Triathlon 101… The Basics

I thought I would do a quick post basically explaining triathlons.  I have some readers who are awesome motivationalists that exercise for other reasons than to swim/bike/run.  I thought I would throw together a quick post explaining the basics of triathlon so readers of my blog who fall into that non-triathlon influence will have a basic understanding of triathlons. I have not competed yet, but I am training and motivated to do my first next March and a a few more the remainder of the summer.  This commitment has forced me to stay motivated and focused.  So here is what I find to be the basics of what triathlon is and some considerations. If I have left anything out, leave a link or comment.

Basically a triathlon is an endurance race consisting of swimming, biking and running (in that order).  There are offshoots such as duathlons which encompass running, biking and running (in that order) and aquabike races which are swimming and biking.  The triathlon is composed of transitions in between the swimming and biking and the biking and running legs.  Time is kept throughout the entire race, so time for transitions takes up clock time as well as the time to complete all three disciplines.  So time is measured from the start of the swimming to the end of the run.  The big differences that can be confusing is the distances of the races and the naming  of the races.

Triathlons can be simply broken down by distance groupings:

Super Sprint – This is a derivation of the next grouping.  It is basically the smallest triathlon event.  The distances are the median and not always set in stone.  This is made to be a quick triathlon and not many are held each year.

  • Takes less than 2 hours
  • 100-200 meter swim
  • 6 mile bike ride
  • 2.5  mile run

Sprint – The most common triathlon distance event.  There are numerous planned races in every state through out the summer at this distance.

  • Most common and often raced distance.*
  • Takes 3 hours or less to complete
  • 500 Meter swim
  • 12 mile bike
  • 5k run

Olympic or International – Named after the distance used for the Olympic games, this distance has very little variance so distances are usually set in stone.

  • 1.5 K swim
  • 40 K bike
  • 10 k run
  • Second most popular distance race.*

Half Iron/Half Steele 70.3 race.  This is often referred to as an half iron race, but the owner of the ‘Iron Man’ name have buckled down on other races using the word ‘iron’ to describe this race distance.  But a 70.3  distance race almost always is broken down the same.  This is popularized by the “Iron Man” races, but newer races have started to have races at this distance.

  • 1.2 mile swim
  • 56 mile bike
  •  13.1 mile run (half marathon)

Iron Man/Steel 140.6 race. This was popularized by NBC and is considered the stand out triathlon race in most peoples minds.  This distance is ran through out the summer in various places world wide, but the championship in Kona Hawaii is often what most people remember.

  • 2.4 mile swim
  • 112 mile bike
  • 26.2 mile run (marathon)


Macca and Crowie.

This is the basic distance break downs of races. All races fall into one of these categories based on distance.  What is interesting even more is who is racing in these races.  According to a study commissioned by USAT (the Triathlon ruling body in the USA) in 2009 found  the bulk of triathlons were raced by men in their late 30’s into their 40s and usually were in higher income brackets working white collar jobs.  Triathlons can be done on the cheap, but often cost participants quite a bit of money.   If you get a chance you should glance over some of the statistic highlighted here, its fascinating seeing how everything breaks down in the survey.  Speaking of higher ages for the top athlete, in Iron Man championships in Kona, the top two male competitors are 39 years old, Craig Alexander (Crowie) and Chris McCormack(Macca).  Here is an infographic from Tri magazine that breaks down the triathlon community.

Click to go to article and full size image.

So, I think that is a pretty good, basic summation of what a triathlon entails and some basic demographic/numbers surrounding triathlons.  If you decide you want to try one, a sprint or super sprint is the way to go.  I have found few people spend more than a few months training for this distance.  This is the distance I am currently training for and based on my fitness levels in May, I am glad I gave myself a good window of time to train in (10 Months with 5 months left to go). If I forgot anything or you want to add anything please leave it in the comments. Til next time.


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