for results, and a series ranking is determined by each competitors best three results. As in all the multi sport events, rowathlon is age group related these being: 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50+. This year the male and female winner of each age category will win a trip to Amsterdam, including accommodation and £100.00 expenses, to compete in the Concept 2 European Open.


The list of equipment, gadgets and gismo’s you can accrue for all of the above-mentioned sports is always growing. As with most sports technology is playing its part in developing these. Therefore the following list is only a guide for competing and is not exhaustive:


a.  Wetsuit/Goggles/Swim Hat (triathlon only)

b.  Tri specific run/cycle shirt, shorts or skin suit.

c.  Cycle, cycle helmet, and cycle shoes.

d.  Running shoes

e.  Huge sense of humour!!

Certain improvements can be made to this basic set of equipment. Items such as clip on tri bars, elastic laces for running shoes and a number belt, all make the event easier in some respect. However the basic set up as detailed above will start the novice on his or her way. Major Tri specific retailers will do package deals for a variety of budgets starting at £599.00 going up to £1599.00 for all of the above equipment, less running shoes and sense of humour!!

To summarise the multi sport scene, triathlon, duathlon, aquathlon, and rowathlon are one of the, if not the fastest growing sports at present. The season is crammed with events aimed at the seasoned tri/duathlete and many, many events aimed at introducing novices to the sport. Hopefully this article will give some of you the urge to dress up like a seal and leap into water, then time trial for an hour plus before running for 45 minutes or so. Before you do, might we recommend visiting one or all of these websites first: 
British Triathlon Association, British governing body
International Triathlon Union, World governing body
European Triathlon Union, European governing body
Useful site for information on all aspects multi sports, including events, training tips race results. It also has links to clubs and other useful websites. 



Bedfordshire Road Cycling Club