Why Quadrathlon – What’s it all about?

With the first race of the quadrathlon season coming up in a couple of weeks and having just written a ‘why surf ski‘ blog post I thought it was time to answer the ‘Why Quadrathlon’ question with a similar article. Especially seeing as most people don’t know what a quadrathlon is. So, here goes.

What is a Quadrathlon?

This one is an easy one. It’s the same as a triathlon but with an extra sport. The extra sport is kayaking. The order the sports run in do vary a little but it is generally

  • Swim, kayak, bike, run or
  • Swim, bike, kayak, run

The former tends to be the order in the UK whereas the latter is often used on the continent.

Wikipedia’s definition is:

A quadrathlon is an endurance sports event composed of four individual disciplines. All four disciplines are completed in succession and the lowest overall time decides the winner.

Wikipedia

As with triathlon there are various distances of quadrathlon. These are approximately:

 SprintMiddleLong
Swim750m1.5km4km
Bike20km40km100km
Kayak4km8km20km
Run5km10km21km

The actual distances do tend to vary slightly depending on the organisers and the location of the event. The swim tends to be in open water. In the UK this is mainly in rivers or lakes but there are sea swims too. The kayak section also tends to be on flat water in a lake or river. The bike portion can be on roads, trails or even technical mountain bike courses and the runs are variable too. The run can be anything from a flat road run to a full on fell run and anything in between.

Last lap of the run
Last lap of the run

Why Quadrathlon?

I’ll answer this from a personal perspective as to why I’ve started to do quadrathlon’s. It all stemmed from triathlon really. I had been competing in triathlon’s for a number of years and was doing fairly well in them. My first triathlon was back in the 1980’s but I’d had quite a hiatus before starting them again in my 40’s. I’d been getting fitter, getting faster, winning races and having fun. It was however getting more and more popular and it felt as though everyone was doing them. I don;t really like following the crowd. I was still getting faster though and had started competing in International Age-Group championships for Team GB. This culminated in becoming European Age-Group Champion in the 40-44 Age-Group in 2013.

On the Podium
On the Podium

By now, everyone (and their grandma’s) were doing triathlon so I was looking for a new challenge. I’d got to the stage where improvements were hard to come by. Continuing at that level would take hard work, determination and discipline. The racing was serious, the stress levels high, the pressure was on and expectations had to be met.

The only reason for doing any such sport is fun and enjoyment. The words in the previous sentence such as ‘hard work, discipline, serious, stress, pressure and expectations’ don’t really go hand in hand with ‘fun and enjoyment’ so maybe it was time for something new. This is when I came across quadrathlon. It looked like just the ticket. All the fun of swimming, cycling and running but with the addition of kayaking too. A new sport to learn, new toys, more time on the water and more fun all round. The expectations were low, I wasn’t expecting to be very good at it and the name of the game was fun. It was the ideal sport for those whom 3 sports are not enough!

An Extra Sport

Kayaking was something completely new to me so I wasn’t likely to be anywhere near the pointy end of a quadrathlon race. This was ideal as it meant the pressure was off. I could spend a bit of time getting to grips with the intricacies of kayaking (or in my case surf-skiing) and just have fun in the races.

My first quadrathlon race certainly highlighted how much work was needed in the kayak. My swim, bike and run carried me through so I still finished in a respectable 5th place, but my kayak time was shocking! Most people who compete in triathlons seem to come from a kayaking background. I guess they also enjoy triathlons but don’t want to waste their kayaking skills, kayaking speed and kayaking equipment. If anything, the kayak section is the most difficult and most restrictive of the 4 disciplines so it stands to reason that it attracts people with a background in this sport. This very fact did of course mean that there was a huge discrepancy between most people doing a quadrathlon and someone such as me with no experience of kayaking at all.

Steve King, Kayak
Steve King, Kayak

That was all part of the fun though. The best part about a new sport is the rapid improvements that can be made. I had been at my limit as far as swimming, biking and running was concerned. If anything the only way was down with these. I was only going to get slower as I got older so improvements were unlikely. Not so with a new sport and there’s nothing better for motivation than seeing rapid improvements. The sense of achievement is satisfying and that adds to the enjoyment. Also, as I mentioned in the recent ‘why surf ski‘ post, the actual sport of kayaking or surf-skiing was a perfect fit for me too.

The Quadrathlon Community

Quadrathlon is also a relatively unknown sport. I like to do my own thing, be a little different and try new things. Everyone seems to do triathlons these days. It’s a mainstream sport with a huge number of races, huge numbers of participants of all abilities and expensive race entry fees to match.

Quadrathlon on the other hand is much more niche. There are only 6 events in the UK. With limited races the same people tend to show up to most of them. There’s a real friendly community spirit where everyone seems to know everyone. This doesn’t mean that the racing isn’t tough of course. There are plenty of super speedy athletes both from within the UK and from further afield at these events. This means you often know who you’ll be toeing the line with and who will be posting similar times to you.

BQA Squad after the race
BQA Squad after the race

Coping with 4 Sports

You would think that adding a fourth sport to a triathlon wouldn’t really have a massive impact. You’re wrong, it completely changes everything and not just in the race.

4 Sports in a Race

Within a race the obvious impact is the fact that the race becomes significantly longer. It adds about 50% time-wise to a race which has all sorts of implications. There’s lots more to think about too. There is an extra transition, lots more kit and of course the contrast between the sports. If you thought that running after cycling was difficult then you should try it after kayaking! I never had a problem running after a hard bike ride, if anything I was faster off the bike than I was just doing a run. This isn’t true after a hard kayak session though. I can barely get out of the kayak and stand on two feet let alone run! It’s amazing how much you use your legs when kayaking and sitting in that one position for 30-60 minutes and then trying to change to a run is certainly a challenge. I’m sure part of the problem here is my lack of kayaking skills which mean that I’m not as relaxed as I could be in the kayak and tend to be putting in more effort than needed. Adding kayaking to a triathlon completely alters the dynamics of the race.

Talking of race dynamics, the fact that there are four sports to think about really makes the races fun. It’s rare that anyone is REALLY fast in all four sports. Most people will have at least a slightly weaker sport. This means that you never quite know what will happen within a race. Gaps are opened up and closed back down, positions change all the time and tactics can play a role too. This all makes for really exciting racing. I’ve been in races were Olympic kayakers have competed – they might open out a lead on the water but who knows if they can ride a bike or put in a fast run? You never quite know what will happen as far as the competition are concerned, and at times you don’t even know how you’ll feel come the end!

4 Sports in Training

Training for 4 sports rather than three is a challenge too. I feel that you need to be doing 3 or more sessions per week in any one sport to really see improvements. It’s good to be able to do a long endurance session, a high intensity session such as intervals and a strength session such as hill reps each week. (The actual constituents of a training plan varies somewhat throughout the year of course). Fitting in some weights and some stretching is good too and maybe the odd windsurf or surf as well. Recovery is all important too so a rest day each week is essential. That leaves 6 days a week for training, 2 sessions per day and that’s 12 sessions per week. With three sports and three sessions per sport that’s 9 sessions a week, plus three spare for weights and other things. Easy Peasy.

Add a fourth sport into the mix though and 3 sessions in each sport is 12 sessions per week. That leaves no time for any weights, stretching etc and no time for other things. To make matters worse there’s an extra high intensity session each week which only adds to the training stress. This tends to wear me down too much which then leads to missed sessions or poor quality sessions so more recovery is needed. It’s just not possible to improve at all 4 sports at the same time. Of course, everyone is in the same boat as far as this is concerned but the fourth sport really does make training more difficult.

I did think that maybe I could neglect the swimming. My swim times in races would barely suffer even if I didn’t do any swim training at all. I could then concentrate on just the other three sports and all would be OK. It didn’t really work though as somehow swim sessions seem to add structure and discipline to my training. If I didn’t go to the pool it was all too easy not to do anything so everything suffered. A swim session seems to give my day some structure and forces me to do the other training as well.

Ideally I would write a training schedule that was based on a 9 or 10 day rolling schedule rather than a 7 day day week. This would allow me to fit in all of the required sessions, all of the necessary recovery and not over exert myself. In an ideal world this would be perfect. It’s just not possible in the real world though. Everyone else works to a 7 day week. Pool times, group sessions and everything else in my life revolves around a 7 day week so a training plan has to as well.

An emphasis on Fun

All this talk of training plans, race dynamics and such like seems to be getting a little serious again. Fear not, the emphasis for me is still purely on fun. It is of course fun to be doing things as well as you can, fun to be improving and fun to be doing well in races. All of this takes hard work in training, but the training itself is fun too. To do really well then you need to focus on other things too, especially diet and nutrition, sleep and rest etc. These aren’t quite so much fun for me. So, as the emphasis is on fun I’m allowing myself to not worry about such things, beer, chocolate and cakes are all fair game!

Similarly, the fact that I’m not very good in the kayak has afforded me the opportunity to not worry too much about my performance in the other disciplines as well. It’s almost as though I have an excuse not to perform!

If anything I prefer the training more than I do the racing. Having come to this realisation I’ve been making the training even more fun. I’ve been a little more social with my training lately for a start. Swim sessions are often open water swims with the Aberystwyth Aquanuts, I’ve been joining in with the Sunday Club rides with Ystwyth CC and have been going along to the Wednesday evening Time Trials. These sessions might not be exactly what are needed for the ultimate in performance gains but they are fun and they’ll do the job. Kayak training sessions are rarely serious. Most of them are just an excuse to play in the waves on my surf-ski. This might not be the best use of kayak time but it’s the most fun you can have in a pair of neoprene shorts and a cagoule so that’s fine with me. I’m sure it’ll have some benefits come race day too.

Surf Window
Surf Window

I’m off on a week long ‘training camp’ in Snowdonia soon too. I’m sure there will be plenty of swimming, biking, kayaking and running going on whilst there but it’ll be more of a fun holiday and a social trip with like-minded people for me.

Kayaks
Kayaks

The racing is fun too of course. It’s nice to win or place highly but I’m trying not to think too much about such things. I actually quite envy those people who turn up to race after race and always finish somewhere in the middle of the pack. It looks like great fun and a little more relaxing than being at the pointy end. I don’t necessarily want to suddenly trade places with them but just turning up to a race to take part rather compete from time to time would be nice. That’s my aim and I’m slowly convincing myself of that fact. I haven’t quite got there yet as the competitor in me will still want to push hard at a race, but I guess that’s part of the fun too.

Is Quadrathlon for You?

I could easily convince you that it’s not – The training is complication, you’ll need swimming, biking, kayaking and running kit, you’ll need a car or preferably a van to transport it all. The racing is tough. There’s never enough time to fit everything in and almost no chance of improving in all disciplines at the same time.

On the other hand there’s an opportunity for new toys, quivers of kayaks as well as a stable of bikes. Never are you stuck for something to do and there’s always a perfect session whatever the weather. There are new friends to make, new places to go and new skills to learn. If you’d like a new challenge and have even a basic level of fitness then I say ‘Is Quadrathlon for you?’ of course it is….

Come and have a go is you think you’re MAD enough!

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Alan Cole

Alan is a Freelance Website Designer, Sports & Exercise Science Lab Technician and full time Dad & husband with far too many hobbies: Triathlete, Swimming, Cycling, Running, MTBing, Surfing, Windsurfing, SUPing, Gardening, Photography.... The list goes on.