Triathlon – what are the different distances?

In one of my earlier blogs I wrote about the origin of the distances of the “original” triathlon from the first triathlon competition in Hawaii. These distances are 2.4 miles for the swimming portion, 112 miles for the bicycle portion and 26.2 miles for the running portion. These are also the distances of the entire triathlon, also known as the Ironman. In addition to the distances of the Ironman, triathlon also has several shorter distances as well. In this blog I will give an explanation of the different distances in triathlon.

Triathlon distances

The table below shows the different triathlon distances for swimming, cycling and running. Further on in this article, an explanation is given for each triathlon variant.

Quarter triathlon / Olympic triathlon1,5 KM40 KM10 KM
1/2 Ironman / Ironman 70.32,5 KM80 KM20 KM
Sprint distance750 M20 KM5 KM
1/8 triathlon500 M20 KM5 KM
Mini triathlon250 M10 KM2,5 KM

Olympic triathlon / standard triathlon / quarter triathlon

Triathlon has been an Olympic sport since 2000. The Olympic distances of a triathlon are different from the distances of the original triathlon. Namely 0.93 miles of swimming, 24.8 miles of cycling and 6.2 miles for running. Today these distances are also referred as the “standard” distance by the International Triathlon Union (ITU). The reason for this is the fact that the Olympic name is a protected brand name of the Olympic Committee. In fact, the Olympic distance is actually a quarter of a triathlon, but then with 0.93 miles for the swimming portion instead of 0.62 miles.

Half triathlon / half Ironman or Ironman 70.3

When you talk about half a triathlon you automatically think of the same distances as half an Ironman. Namely 1.2 miles of swimming, 56 miles of cycling and 13.1 miles of running. Yet the distances between the half triathlon and the half Ironman are different. The distances of half a triathlon are 1.55 miles of swimming, 49.7 miles of cycling and 12.43 miles of running. The distances of the half triathlon are also seen as the “middle” distance. The half Ironman is also called the Ironman 70.3. The number 70.3 stands for the total mileage of the race.

Sprint distance / eighth triathlon / super sprint

The shortest distances in the triathlon sport take place in the sprint distance, the eighth triathlon and the super sprint. The distances of the sprint distance are 0.5 miles of swimming, 12.4 miles of cycling and 3.1 miles of running. The distances of the eighth triathlon are 500 meters miles of swimming, 12.42 miles of cycling and 3.1 miles of running. The distances of the half sprint are 375 meters of swimming, 6.2 of cycling and 1.55 miles of running. So this is exactly half the distance of a whole sprint.

Mini triathlon

In addition to all the above distances, there are also the “mini” triathlon distances. These distances usually have two variants: 100 meters of swimming, 5 km of cycling and 1.25 km of running or 250 meters of swimming, 10 km of cycling and 2.5 km of running. The first variant of the mini triathlon is intended for children from 8 years. The second variant of the mini triathlon is intended for children from 10 years.

What is drafting and in which distances in triathlon is this allowed or not?

Drafting can be explained as cycling close to your predecessor. You often see this in cycling races. In triathlon sports it depends on the distance of the race whether drafting is allowed or not. For example, drafting is allowed at the Olympic Games and therefore at the Olympic distance. Drafting is not permitted in the other triathlon distances. Thus, all the distances longer than the Olympic distance. This means that you have to keep a distance of at least 12 meters away from your predecessor. In this case, overtaking maneuvers must be carried out quickly and neatly. According to this, you could say that drafting is allowed in all the shorter race distances than the Olympic distance. However, in practice there are also short races in which drafting is not allowed. Thus, if you participate in a triathlon shorter than the Olympic distance it is always advisable to check whether drafting is allowed or not.

Why is the order of a triathlon 1. Swimming, 2. Cycling and 3. Walking?

This has to do with safety and the fatigue of a triathlete during and after each portion . Swimming is the first part in triathlon. If the cycling or running portion would be first during a triathlon, this will mean that you have to go swimming with tired legs. This can cause cramping and is therefore dangerous for a triathlete. For the same reason cycling is the second part in triathlon. If you first go running and then have to cycle with tired legs, you could fall because of the tiredness. Therefore, running is the last portion in triathlon. If you get exhausted while running you always have the option to go further on a walking pace. Thereby, falling of a bicycle will be much more dangerous than falling while running.

Triathlon distances for men and women

The competition distances in triathlon sport are the same for both men and women. There is no distinction made here. The competition forms in triathlon sport consist of separate competition forms for men and women as a mixed competition for both men and women as well.

A training schedule for your triathlon

Also curious what triathlon distances you are able to complete? Would you like to discover this, but don’t know where to start? Find more information on the triathlon coaching page.

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