Triathlon Distances Defined

by | Updated: December 3rd, 2016 | Read time: 2 minutes

Q:   What are the different distances in triathlon?

Amy Marsh responds:

This is a great question as there are many different distances in triathlon to accommodate different skill levels.

People often ask us if we’ve done a full triathlon. My husband and I jokingly say, “Yes, we always do a full triathlon””we do the whole swim, the whole bike and the whole run.” But really, people want to know if we’ve raced the full Ironman in Hawaii, which is the most famous race. (And the answer to that is yes, we’ve both raced it, and I’ll be heading back there this October to compete!)

But there are actually a wide range of distances that can be raced in triathlon, from sprint races to the full iron distance.

Sprint distances vary from race to race but usually consist of a 750-meter swim, a 10- to 15-mile bike and a 5K run. Sprint distance triathlons are great if you’re just getting started in triathlons.

Olympic distance triathlons include a 1,500-meter swim, 40k bike and 10k run. These are the same distances in the Olympic Games, but in some non-Olympic races, drafting is allowed on the bike portion. This distance requires a good fitness base.

Half Ironman, which is also called 70.3 (with the number 70.3 referring to the total mileage of the race), includes a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13.1-mile run. I would recommend racing this distance once you have competed in a sprint distance or Olympic distance race.

A full Ironman consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run. You have 17 hours to complete the race. Train for this distance once you have had experience with shorter races and have completed a 70.3 event.

Most triathlons consist of swim, bike and run, but there are several variations to make it fitting for all ages and abilities to compete. For example, an aquathon consists of a swim and a run, while an aquabike consists of a swim and a bike; so if you’re injured or just don’t like one of the other sports, these might be great alternatives. There’s also a duathlon which consists of run, bike, run. This type of race is great for anyone who is a bit hesitant about the swim portion of a triathlon.

Although the Ironman is probably the most recognizable triathlon, there are thousands of triathlons of varying distances that take place year round and all over the world. Go ahead and give it a Tri!

Amy Marsh is a four-time Ironman champion, two-time IronDistance champion, and was named the 2010 USAT Long Distance Triathlete of the Year. Brandon Marsh has been competing in triathlons since 1988, and can be counted on to be a top-10 contender in every event he enters. Got a question about swim-bike-run or sports nutrition for Team Marsh? Email them at “˜Like’ them onFacebook  or follow on Twitter: Brandon @BrandonMarshTX and Amy @AmyCMarsh.