A triathlon is one of the hardest sporting events that most people would ever willingly sign themselves up for! A multidisciplinary endurance event, a triathlon requires entrants to perform in three grueling sporting events, one directly after the other.
They require mental and physical stamina of the highest order to complete – and to complete with a good time requires the athlete to be not just extremely fit, but determined and strong-willed too.
What exactly happens in a triathlon? What sports must an entrant perform in to compete? And just how did triathlons start? All of these questions and more will be answered in this handy article. Read on to find out more!
Although it is difficult to ascertain the precise origins of the triathlon, it is generally considered to have its origins in France sometime in the early twentieth century.
The earliest known record of such an event is from 1901, when an event called “Les trois sports” (The three sports) was advertised as taking place in a French commune called Joinville-le-Pont. Unlike a modern triathlon, this competition consisted of running, bicycling, and canoeing events.
This event continued to occur over the years, and seemed to be a staple of the French sporting calendar by the 1920s. Far from being a one-off, the event in Joinville-le-Pont was being held every year.
More like the modern triathlon which we know, canoeing was no longer a part of the competition by this point, having been replaced by swimming. Indeed, other similar events were held across the country.
By 1934, the “Les trois sports” event was moved to the seaport city of La Rochelle, the events including a channel crossing swim.
However, the modern incarnation of the triathlon was never formally codified in France – instead, the first event that most closely resembles the modern triathlon was held in Mission Bay, San Diego, on September 25th 1974.
This event was seemingly created without knowledge of any prior event held in France. It was at this event that the modern name “triathlon” was adopted – following similar names for multi-disciplinary sport events such as the pentathlon and decathlon.
As the name of course implies, a triathlon is a sports event that incorporates three different sports – swimming, biking, and running. Participants must compete in all events – after all, one can hardly be called a triathlete without competing in three sports!
Here you can find out a little more about each sport in the triathlon, and what participants must do to compete!
In modern triathlons, swimming is the first sport that entrants must participate in. This is due to the athletes inevitably becoming tired over the course of the event – for safety reasons, it’s best to let the athletes perform the swimming section first. Otherwise, severe accidents could easily happen to tired entrants!
As triathlon swimming often takes part outdoors in open water, participants must of course not just be strong swimmers, but must also be used to swimming outdoors.
They may have to contend with cold water, in which case they may wear wetsuits. They may also encounter waves in open water. Swimmers will often have to rely on navigation aids on the water such as buoys, as it can be difficult for them to keep track of their bearings on the open water.
Cycling is normally the second event in a triathlon. Of course, entrants will have to be strong cyclists – and after swimming, the leg muscles of participants have already taken a little bit of a beating!
The cycling event will often take place on normal roads – although it’s not uncommon for these roads to be closed for the duration of the event for the riders’ safety. In addition, it’s normal for cyclists to be forced to wear helmets during the event, to protect their heads in case of a fall or accident.
Finally, once the swimming and cycling events are completed, the athlete will move on to the final event – running. By this time, of course, the entrant has already been expending energy for a long period of time! Therefore, naturally, by this point the entrants are at their most fatigued.
It’s not uncommon for athletes to find this stage extremely difficult – after all, so much work must be put into the cycling and swimming events, that it is hard to see how any can be left over to run! Nevertheless, run they must – so, entrants must prepare extensively for this event, in order to actually have some energy reserves left for it!
Although the triathlon is of course a three sport event, the more serious entrants look on the transitions between events as a sort of “fourth event”. This is because important amounts of time can be lost or gained with clean or poor transitions between events.
Dedicated triathletes will treat the transitions between events extremely seriously, as triathlons can be won or lost here.
Particular focus will be spent on ensuring that equipment (such as bikes, helmets, wetsuits) is transitioned in and out of quickly. Athletes may also hydrate during some transitions, which is of course another extremely important thing for an athlete to manage.
Types Of Triathlon
There are many different types of triathlon, even despite the fact that they all use the same events!
Where they differ is usually in the length and difficulty of the events, and the expected skill level and athleticism of the participants. It’s normal for events to still be divided between serious and more casual contestants – although entering a triathlon at all can’t really be called a casual affair!
Here are a few of the different types of triathlon that are available to participate in!
Sprint triathlons are more entry-level events, As such, the distances involved are often shorter than in other triathlons. Nevertheless, even a smaller triathlon such as this is a serious event, and shouldn’t be taken lightly!
A sprint triathlon will typically include 0.5 miles of swimming, 12.4 miles of swimming, and 3.1 miles of running. However, these lengths can of course be modified – and often are, owing to the local terrain, roads, and water.
These are often the most popular triathlons, as they are more accessible for many – they don’t require such high levels of fitness or dedication as a longer event, such as an Ironman triathlon.
At the exact other end of the triathlon spectrum from the sprint triathlon, is the Ironman triathlon. These are colossal events take place over a combined 140.6 miles, and are composed of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 miles of cycling, and 26.2 miles of running.
Obviously, these sorts of events are extremely difficult, and aren’t for the faint of heart! They require an amazing amount of athleticism from participants, and must be prepared for extensively and carefully.
For those who are really intent on punishing themselves, there are even harder events, such as Ultraman events – which involve a 6.2 mile swim in the ocean, 261.4 miles of bike riding, and then a 52.4 mile ultramarathon!
Such massive events are too big to complete in one day, so they typically take place over 3 days. No wonder these events are limited to only the toughest and most athletic participants.
Triathlons are, of course, extremely difficult events – but for participants, the difficulty is all part of the fun! Hopefully this article has taught you a little about triathlons!