Triathlon distances: Every race format explained

We explain the five recognised triathlon distances you can race, from the shortest, the super sprint, to the full-distance Ironman

Pro female triathletes run into the water at the start of a race

If you’re new to triathlon or are thinking about your first race, you may be confused by the different triathlon distances. There are five recognised triathlon distances in the sport. These are:

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How many different triathlon distances are there?

There are five traditional triathlon distances that are recognised by most people that take part in the sport. These are:

  • Super-sprint-distance triathlon
  • Sprint-distance triathlon
  • Olympic-distance triathlon (also known as standard distance)
  • Half-Ironman-distance triathlon (also known as 70.3 or middle distance)
  • Full Ironman-distance triathlon

What are the different triathlon distances?

How long is a super-sprint triathlon?

  • 400m swim
  • 10km bike
  • 2.5km run

The super sprint is the shortest triathlon distance and a great entry point to triathlon, giving you the chance to experience the three disciplines together without having to put in hours of training. Finish one and you’ll be a triathlete!

What’s a good time for a super-sprint triathlon?

Anything under 1hr and you’re flying. Plenty of beginners just aim to have fun at this triathlon distance, and aim to complete rather than compete, so enjoy!

How many training hours do you need to complete a super-sprint triathlon?

Training for a super sprint can easily integrate your general fitness throughout the week. Generally, you should do at least one session of each discipline every week and think about doing that for about two to three months.

General sessions or classes around these sports will help improve your overall fitness and conditioning and are worth adding in.

How should you split your super-sprint training between the disciplines?

If you have good general fitness, you can get away with one to two sessions per week per discipline. If you’re coming from a lower level of general fitness, consider incorporating one to two swim, bike or run sessions and adding general fitness classes, too.

You’ll find that they support your triathlon endeavours and are sociable. As you get closer to the race, try doing a short (5min) run off your bike to help you get used to that feeling of swapping from one discipline to the next.

How long is a sprint triathlon?

  • 750m swim
  • 20km bike
  • 5km run

Often the shortest triathlon distance option at many events, but still a decent race to get under your belt. This triathlon distance gives you the chance to really experience triathlon, so you’ll need to incorporate tri-specific skills such as brick sessions into your training.

What’s a good time for a sprint triathlon?

Come in under 90mins and you should feel chuffed.

How many training hours do you need to complete a sprint triathlon?

This is an intensive racing distance but a manageable challenge. You should be able to complete a sprint-distance triathlon with a little bit of training in each discipline – totalling about 4-6hrs per week. This shouldn’t impact your life too much, but you will be training close to once per day.

Training can be done effectively through the week, so it’s ideal for busy people or those who don’t have much availability at the weekends to train. Training should start about three months out from a race.

How should you split your sprint training between the disciplines?

An ideal week would include two swims because a fast or comfortable swim can help you. You should also do one to two bike and run sessions. Try doing a run off the bike as you near the event.

General swim, bike and run training (club sessions are great for this) with up to three months of focused work is plenty of training. With a good fitness level, you won’t need much more to get around.

How long is an Olympic-distance triathlon?

  • 1.5km swim
  • 40km bike
  • 10km run

Triathlon made its Olympic debut at the Sydney Games in 2000, and this distance is now accepted as the ‘standard’ distance for World Series racing.

What’s a good time for an Olympic-distance triathlon?

Under 3hrs is a really solid time. At the elite level, Alistair Brownlee famously triumphed at the London Olympics with a time of 1:46:25 at this distance.

How many training hours do you need to complete an Olympic-distance triathlon?

Spending about 2-3hrs on the bike can help your fitness carry over to the other multisports and prepare you for the duration of the triathlon. However, this may begin to impact your training balance with life.

Give yourself a little more lead time for a standard-distance event (about three to five months) to build the training slowly and reach a higher fitness level.

How should you split your Olympic-distance training between the disciplines?

Swimming takes up proportionately more time than the longer events. Therefore, swim two or three times a week. If you can do the same for cycling and running, that’d be the ideal with one of those run sessions post-bike.

How long is a half-Ironman triathlon?

  • 1.9km swim
  • 90km bike
  • 21.1km run

You might also hear the half-Ironman distance referred to as ‘middle-distance triathlon’ or a ‘70.3’. The half-Ironman distance triathlon is a gruelling step-up from Olympic distance triathlon and a decent challenge that more triathletes are taking on.

What’s a good time for a half-Ironman triathlon?

Race times are very individual and the course can play a big part. But, for the 35-39 group, a good men’s time is approx 6hrs, 7hrs for women.

How many training hours do you need to complete a half-Ironman triathlon?

Training for a middle-distance event at the faster end is similar to a standard-distance race with two exceptions: your long run needs to be a little longer, and your longer bike needs to be 2-4hrs. Otherwise, the general sessions will be similar. Therefore, training will impact your life and you must plan carefully throughout your day and your week. You should follow a middle-distance training plan which lasts five to six months.

How should you split your half-Ironman training between the disciplines?

Racing a middle-distance event puts a much bigger emphasis on the bike and run than the swim. For many age-groupers, this is a blessing! Nonetheless, you will need to swim about twice weekly and then prioritise the bike before the run.

Bike fitness can carry over more easily into swimming and running without the risk of injury; additionally, if you’re strong on the bike, you’re more likely to run closer to your best time.

You may still have a poor run if you’re a good runner and don’t put the bike miles in, so it’s worth putting in three to four sessions on the bike and three run sessions per week. We’d also advise at least one strength and conditioning session per week.

How long is an Ironman triathlon?

  • 3.8km swim
  • 180km bike
  • 42.2km run

Also referred to as long-course triathlon or a 140.6, Ironman races typically represent the longest triathlon distance around. Complete one of these and you’d be justified in spending the rest of the year sat in the pub, telling anyone who’ll listen about your chafing.

What’s a good time for an Ironman triathlon?

Just completing the distance within the 17hr cut-off is a massive accomplishment! But anything around the 13hr mark for men (30-35) is a solid time; 14hrs for women. Getting under the 11hr mark deserves serious respect!

How many training hours do you need to complete an Ironman triathlon?

Because of the sheer distances involved, you need to allocate occasional ‘big weekends’. This can impact family life. You should discuss these goals with those closest to you.

Most people stepping up to long-course training must allocate 10-12hrs per week. You must find the time to do the important big sessions. These will vary through the season but could be century (5-7hr) rides and longer runs (~2 hours). Allocate six to eight months.

How should you split your Ironman training between the disciplines?

You must consider how close to the cut-offs you may be. You might have to be strategic on the swim and the bike to give yourself the best chance to get to the start of the marathon. The cut-offs are usually at 2:20hrs for the swim and 10:30hrs for the bike.

For many people, the marathon becomes less of a run and more of a shuffle. Strength and conditioning, focusing on posture and core strength, can help stave off injury. You should have one rest day a week with bigger training sessions at weekends (or big scheduled weekends).

You can do your shorter and more intensive sessions throughout the week. Aim to do 2-3 swim sessions, two bikes, and two runs on the weekdays and a longer bike and run at the weekend.

Which triathlon distance should you race?

The good news about triathlon is whichever distance you decide on, you’ll still be taking on a decent challenge, and whether you come first or last the sense of accomplishment will stay with you forever.

There are also many varied races out there, but with just six hours a week to train you can comfortably complete a triathlon.

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Top image credit: World Triathlon