triathlon distances

Triathlon Distances

Triathlon is already an all-out and all-inclusive endurance sport. It consists of swimming, cycling, and running. But sport variations for triathlon races don’t stop there. To cater to athletes of different skill levels, ages, and preferences, triathlon also comes with various distances that you should be able to conquer if you want to move forward.

On this blog, we’ll introduce you to the different types of triathlon distances, including their demands and requirements, so you can prepare yourself for your next race, improve your tolerance and skill level, and complete your overall triathlon journey.

Types of Triathlon Distances

Triathlon distances are defined by distance, time, and activities involved. Short triathlon distances can take approximately an hour to complete—or even less, depending on the capabilities of the participants and the obstacles in the way. Long-distance triathlons, meanwhile, can take 17 to 24 hours—a whole day full of challenges.

Here are the different types of triathlon distances offered by local, national, and international organizations:

Super Sprint Triathlon

Super Sprint triathlon, often called mini-triathlon, is for entry-level athletes or first-time triathletes. The standard distribution of length for Super Sprint triathlon is 400-500 meters for swim, 10 kilometers for bike, and 2.5 kilometers for run. That makes a total of 12.9 to 13 kilometers. Super Sprint triathlon lasts between 45 minutes to an hour.

Since Super Sprint triathlon races only consist of short distances, they usually make use of swimming pools with a length of 25m x 16m. These environmental conditions are more accessible for beginners since they don’t have to practice and compete in open water. Some organizations don’t even require wetsuits.

Super Sprint triathlon is your best option to enter the world of competitive triathlon. But if you wish to have more practice and experience, you can first compete in duathlons or endurance competitions that consist of biking and running, relays, or three-person competitions where you can choose to compete in one leg of the race.

Sprint Triathlon

A Sprint triathlon is another good option for amateur triathletes, but it’s still a decent race that you can add to your accomplishments and experience since it can already give you a full triathlon experience with a 750-meter swim, 20-kilometer bike, and 5-kilometer run for 1 to 2 hours. If you race competitively, Sprint can look like a standard triathlon.

The swim part of a Sprint triathlon is usually hosted in small, open bodies of water, like a river or a lake. Some organizations host Sprint in the sea but provide barriers and other safety measures.

Sprint triathlon is the best distance for elite juniors preparing to reach the under-23 level and the best training opportunity for competitive amateurs. Unlike Super Sprint and other short-distance triathlons, Sprint may require amateurs to already incorporate tri-specific skills like brick training into their routine.

Standard / Olympic Triathlon

Standard or Olympic Distance triathlon should be an amateur’s first real triathlon race. It consists of a 1.5-kilometer run, 40-kilometer bike, and 10-kilometer run—a total of 51.5 kilometers. In a nutshell, it’s a short and intense triathlon perfect for competitive amateurs and professionals. A Standard or Olympic triathlon can last between 1 hour and 45 minutes to 4 hours, depending on the participant’s skill level.

The combination of distances for Standard triathlon was created by longtime triathlon race director Jim Curl in the mid-1980s. Triathlon made its Olympic debut at the Sydney Games in 2000 using the format of the Standard triathlon, so the distance is now globally recognized as the standard distance for the World Triathlon Championship Series (WTCS) and other World Series.

Standard or Olympic triathlons are usually held in venues and locations that can offer a real challenge and incorporate tri-specific skills. Here, you can compete in large open bodies of water, mountains, and other challenging locations. It’s the best option for amateurs who want to go pros and for professionals preparing for Ironman triathlons.

World / ITU Long-Course Triathlon

The world or ITU long-course triathlon has a total of 102 kilometers, broken down into a 2-km swim, 80-km bike, and 20-km run. These events covering the 102-kilometer distances are hosted annually and internationally by the World Triathlon (not to be confused by the World Triathlon Corporation of the Ironman).

The distance is a total upgrade from a Standard or Olympic Triathlon but nearly as challenging as Ironman 70.3 with 113 kilometers. As such, this distance is perfect for amateur and elite athletes preparing for their first Ironman.

Ironman 70.3 / Half Ironman Triathlon

Ironman 70.3, Half Ironman, or middle-distance triathlon is your introduction to elite triathlon races. This option is a massive step-up from the standard distance triathlon and a decent challenge to take on if you really want to be a professional triathlete. It’s a primer for the ultimate triathlon race.

Ironman 70.3 and other variations of Ironman triathlons are exclusively hosted by the World Triathlon Corporation and the IRONMAN Foundation, an organization that hosts multi-sports events and supports athletic communities across the globe. The ‘70.3’ in each Half Ironman triathlon event refers to the total distance required to be completed by the participants. Each Ironman 70.3 consists of various races totaling 70.3 miles or approximately 113 kilometers: 1.2-mile (1.9 km) swim, 56-mile (90 km) bike ride, and 13.1-mile (21.1 km) run.

On average, participants can complete an Ironman 70.3 triathlon race in 6 hours. Elite and competitive participants can complete it in less than 6 hours, depending on their training, nutrition plan, and athletic skills.

Ironman 70.3 is already one of the most demanding triathlon races in the world, so only elite, professional, and advanced triathletes are recommended to participate and compete in one.

Ironman Triathlon

The original Ironman triathlon remains today the most grueling and demanding one-day triathlon race in the world. It is a race over a 2.4-mile (3.8 kilometers) swim, 112-mile (180 kilometers) bike, and 26.2-mile (42.2 kilometers) run. The Ironman event became a tradition and a competitive event after the success of the first Ironman on the Hawaiian island of Oahu in 1978. It started as a bet between swimmers, cyclists, and runners.

Most Ironman events have a limited time of 16 or 17 hours, depending on the designated rules per country or region. The race typically starts at 7:00 in the morning. The cut-off time for the swimming part is 2 hours and 20 minutes, while the cut-off time for the cycling and transition is between 10 hours and 10 hours 30 minutes.

Ironman events are open to elite and amateur athletes. Amateurs, however, are required to have proper training before competing and transitioning to long-distance triathlons. Ironman conducts annual events globally, so new and returning athletes can participate anywhere in the world.

Distance Length Per Discipline Duration
Super Sprint Triathlon 400-500m swim

10 km bike

2.5 km run

 

12.9 to 13 kilometers

45 minutes to 1 hour
Sprint Triathlon 750m swim

20km bike

5km run

 

25.75 kilometers

1 to 2 hours
Standard / Olympic Triathlon 1.5km run

40km bike

10km run

 

51.5 kilometers

1 to 45 hours to 4 hours
World Triathlon / ITU Long-Course Triathlon 2km swim

80km bike

20km run.

 

102 kilometers

4 to 7 hours
Ironman 70.3 / Half Ironman Triathlon 1.9km swim,

90km bike

21.1km run

 

113 kilometers

5 to 8 hours
Ironman Triathlon 3.8km swim

180km bike

42.2km run

 

226 kilometers

16 to 17 hours

 Which Triathlon Distance is Right for You?

Choosing the proper triathlon distance for your skill level and athletic form can be hard, especially if it is your first official race as an athlete. Distance alone is not the only factor you should keep an eye on, a professional triathlete should also consider the nutrition plan, time management, and training system for the race.

The general recommendation for first-timers, according to experts, is to first compete in short-distance triathlon races like the Super Sprint or Sprint triathlon. These races will help a newbie triathlete get familiar with competing in large groups. Depending on your performance and experience from these short-distance races, you can now easily decide whether triathlon is a sport or activity you want to invest your time, money, and effort into.

If you wish to become a professional or an active triathlete, you can start training for long-distance races like Olympic, ITU, or Half Ironman. You can participate in these races after a couple of months of successful training. Keep in mind that it’s important to stay injury-free while completing rigorous training sessions and transitioning from Sprint triathlon to long-distance races.

Aside from our reminders and the standard requirements of these triathlon races, you need to personally assess your training and competition readiness before you push yourself to try longer distances or start competing in any triathlon races. Identify your skill level and current fitness level. Knowing your capabilities can prevent injury and map out your goals.

To give you an idea, refer to the table below for the summary of all triathlon distances mentioned here and the minimum fitness level you should have if you wish to compete.

Distance Fitness Level Requirements Training Duration
Super Sprint Triathlon Can swim competitively for 150 to 200 meters non-stop

 

Can cycle for 15 to 20 minutes with a speed of 20 km/h (12.5 mph)

 

Can run straight for 10 minutes without walking

2 months
Sprint Triathlon Can swim competitively for over 200 meters non-stop

 

Can cycle for 20 minutes with a speed of 20 km/h (12.5 mph)

 

Can run straight for 10 minutes without walking

2 to 3 months
Standard / Olympic Triathlon Can swim competitively for 800 meters non-stop

 

Can cycle for an hour with a speed of 22 km/h (roughly 14 mph)

 

Can run straight for 40 minutes without walking

3 to 4 months
World Triathlon / ITU Long-Course Triathlon Can swim competitively for 700 to 800 meters non-stop

 

Can cycle for an hour with a speed of 22 km/h (roughly 14 mph)

 

Can run straight for 40 minutes without walking

6 to 8 months
Ironman 70.3 / Half Ironman Triathlon Can swim competitively for 1 kilometer

 

Can cycle and complete a 50-km course between 2 hours to 2 hours and 20 minutes

 

Can run competitively in a 15-km course with minimal walking

6 to 8 months
Ironman Triathlon Can swim competitively for 1.5 kilometer

 

Can cycle and complete a 100-km course between 4 hours and 20 minutes to 4 hours and 30 minutes

 

Can successfully complete a half marathon with minimal walking

9 to 12 months

Alternatives for Triathlon

If you’re still getting the hang of triathlon and endurance sports in general, you can try other disciplines before you dive into the competitive world of triathlon. Alternatively, these other disciplines and endurance sports can also improve your specific athletic skills, overall tri-skills, and transition skills. Here are some multi-sport alternatives to classic triathlons newbies can try:

Duathlon

Duathlon only covers two land sport disciplines: biking and running. Without the exhausting swimming portion of the race, you can focus all your energy on land. Although Duathlon only has two disciplines, it similarly follows the format of triathlons with a running leg, a cycling leg, and another running leg. Duathlon also has various categories and distances for athletes of all levels, such as Sprint, Powerman, Standard, Middle, and Long.

Aquathlon

Aquathlon also covers two disciplines on land and water: swimming and running. It’s an accessible multisport if you want to improve your athletic skills on water while improving your running speed and form. Some of the globally recognized formats of aquathlons include Olympic, Half Ironman, and Ironman.

Bottomline

Triathlon and other multi-sport competitions are demanding activities that require physical, mental, and emotional effort. Before you participate in this kind of activity, make sure that you’re fully ready to face the obstacles before, during, and after each competition. Furthermore, make sure that you have sub-goals and one specific, main goal as you take on this long journey as an athlete. Pick your next triathlon distance wisely.