One of the first surprises for someone who decides to swim, bike, and run their way to the end of a triathlon is that there are actually different distances available to race. Any completion of such an event series is impressive, but there are four primary types of triathlons for participants to complete: sprint triathlons, Olympic triathlons, half triathlons (also known as half-Ironmans), and full triathlons (also known as Ironmans). Each triathlon increases in length, respectively, for every leg, for instance, going from a 5k run for the sprint distance to a full marathon for the marathon.
While there are shorter distances than the sprint triathlon, the distance of the sprint triathlon is the fastest growing and most popular distance for beginning triathletes. This race involves a 750 meter swim (approximately .47 miles), a 20 kilometer bicycle (approximately 20.4 miles), and a 5 kilometer run (approximately 3.1 miles). Because of the shorter swim distance, the water legs of the sprint triathlon are sometimes held in the pool, and the distance can be shortened to a 400 meter swim.
The Olympic distance is also known as the “standard” or “international” distance, and is the distance most frequently raced internationally. In addition, it is considered the Olympic distance based on its inclusion in the Olympic Games. For the Olympic distance, the swim is 1.5 kilometers (.93 miles), the biking portion is 40 kilometers (24.8 miles), and the run is 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). The Olympic distances are twice as far as the sprint distances.
While the sprint distance is half of an Olympic triathlon, the half triathlon distances are half of the full, or Ironman, distances. The half triathlon, also known as “middle distance” triathlons or “half-Ironmans,” is composed of a 1.9 kilometer swim (1.2 miles), a 90 kilometer bike ride (56 miles), and a half-marathon (21.09 kilometers or 13.1 miles).
The full triathlon, known worldwide as the Ironman, is one of the most grueling athletic events regularly enlisting competitors. Those who complete an Ironman have swam 3.8 kilometers (or 2.4 miles), biked 180 kilometers (112 miles), and finished off the race by running a complete marathon (42.2 kilometers or 26.2 miles).
Triathlon competitors should feel extremely satisfied with a completed attempt at any race distance. But for those that catch “Tri-fever” and truly come to love this type of race, competitors should remember that they can go further and faster for as much as they’d like to train.
U.S. Triathlon, www.ustriathlon.org. Accessed 4 August 2009.