Ironman is the most famous triathlon race, but fortunately for us triathletes, full distance triathlons are far from being the only one. They count only for ~3% of all races in the world.
Triathlon races are categorized by their distance to make them more comparable.
You can find below the most common triathlon distances. It doesn’t mean that all races will follow exactly those measures, but they will not be far off.
|Name||Swim||Bike||Run||Also Known As|
|Ironman||2.4 mi||112 mi||26.2 mi||140.6, XXL|
|Half Ironman||1.2 mi||56 mi||13.1 mi||70.3, L|
|Olympic||0.93 mi||24.8 mi||6.2 mi||Standard, M|
|Sprint||0.47 mi||12.4 mi||3.1 mi||S|
|Super Sprint||0.25 mi||6.2 mi||1.6 mi||XS|
IRONMAN TRIATHLON DISTANCES
The distance of an Ironman triathlon is 2.4 mi swim, 112 mi bike, and 26.2 mi run. A triathlete with a few years of training can expect to finish an event of this distance in 13-15 hours on a flat course.
It is important to know that Ironman is a triathlon brand and a lot of triathletes associate the long distance triathlons with the name Ironman. However there are plenty of other brands (like Challenge family) who are also providing this format.
The two most famous races with this format are:
- the Ironman World Championship, held annually in Kona, Hawaii. It is considered the holy grail for some triathletes. The entrance to this world championship event is done through qualification, which happens at other Ironman races during the year.
- the Challenge Roth, with its 260,000 spectators along the course. If you would like to register, you will need to be blazing fast. The event is sold out within seconds after the opening of the registration period.
If you are interested in this distance, check out my article Ironman Distances where I go more into details about each of the sports.
HALF IRONMAN TRIATHLON DISTANCES (a.k.a 70.3)
The distance of a Half Ironman triathlon (or other brands) is 1.2 mi swim, 56 mi bike, and 13.1 mi run. In his first few years of triathlon, a triathlete can expect to complete a half Ironman event in about 6 to 6h30 on a flat course.
Being the first distance considered a long course triathlon, the half distance is a real challenge. If you wonder what the nickname 70.3 means, it is simply the total number of miles of this race.
Plan your event well in advance. You will not only be better prepared, but you will also save a significant amount of money.
Ironman is also organizing a World Championship for this distance. Contrary to the Ironman distance where it is every year (except once) at the same place, the half Ironman is held annually in a different location and generally not twice in a row on the same continent.
If you are interested in this distance, check out my article Half Ironman Distances where I go more into details about each of the sports.
OLYMPIC TRIATHLON DISTANCES
The distance of an Olympic triathlon is 0.93 mi swim, 24.8 mi bike, and 6.2 mi run (or 1,5km swim, 40km bike, and 10km run). Taking a beginner triathlete about 3 to 3.5 hours to complete, an Olympic distance triathlon is a big test of endurance.
If you have ever watched the Olympic Games, this is the distance the pro athletes are doing. The men finish it generally in under 2h and the women slightly above this 2 hours mark. The big different with the amateur races is that the pros are allowed to draft on the bike. If an amateur is doing it, he would receive a penalty.
Three races really stands out for this triathlon distances:
- Noosa Triathlon (Australia) which is the biggest Olympic Distance event in the world that I know of (> 4,000 finishers without counting the relay teams)
- Escape from Alcatraz (United States) which is famous for its swim start adjacent to Alcatraz Island
- Alpe d’Huez Triathlon (France) where you need to climb the Alpe d’Huez during the bike section. Easy, right?
If you are interested in this distance, check out my article Olympic Triathlon Distances where I go more into details about each of the sports.
SPRINT TRIATHLON DISTANCES
The distance of a Sprint Triathlon is 0.47 mi swim, 12.4 mi bike, and 3.1 mi run. A beginner triathlete can expect the event to last 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours.
If you look at some pro triathlons on TV, you can expect to see faster times (around 50 min). The big difference is that those events include drafting in the bike portion (athletes can save energy by being near each other).
It is a great distance for beginners or for triathletes who want to race full gas from the start to the finish.
If you are interested in this distance, check out my article Sprint Triathlon Distances where I go more into details about each of the sports.
SUPER SPRINT TRIATHLON DISTANCES
The distance of a Super Sprint triathlon is 0.25 mi swim, 6.2 mi bike, and 1.6 mi run. A beginner triathlete can expect to complete this distance in about an hour.
If you think about starting triathlon, I highly suggest registering for one Super Sprint as soon as possible. The faster you are doing one, the less pressure you will have. Also, many of those are in pools, which can help if you have some fear of open water swimming.
I was training for my first triathlon (a Sprint event) when I had the opportunity to register spontaneously for a Super Sprint triathlon the next day. It didn’t let me too much time to think about it 🙂
If you are interested in this distance, check out my article Super Sprint Triathlon Distances where I go more into details about each of the sports.
OTHER TRIATHLON DISTANCES
There are also Ultra triathlons for the triathletes who think that a full distance triathlon is not challenging enough. They are generally a multiple of a full distance triathlon: double (2x Full), triple (3x Full), and Deca (10x Full)
Contrary to road races, cross triathlon distances can vary significantly from one race organizer to another. They consist of an open water swim, a mountain bike course, and a trail run course. Here are two popular distances.
|Standard||0.6 mi||13.7 mi||5 mi|
|Sprint||0.3 mi||6.8 mi||2.5 mi|
When on the road Ironman is the biggest triathlon brand, on the cross triathlon side XTERRA is the biggest player. They have races all over the globe.
For learning more about Cross Triathlon, read my article The Basics Of Cross Triathlon: Distances, Gears And Races
As you can see, there are enough distances in triathlon – sure, there is one for you!