By Graham Thomas
Students and young people in Wales have had a taste of triathlon and the hope is it’s a flavour to their liking.
The event was a recent Go-Tri duathlon within broader activity at Pembrey Country Park that also included a competitive duathlon for more regular runners and cyclists.
Organised by ColegauCymru/Colleges Wales – a partner to Sport Wales – the day was aimed at all abilities and involved both students and staff.
It was part of ColegauCymru’s strategy of trying to get more people active and healthy, both physically and emotionally, particularly in the 16 to 19-year-old age group where research has shown that activity levels can decline sharply.
The charity has a three-pronged approach to sport in further education colleges across Wales. Not only do they work to ensure all students are staying healthy, but they also organise competitive sport across the campuses as well as encouraging the development of future leaders through coaching, officiating and volunteering.
In that sense, the duathlon ticked all the boxes, with hundreds of students of all abilities taking part, competitive athletes posting strong race times, and volunteers helping make sure the event ran smoothly.
Rob Baynham, ColegauCymru project manager for sport and well-being, says: “The duathlon was an attempt to get more people in the college environment in activity, together.
“It was especially aimed at encouraging girls and people with learning difficulties, who might have extra challenges.
An excellent day yesterday at Welsh Triathlon and Colegau Cymru’s duathlon event at Pembrey where students and staff took part in multisport events including time trials, a 5km run, 19km cycle and 2.5km run.@ColegauCymru @CSGsport @WelshTriathlon pic.twitter.com/TnCf16btMb
— Coleg Sir Gâr (@ColegSirGar) May 12, 2022
“But we were also looking at new opportunities for competitive sport as well. With the popularity of triathlon, the duathlon was a good format to come up with.”
As a duathlon, rather than a triathlon, there were running and cycling elements, but with no swimming discipline included.
For the racers, the route involved a 5k run, followed by a 20k bike run, before a return to the running with a final 2.5k route to finish.
The taster Go-Tri event involved the same format, but with shorter distances.
For ColegauCymru, the challenge is to ensure students and staff in 12 member Further Education colleges across Wales have sufficient opportunity to be active and are encouraged to do so.
Around 50,000 students – around half the population in that age group – go to FE colleges as opposed to sixth forms.
One of the aims of the charity is that their projects are having a beneficial effect for the 4,000 to 5,000 of those learners, who are considered less active.
In fact, the overall picture for young people in that age group could be far more concerning for those anxious to ensure the benefits of healthy activity are enjoyed by all.
Thanks to @sportwales for highlighting the work we’re doing for #activewellbeing in FE. Our Multisport event in Pembrey is a great example of how learners and staff can benefit from being active 🚴🏃♀️
— ColegauCymru | CollegesWales (@ColegauCymru) May 25, 2022
“Up to 50 per cent of people who responded to a recent survey said they didn’t do any physical activity at all,” says Baynham.
“That’s quite a thing to say that someone at 16 has stopped doing physical activity.
“There is now a bigger picture, too, around what we call active well-being. It’s about trying to enable that connection between being active and young people’s well-being, in that age group between 16 and 21.”
That sounds straightforward, but is certainly not as easy as it appears.
There may be a whole host of social and economic reasons why certain young people cannot take up the offer of physical activity, while attitudes to formal offers of sport and physical recreation can be hard to predict.
“Our aim is to get the colleges to encourage young people to be more active,” says Baynham, who co-ordinated the duathlon project with Welsh Triathlon, Coleg Sir Gar, AoC Sport, Welsh Cycling, Carmarthenshire County Council and Pembrey Country Park.
“But it’s difficult when you are dealing with 16-year-olds who may have fallen out of love with PE or school sport. So, it’s about re-engagement.”
That takes consultation, particularly with teenagers who may have suddenly gone from a school environment, where some sport is a compulsory part of the curriculum, to one where it is voluntary.
“A few years ago, the students wouldn’t be consulted,” adds Baynham.
Massive massive thanks to all involved at FE Multisport today, @GarStretch and the staff @WelshTriathlon, everyone from @ParkPembrey @CSGsport @CSGBeActive @AoC_Sport and @ColegauCymru 250 participants in a fully inclusive duathlon event including FE staff and learners. pic.twitter.com/wEL5mCv2bs
— Rob Baynham (@RobBaynhamSport) May 11, 2022
“The netball, aerobics or yoga session would be scheduled, the teacher would arrive and then, perhaps, no-one would turn up.
“In the last few years, there is much more consultation from people the students can relate to. Those discussions will mean people are aware of the social challenges, other things going on in their lives.”
Time will tell whether those introduced to the simple pleasures of duathlon – both athletes and volunteers – will feel inspired to do more.
But with nearly 300 students and staff from Gower College Swansea, Cardiff and Vale College, Coleg y Cymoedd, Coleg Sir Gâr a Cheredigion and Bridgend College having taken part in the Go-Tri event, it is hoped plenty will have enjoyed themselves enough to give more activities a go this summer.