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’ triathlon 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.
We’ll give you the triathlon 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.
Age-grouper triathlon times: If you aim for less than one and a half hours then you’re definitely gearing yourself for a good time.
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: Alistair Brownlee famously triumphed in the London Olympics with a time of 1:46:25, while USA’s Katie Zaferes achieved a speedy 1:52:12 in Yokohama in 2019 on her way to the ITU world title.
Age-grouper Olympic triathlon 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: Marten van Riel’s time of 3:26:06 at the 2022 Ironman 70.3 Dubai sits atop the list of the best pro times for a middle-distance event, while Laura Philipp‘s 3:53:02 from the same race is widely accepted as the best time for a woman.
Age-grouper triathlon 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: Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt set a new Ironman record at Ironman Cozumel in November 2021 with a 7:21:12, though this was with a current-assisted swim. Jan Frodeno, meanwhile, completed Challenge Roth in 7.35.39 back in 2016. Brit Chrissie Wellington holds one of the fastest times in the women’s category with her 8:18:13 at Challenge Roth in 2011 still looking good.
Age-grouper triathlon 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 long is a women’s triathlon?
Women race over the same distances as men race in triathlon. While many male and female age-groupers will post similar times, women competing against men at the very top of the sport are likely to see times slightly behind their male counterparts.
In each section above, we’ve broken down triathlon times for both men and women, depending on the distances.