The triathlon is often seen as one of the most challenging and grueling races out there. Considered by some to be its own sport, triathlons involve three long-distance sections, made up of swimming, cycling, and running.
Because of their length and the physical fitness required to complete them, triathlons can be quite daunting for the uninitiated.
But don’t worry – there’s no time like the present to learn more about these types of races! If you’re interested in competing in a triathlon or simply want to know a bit more about them, here’s a breakdown of some of the different types of triathlon.
What Is A Triathlon?
But first things first: what is a triathlon?
Triathlons are a type of race that is broken down into three different sports. Although there are several different types of triathlon and the distances of each leg of a triathlon may differ, they almost always have the same components.
To complete a triathlon, participants first need to complete a swimming section. Once this is done, they next have to race on a bicycle. Finally, the racers must finish a long-distance run.
These sections are completed one after the other, with a short rest period in between each part of the race.
Triathlons are renowned for their difficulty, particularly if the distances are extended (like in the case of an Ironman competition). People who sign up for triathlons typically train for months, if not years, before they are ready to compete.
What Different Types of Triathlon Are There?
As mentioned previously, there are several varieties of triathlon. The most common types are Olympic Triathlon (the usual point of comparison when looking at triathlons as a whole), Long Distance/Long Course Triathlons, Half Ironmans, Full Ironmans, and Sprint-Ironmans (also known as Sprint-Triathlons).
With most of these variations, their names are fairly self-explanatory. But to clear up any confusion, here’s a brief look at each kind of triathlon.
This triathlon, go figure, is the three-part race featured in the Olympic Games. That said, this challenge isn’t just reserved for Olympians. Although its length may be intimidating to amateur athletes, by practicing each segment separately and combined you’re sure to see your times improve quickly.
Long Distance (or Long Course) Triathlon
Longer than an Olympic Triathlon but shorter than a full Ironman, Long Distance triathlons are a great middle-ground for those building up to the big challenge.
To complete a Long Distance triathlon, you’ll need to put in plenty of training. With a combined distance of over 100km, this race is no joke.
A half Ironman is, predictably, half the length of a full Ironman. But make no mistake – there’s nothing half-hearted about this challenge. The full length of a Half Ironman comes to 70.3 miles (or 113.1km), which has led to its nickname of a 70.3 triathlon.
Despite only being half of a full Ironman triathlon, every section of this race is considerably larger than an Olympic Triathlon. And apart from the swimming section, they are also bigger than a Long Distance Triathlon!
Considered one of the hardest sporting challenges in the world, the Full Ironman is an absolute beast.
Coming in at well over 200km, a Full Ironman is over four times the size of an Olympic Triathlon. This challenge definitely isn’t for amateur athletes.
Completing an Ironman Triathlon will take months or even years of training and conditioning to reach an adequate level of fitness and endurance.
But if you put in the time and effort, you’ll have conquered one of the most notorious races on the planet. Just the bragging rights alone will make it worth it!
Although the name ‘Ironman’ is typically used for all triathlons of this length, Ironman is actually a branded name. The unbranded term is simply a Full Triathlon, although we’ll use the Ironman title for the sake of clarity when talking about half and full triathlons.
And What is a Sprint-Ironman?
As the name implies, a Sprint-Ironman or Sprint-Triathlon is a shorter and faster version of a full triathlon.
Like a regular triathlon, participants need to complete a swimming section, a biking section, and a run.
However, a Sprint-Ironman has sections that are much shorter than a standard Ironman or even a regular triathlon, and are intended to be completed a lot faster.
Don’t let their short length fool you though – Sprint-Triathlon competitions are still some of the most grueling challenges out there. While they are only a fraction of the length of a full Ironman, participants still need to travel a combined total of just under 26km (or around 16 miles).
Additionally, some Sprint-Triathlon races don’t include any transition times between parts of the race – while many triathlons let you have a short rest before continuing on to the next leg, the short distance of a Sprint-Triathlon can make this less necessary.
Because of their differing lengths, Sprint-Triathlon and regular triathlon competitions need completely different strategies and training routines. Just because someone can get a great time in a full or half Ironman, they may not be able to keep up in a Sprint-Ironman.
The same goes the other way, as someone who trains for sprinting might struggle with the endurance of a longer triathlon.
Different types of triathlon have different distances, in each section and overall. But while the total distance of a triathlon differs, the separate parts don’t always follow the same ratios.
Here we’ll go over the individual distances for each part of a triathlon, as well as the total, combined distance. This list will go from the shortest to the longest race in terms of total distance covered.
Rather predictably, Sprint-Triathlons are the shortest variety by a fairly large margin. In fact, they are only half the length of the next shortest, the Olympic Triathlon.
Sprint Triathlons consist of:
A 750m (½ miles) swim,
A 20km (12.4 miles) cycle,
And a 5km (3.1 miles) run.
The total length of a Sprint-Triathlon comes to 25.75km, or 16 miles.
As mentioned above, Olympic Triathlons are twice the length of a Sprint-Ironman.
As such, an Olympic Triathlon is made up of:
A 1.5km (0.9 miles) swim,
A 40km (24.8 miles) cycle,
And a 10km (6.2 miles) run.
This means that Olympic Triathlons come to a total of 51.5km, or 32 miles.
Long Distance Triathlon
Long Distance Triathlons are a great middle-ground for experienced athletes who want something more challenging than an Olympic Triathlon but still aren’t ready to commit to a full Ironman yet.
Continuing on with the trend of doubling lengths, a Long Distance Triathlon is twice the length of an Olympic Triathlon.
Long Distance Triathlons involve:
A 3km (1.8 miles) swim,
An 80km (49.6 miles) cycle,
And a 20km (12.4 miles) run.
This totals up to 103km, or just under 64 miles.
While the total length of a Half Ironman is only around 10km longer than a Long Distance Triathlon, the proportions have changed around a bit.
While both the bike and running sections of a Half Ironman are both longer than in a Long Distance Triathlon, the initial swimming section is actually shorter in a Half Ironman.
These sections consist of:
A 1.9km (1.2 miles) swim,
A 90km (56 miles) cycle,
And a 21.9km (13.1 miles) run.
The combined length of these sections comes to 113.3km, or 70.3 miles (which is where the name ‘70.3 Triathlon’ comes from).
Finally, the Full Ironman. With twice the length of a Half Ironman, this massive endurance challenge covers a monumental distance over its three sections.
Each part will put participants to their limit – the running section alone is much longer than an entire Sprint-Ironman, and isn’t that much shorter than a full Olympic Triathlon.
Full Ironmans consist of:
A 3.8km (2.4 miles) swim,
A 180km (112 miles) cycle,
And a 42.2km (26.2 miles) run.
The total distance of a Full Ironman is a whopping 226.2km, or 140.6 miles. This huge distance earns the Ironman its reputation as one of the hardest sporting challenges to overcome.
Average Sprint-Triathlon Times
As with any race, the goal for a Sprint-Triathlon is to complete it as quickly as possible. Predictably, a Sprint-Triathlon takes much less time to complete than a longer triathlon.
While many triathlons can take several hours to complete (the fastest times for a Full Ironman barely break 7½ hours, with the average being around 13 hours), experienced athletes can finish in less than an hour.
That said, the average time for a Sprint-Triathlon tends to be longer than this, and amateur athletes should expect to finish in around 2 hours.
When looking for the average times for a Sprint-Triathlon, it can be difficult to find any set results. Because triathlons are harder to regulate than most other sports, completion times can vary based on a couple of factors.
For instance, the weather on the day can have a drastic impact on your total time – like with any race, strong wind and rain can mean much slower times.
The environment can also be a factor in your speed, especially in the swimming and cycling section. Strong currents in the direction you’re swimming will give you an extra speed boost, while opposing currents will slow you down.
Meanwhile, the geography of the cycle track can have a big influence on your time. Lots of downhill sections mean participants will move much faster (as well as using less energy, which will help in the running section).
On the flipside, cycling uphill is slower and more exhausting, influencing the time of the entire race. Terrain that allows quick maneuvers and speed-building tricks also plays into how fast they can be completed.
With Sprint-Triathlons, these factors can lead to a much larger margin of time difference than longer triathlons, where a few minutes lost or gained here and there won’t make as big of an impact.
However, there are some general times you should be aiming for if you want to keep up with the average.
It’s tricky to narrow down Sprint-Triathlon average times by gender or age, but there are fairly consistent brackets for athletes based on their fitness and skill level. Depending on how well-trained you are, it should take you anywhere between 2 hours to just under an hour.
On average, a beginner triathlete will complete a Sprint-Triathlon in around 1 hour and 45 minutes. Breaking this down, the swimming should take 15 minutes, the bike section should take an hour, with the run making up the last 30 minutes. Anywhere between 1.5-2 hours should be the target for anyone attempting their first Sprint-Triathlon.
Amateur athletes who have put in a lot of training or completed a Sprint-Triathlon before will generally be looking at an average time of 1 hour and 15 minutes (broken down into a 10-minute swim, a 45-minute cycle, and a 20-minute run). These times are more likely to vary based on the individual and any external factors that may impact the race.
High-level and professional triathletes will frequently finish within an hour depending on the difficulty of the course. If you’re an experienced athlete who has put in plenty of training, you should aim for under an hour.
So now you know a bit more about the different types of triathlon, what they involve, and the distances of each part of each type. Not only that, but now you know the average completion time for Sprint-Ironmans, and what time you should aim for if you’re considering signing up.
No matter which type of triathlon you want to attempt, whether it be the short but tough Sprint-Triathlon or the grueling endurance challenge of a Full Ironman, you’ll need to put time and effort into training.
But when you complete your first triathlon, all that hard work will have paid off. And once you start, the only way is up. Keep on training and in no time you’ll be able to take on the toughest challenge and win the title of Ironman.