Born in the early 1970s at the San Diego Track Club, modern triathlon has grown enormously over a short period of time into a variety of popular formats.
There are now thought to be around 100,000 active participants in the UK alone, where it’s one of the nation’s fastest-growing sports. We’re not bad at it either: there are Brits on nearly every major international podium going.
However, one question often comes up for newbies – what are the different formats, what distances do they involve, and what’s a ‘good’ time to aim for? Don’t panic – we’re here to help and guide you through them, starting with the shortest format and going all the way up to Ironman racing.
What are the different triathlon distances?
Chrissie Wellington’s top ten lessons for triathletes
We’ll give you the times of the top elites for the various distances, and what a solid amateur (or ‘age-grouper’) time might look like – though, of course, this will vary a lot according to the individual, equipment and race chosen. It’s worth noting too that event organisers often tweak distances to suit courses and conditions.
Super sprint distance (400m swim/10km bike/2.5km run)
The super sprint is the shortest triathlon and is an ideal entry point for beginners looking to compete in their first triathlon.
Age-grouper times: if you’re looking for a good time in this format then aim for anything under an hour or around that mark.
Sprint distance (750m swim/20km bike/5km run)
The sprint is a fast-paced and frenetic race, but also a welcome step up from the super-sprint.
Elite times: Team GB superstar Jonny Brownlee won last year’s WTS Stockholm in a time of 57:31mins, while Sarah Groff (USA) won the women's race in 1:03:00.
Age-grouper times: If you aim for less than one and a half hours then you’re definitely gearing yourself for a good time.
>>> Nine tips to improve your triathlon times this race season
>>> Improve your sprint distance swim
Standard ‘Olympic’ distance (1.5km swim/40km bike/10km run)
Triathlon made its Olympic debut at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, and this distance has now been accepted as the ‘standard’ distance for World Triathlon Series racing.
Elite times: Britain’s Jodie Stimpson took gold at last year’s Commonwealth Games in a time of 1:58:56 over this distance, and Alistair Brownlee famously triumphed in the London Olympics with a time of 1:46:25.
Age-grouper times: When competing in a standard distance triathlon, anything under 3hrs would be a very solid time for an amateur.
Middle ‘70.3’ distance (1.9km swim/90km bike/21.1km run)
The middle distance, 70.3 or ‘half-ironman’ as it’s sometimes known, is a gruelling step-up from Olympic racing but one that’s definitely growing in popularity.
Elite times: This year's WTS champion Javier Gomez (ESP) won last year’s 70.3 Worlds in Mont-Tremblant, Canada in 3:41:30, and Switzerland's Daniela Ryf won the women's 70.3 title in 4:09:19.
Age-grouper times: It’s tough to argue what a good time is, as the longer distances depend largely on the race and the individual. However, for the age group 35-39, a good male time is around six hours, with an additional hour on top of that for females.
Long ‘Iron’ distance (3.8km swim/180km bike/42.2km run)
This is one of hardest one-day events in the whole of the sporting universe – just completing the distance inside Ironman’s 17hr cut-off is a massive accomplishment.
Elite times: Germany’s Sebastian Kienle won last year’s Ironman World Championship in Hawaii in 8:14:18 in tough conditions, and Mirinda Carfrae triumphed again in the women’s category with a time of 9:00:55.
Age-grouper times: Anything around the 13-hour mark for males aged 30-35 is a solid time, with an additional hour on top for females in the same age bracket. Getting under the 11hr mark deserves serious respect!
>>> How to predict your Ironman time
>>> Age vs Ironman: older, wiser, faster?
Do you agree with our target times? Let us know in the comments below!