By Pete Williams
So it figures somebody would come up with the idea of staging a triathlon where swimming, the limiting factor for many would-be triathletes, is eliminated and replaced with stand-up paddleboarding.
Jim Hartnett is that guy. It’s not an entirely new concept, but the owner of Tampa Races has taken the former Croom Quest Multi-Sport Challenge and rebranded it as the Dirthead Trail Duathlon and Triathlon, which takes place in Brooksville on Oct. 23.
The triathlon consists of an 18-mile trail ride, a 2.5-mile paddle, another 9-mile ride, and an 11-mile trail run. Most athletes will complete the paddle in canoes or kayaks, but the difference in this year’s race, Hartnett says, is that he’s heard from a number of athletes who plan to compete in stand-up paddleboards, which is allowed.
The SUP crowd will be at a disadvantage since they’ll be slower on a paddleboard than in a canoe or kayak. But the guess here is that this will be a growing part of the endurance sports world, even though we’ve been surprised thus far at how little crossover there’s been thus far between triathletes and stand-up paddleboarding.
Triathletes, unlike many first-time paddleboarders, have no concerns about falling off the board since they’re already strong swimmers. I expected to see a lot of triathletes transition into the SUP world, but that hasn’t happened.
A number of triathletes I’ve spoken to bemoan the cost of a paddleboard, which is $800 for an entry-level board and $2,000 for a high-end raceboard, much cheaper than triathlon. An entry-level tri bike runs $1,200 and athletes routinely spend more than $4,000 for mid-range models and $8,000 for high-end chariots. Unlike bikes, which require lots of expensive maintenance, SUP boards are virtually maintenance free.
The more likely reason triathletes haven’t crossed over to SUP or obstacle mud runs is that they tend to have a paint-by-numbers mentality. Triathletes like to know exactly what their race course is going to be, what their training regimen will look like, and what kind of equipment they can purchase to improve their odds.
It would be unfair to say that triathlon is not growing. USA Triathlon’s membership continues to grow exponentially and races at all levels have seen their numbers increase, even in a recession.
But clearly triathlon has been upstaged this year by obstacle mud runs and stand-up paddleboard events, which tend to attract athletes who prefer the unexpected. The guess here is that the Dirthead will be the first of many Florida adventure races to include a SUP component.