So, what distance is a triathlon you ask? Well, they actually come in many different distances. Read on to find out exactly how long each different race type is!
Different triathlon distances at a glance
|The Different Triathlon Distances|
|Super Sprint||400m (0.25 miles)||10km (6.2 miles)||2.5km (1.5 miles)||12.9km (8.01 miles)|
|Sprint||750m (0.46 miles)||20km (12.4 miles)||5km (3.1 miles)||25.75km (16 miles)|
|Olympic||1.5km (0.93 miles)||40km (24.8 miles)||10km (6.2 miles)||51.5km (32 miles)|
|Half Ironman/70.3||1.9km (1.2 miles)||90km (56 miles)||21.1km (13.1 miles)||113km (70.3 miles)|
|ITU Long Distance||varies race to race (view here…)|
|Full Ironman||3.8km (2.4 miles)||180km (112 miles)||42.2km (26.2 miles)||226km (140.6 miles)|
What is a triathlon?
Triathlon as it’s most commonly known today is a multisport event of swim-bike-run, one after the other, in that order.
The winner is the one with the fastest overall cumulative time for all three disciplines including transitions.
Triathlons have 2 transitions – swim to bike and bike to run, or T1 and T2 as they’re more commonly known.
For more about transitions and specifically T1 check out our T1 guide.
The different types of triathlons
Before looking in more detail at what distance a triathlon is, let’s first list the most common triathlon distances from shortest to longest.
- Super sprint.
- Half Ironman/ 70.3.
- Full Ironman
Roughly speaking the distances double for each step up.
What distance is a super sprint triathlon?
The distances for a super sprint triathlon are as follows –
|Super Sprint Triathlon Distances|
Super sprint triathlon is very short overall and across each of the three disciplines. It’s generally reserved for total beginners as an easy entry into the sport.
The short 400m swim will most often take place in a pool. This removes any requirement to purchase a wetsuit which is a big plus for first-timers.
The pool swim also removes the fear many beginners have about swimming in open water.
My own first venture into the world of triathlon was over this very distance.
All in all the super sprint triathlon distance is great for those looking to give triathlon a go for the very first time.
What distance is a sprint triathlon?
The distances for a sprint distance triathlon are as follows –
|Sprint Triathlon Distances|
Most seasoned triathletes consider the sprint triathlon to be the shortest triathlon race. Saying that though only the best are capable of completing this distance in under 1 hour!
The distances are pretty much double that of a super sprint. A great stepping stone from super sprint distance triathlon. Some sprints will even have a pool swim, however, most strive for open water.
None of the distances on their own are particularly long. This makes it a good option for those who don’t have a load of time to train. It’s also a good first-time option for those who are confident in their swim ability.
What distance is an Olympic triathlon?
The distances for an Olympic distance triathlon are as follows –
|Olympic Triathlon Distances|
The de-facto triathlon race distance. So-called as this is the distance over which triathlon takes place in the Olympic games.
Exactly double the distance of a sprint triathlon across all three disciplines.
Winning times will generally be in the region of just over 2 hours. However, the majority will be from 2:30 – 3:00hrs.
Estimate your Olympic distance time by doubling your sprint time and then adding around 5 – 10% to it.
A big step up from sprint. All distances are significant even on their own.
If completion is your only goal then training up to the distances for each leg will get you through (just about). Getting up to double each of the distances though will see you in much better shape.
Overall Olympic distance requires a decent amount of training to get through comfortably. At 2 hours for the quickest competitors, it going to be a significant endurance test no matter what.
What distance is a Half Ironman/ 70.3 triathlon?
The distances for a half ironman/70.3 distance triathlon are as follows –
|Half Ironman/70.3 Triathlon Distances|
Now we step into the realm of long-distance racing. Roughly double the distance of an Olympic race. Winning times are in the region of 3hr 45min for the very best in the world. For the rest, a sub-5hr finish is a highly sought-after achievement.
This event is often known as a 70.3 triathlon as it refers to the total overall mileage of the event.
Ironman itself is its own brand. Non-brand races run over the same distances are normally referred to as a half-iron distance triathlon.
The swim time to overall time ratio changes in the half-iron distance events. Whereas the bike and run are a bit over double that of an Olympic the swim is only around 26% longer.
This completely changes the dynamics of the race. Strong swimmers will see any advantage they had in shorter races significantly reduced and strong bikers come to the fore.
At 5hrs+ completion times, nutrition becomes a critical element. It plays a key part and becomes the difference between having a tough race or a horrible one.
A great triathlon distance to try before committing to full ironman distance racing. It will quickly highlight any weaknesses and areas you need to work on.
I recently completed my first half ironman in 8 years. Read about my experience here for even more insight into half-ironman distance triathlon.
What distance is an Ironman triathlon?
The distances for an ironman distance triathlon are as follows –
|Ironman Triathlon Distances|
For many, this is the pinnacle of triathlon. The ultimate goal to aim for. It’s become something of a phenomenon in all honesty.
An ultra-endurance event and generally speaking the longest of the triathlon distances. Exactly double that of a half ironman across swim bike and run.
The very fastest in the world are currently trying to break 7hrs 30mins for this distance. The majority of athletes though will finish around the 12 – 14 hour range.
As mentioned previously Ironman is a brand. Non-brand races run over this much longer distance are typically referred to as iron-distance triathlons.
The distances here for each discipline are extreme even on their own. Training for this distance takes a massive commitment of your time.
Nutrition plays a vital role at these distances. Getting it wrong makes it’s doubtful you’ll even finish. It’s simply too long to try and struggle through on empty.
Longer than iron distances races?
Yes, you did read that right! There are some for which ironman distance just isn’t long enough. Some have completed double, triple, quadruple, quintuple, deca, and double deca iron-distance triathlons. Check out this research study or this results table if you don’t believe me. Heck, I can barely believe it myself!
In case you’re wondering what double deca is well that’s just 20 iron distances in 20 days. Alternatively, you can get it over quicker as a continuous 76k swim, 3600k bike, and finishing off with a lovely 844k run. Are these people made of steel or something?
ITU Long Course triathlon distances
|The ITU Long Course Triathlon Distances|
|1||4k (2.5 miles)||120km (74.5 miles)||30km (18.6 miles)||154km (96 miles)|
|2||4k (2.5 miles)||120km (74.5 miles)||20km (12.4 miles)||25.75km (16 miles)|
|3||4k (2.5 miles)||120km (74.5 miles)||32km (19.9 miles)||156km (97 miles)|
|4||4k (2.5 miles)||130km (80.7 miles)||30km (18.6 miles)||164km (102 miles)|
|5||3k (1.86 miles)||120km (74.5 miles)||30km (18.6 miles)||153km (95 miles)|
|6||3k (1.86 miles)||80km (50 miles)||20km (12.4 miles)||103km (64 miles)|
|7||1.9k (1.2 miles)||90km (56 miles)||21km (13 miles)||113km (70 miles)|
|8||3k (1.86 miles)||136km (84.5 miles)||28km (17.3 miles)||167km (104 miles)|
|9||3.8km (2.4 miles)||180km (112 miles)||42.2km (26.2 miles)||226km (140.6 miles)|
Most other articles you’ll read will all state ITU Long Course triathlon distances as 3km swim, 80km bike, and 20km run. That’s simply not accurate.
The distances for the ITU long-distance triathlon world championships have varied over years. Since its inception in 1994, it has been run over 9 different distance formats (excluding course changes due to weather).
The most popular to date has been the 4k/120k/30k format having been run a total of 13 times. In comparison, the often-quoted 3k/80k/20k format has only been run twice in 26 years.
Other triathlon distances/formats
Some very different format triathlon has hit the scene lately. However, it’s only in the world of the pros so far. I imagine it staying that for some time as the fitness levels required are extreme, to say the least.
I’m talking about the super league triathlon. It blew my mind when I first saw it. Similar to the relay triathlon relay at the Olympics where you have multiple rounds of short-distance swim, bike, run.
The distances vary for different races but an example is the 3 * (300m swim, 3.6km bike, 1.6km run) used at the 2021 Malibu race. I’m exhausted just thinking about it!
A triathlon can honestly be any distance. Even the distances listed for a race are rarely entirely accurate in reality.
Don’t be too surprised if your local Olympic distance ends up being a 1.3k swim, 38km bike, 11.5km run.
Most will have the same kind of proportions though with the bike making up the largest portion of the race.
Having a lot of different distances is a good thing though. From a total beginner right up to a seasoned athlete, it gives a better chance of finding a distance that suits you. It also provides variety and excitement.
If you’re just thinking about doing your first triathlon I would say stop thinking and just go for it. It will honestly change your life, and only for the better. The health benefits of triathlon are beyond your wildest dreams in every way.
Take that first step, you won’t regret it.
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