Triathlon Distances Guide: Every Type Of Triathlon Explained

A triathlon is a race that consists of three consecutive sports. You start off with a swim; once you are out of the water, jump on your bike for a road ride, and finish off with a run.

All this sounds pretty tough, but there are different triathlon distances to suit your fitness level and ability. This gives you a chance to start relatively small and build up to longer triathlon distances.

Race SwimBikeRunTotal
Arena Games200m x33km x31km x312.6km
Super League 300m x34km x31.6km x317.7km
Super Sprint 400m10km2.5km12.9km
Sprint750m20km5km25.75km
Olympic1.5km40km10km51.5km
70.31.9km90km21.1km113km
Ironman3.8km180km42.2km226km

In this post, we will dig into the details of triathlon distances, including:

  • Triathlon distance adjustments
  • Super Sprint Triathlon
  • Sprint Triathlon
  • Olympic Triathlon
  • Half Iron Man
  • Iron Man
  • Other triathlon events to look out for

Are you ready to see how far you can go?

Triathlon Distances Guide Every Type Of Triathlon Explained

Triathlon Distance Adjustments

You will have to set your training plan according to the triathlon distance and your fitness level. But one thing that is often overlooked is the location of your triathlon.

The distances don’t always take into account the area’s topography and weather conditions. But some triathlon organizers will modify their triathlon distances to account for how hilly the local geography is.

If you train at sea level, on flat ground, and your race is in the mountains, you will notice a considerable difference in the effort required. Therefore, you need to adjust your training to ensure you can complete the distance in an unfamiliar landscape.

Super Sprint Triathlon

If you are new to multisport races, a super sprint triathlon is a great one to start with. This is the shortest of the triathlon distances and is considered an entry-level race.

A super sprint triathlon starts with a 400m swim, followed by a 10km bike ride and a 2.5km run.

As a super sprint has short distances, they usually take place in and around a swimming pool. The swim will be 16 lengths of a 25m swimming pool, followed by a set bike and running course.

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The super sprint distance is good for beginners, as it is an excellent introduction to triathlon. As the swim is in a pool, you don’t need a wetsuit or have to worry about open water swimming, which can be intimidating.

If you are not ready to cover the distances of a sprint triathlon, you can build up to it. For example, if you have a couple of willing friends, you can do your triathlon as a relay race. Therefore, you only have to do one leg each.

Alternatively, you can start with a duathlon, which is usually a bike and a run.

Sprint Triathlon

Another of the entry-level triathlon distances is the sprint. This distance is for slightly fitter people who want to do a longer race than a super sprint. The sprint is often the most popular of the triathlon distances, but you won’t find a sprint option in long-course events, such as an Ironman competition.

A standard sprint triathlon starts with a 0.5-mile swim (750m), a 12.4-mile bike ride (20km), and a 3.1 mile (5km) run. But sometimes, the sprint triathlon distances are adjusted to suit the local roads and terrain.

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Olympic Triathlon

An Olympic Triathlon can sound very intimidating, but it is an excellent event to keep you focused on your fitness.

Olympic triathlon distances are double the length of sprint triathlons. So your swim will be 0.93-miles (1,5km), the ride 24.8-miles (40km), and the run is 6.2-miles (10km).

The official Olympic triathlon distance was formalized at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. However, these long distances were around for a very long time before this.

If you are new to triathlons, Olympic triathlon distances are a considerable jump up from a sprint. Sprint triathlons can be completed within an hour or two. But most people take over three hours to complete an Olympic triathlon.

To ensure you can complete an Olympic triathlon, you need to be highly dedicated to your training. You obviously need to work on the best techniques for the three sports. But you also need to improve your speed, strength, and endurance to reduce your likelihood of injury.

70.3 Triathlon

The next longest of the triathlon distances is the half-ironman. This is also known as the 70.3 event, as this is the total distance in km covered during a race.

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A half-ironman starts off with a 1.2mile (1.9km) swim, followed by a 56-mile (90km) cycle and a 13.1-mile (21.09km) run. The run is actually a half marathon distance to put it into perspective.

Many people consider the 70.3 as the perfect triathlon distance. This is because they are not as arduous as a full Ironman, but they are still great tests of speed, endurance, and willpower.

However, half-ironman triathlon distances are a great stepping stone, and preparation, for a full Ironman. But you need to significantly increase your training to ensure you are fit enough to go for the big one.

You will find that the majority of Ironman races are exclusively 70.3 races. If the event encapsulates both Ironman triathlon distances, most people will enter the 70.3.

An elite or professional triathlete will race a 70.3 at a pace that most people do a sprint triathlon. A great example of this is when Jan Frodeno completed the 2018 70.3 in South Africa in the fastest time ever recorded.

He completed the race in 3 hours, 36 minutes, and 30 seconds. To do this, he ran 5.05-minute miles, which is impressive when you think of the swim and cycling distances he did beforehand.

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But you don’t have to smash world records. Most amateur triathletes complete their 70.3 in between 5 and 6 hours. However, if you don’t have much time to train, you can expect to do your half-ironman in around 6, 7 hours, or more.

Ironman Triathlon

A full Ironman is regarded as the ultimate of all the triathlon distances. Many triathletes aspire to be able to complete an ironman, let alone be competitive.

The first Ironman took place in Hawaii in 1975, and it has continued to evolve ever since. Now it is an iconic event held in various locations around the world.

But the world ironman championships are still held in Kona, Hawaii, every October. To make it to Kona, you need to qualify in your age group, but it is regarded as one of the most challenging triathlon courses in the world.

Ironman triathlon distances start with a 2.4-mile (3.8km) swim, a 112-mile (180km) ride, and a 26.3-mile (42,195) run. Yes, you need to run a full marathon to finish your full Ironman!

The fastest Ironman time was 7 hours, 40 minutes, and 23 seconds. This was achieved by Tim Don in 2017. However, many people take 10 to 12 hours to finish, but most competitors cross the finish line way after the clock has ticked past 12 hours.

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Over the years, some Ironman events have added extensions to the triathlon distances. An example of this is the Ultraman, which also takes place on Kona.

However, not everyone can enter the Ultraman, as the field is limited to 40 competitors. 

The race consists of a 6.2-mile (10km) open water swim in the Ocean, a 261.4 mile (421km) bike ride, and an Ultramarathon distance of 52.4-miles (84km). This brings the Ultraman to a total length of 320-miles (515km, which takes 3 days to complete.

Related: Aero Bars Buyers Guide: The 6 Best Aero Bars For Your Bike

Other Triathlon Events To look Out For

With the popularity of triathlons increasing every year, race organizers have come up with new formats. These formats open triathlons to spectators in a different way. Here are the main two you may want to check out:

Super League Triathlon

The Super League adds to the list of triathlon distances by creating a short and exciting race format. Each race starts with a 200m swim, followed by a 4km bike ride and a 1km run.

As you can expect from these short triathlon distances, races are adrenaline-fueled and gripping to watch. This is helped by the fact that the competitors are among the best in the world.

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You can expect Olympic athletes and world champions going head-to-head.

However, the competitors don’t just complete the distance once. They race the course several times but with varying formats each time.

SLT Arena Games

The SLT Arena Games bring a very up-to-date format to racing triathlon distances. This format combines triathlon and e-racing to create an exciting indoor competition.

This format uses the same triathlon distances used in the Super League Triathlon. Racers also complete the course several times, but they will do each sport in a different order.

The swim is done in a pool, the bike ride is on a turbo trainer, and the run is on a self-propelled curved treadmill. But what brings the format into the modern world is that bike and run take place in Zwift.

If you are unaware, Zwift is a virtual world where you can run and ride with other people around the globe. This means you can watch SLT Arena Games online and see the competitors Avatars race each other.

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Now You Know All About Triathlon Distances

Hopefully, you will see that triathlon is more accessible than you thought with this information. You don’t have to start with a long distance, but you can start small and work your way up as your fitness improves.

If you want to improve your fitness on your bike, check out the blogs below:

Spin Class Guide: What Is Spinning, Format, Benefits Of Spinning

FTP Test: What Is Functional Threshold Power

How To Cycle Faster: 9 Tips To Speed Up

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and good beer. More at his bio.

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