“ONLY” A Sprint Distance Triathlon – Soapbox Time

images (29)A few weeks back at one of my Saturday morning open water swim practice I ran into an amazing group of women who were there as they were preparing for their first triathlon in a few weeks.  Of course I was piqued at their athletic backgrounds and what they had to overcome physically in preparing for their foray into my new found holy trinity.  I asked what distance they were doing and one of the girls got suddenly soft spoken when she responded, whispering to me “only a sprint distance triathlon“.    I was astonished that she was so afraid to admit that distance of a race.  It is still a triathlon, a major feat of accomplishment.   After further discussion I found out that both her husband and non-joining friends did not consider her participation in a sprint triathlon that big of a deal as it was nothing compared to the Iron Man race they had heard about on television.  I was instantly peeved with her friends and I spent the next ten minutes rebuilding her confidence about the difficulty of the feat she was undertaking (I found out later she put her husband in his place when he started to give her a hard time about her triathlon not being and iron man).  This hits home with one of my biggest perception issues in triathlon.. the dreaded effect Iron Man distance races have had on public perception of the sport of triathlon.

First off, do not get me wrong, I love watching and following the Iron Man race series through out the year and I respect the distance (secretly I think I might have to eventually try this distance at some point).  But triathlon is more than just this race, its a series of distances that require different skills and focus.  Every distance of triathlon in my opinion is truly an amazing feat to complete.

Lets look at the lowest of the distances, the sprint triathlon: 400-800 meter swim, 12-20 mile bike (12-14 is most common) and a 5k run.  This is often the first timers race as the distances look less threatening and more forgiving and often is completed in under three hours (seasoned triathletes often finish these in less than two hours).  The challenge in this race is not distance but speed.  Some triathletes like the speed and race pace of these events and never race longer distances.  This distance is way smaller than iron man and half iron man races and barely adds up to twenty miles if that (iron man races are 140.6 and half is are 70.3 total miles).  While the distances are short finishing a race of even this minimal distance is an accomplishment.

To put it into perspective think of this:  How many people do you know can swim continuously in open water 400-500 meters?  How many people do you know  can bike 12-14 miles?  How many people do you know  can run a 5k race distance?  Now think about the fact that a sprint triathlon is all three of these with a brief clothing change in the middle of each leg.  Realize that most people would balk at just completing one element of a “Simple” Sprint Triathlon.  It truly is not “just a Sprint Triathlon”, its a major accomplishment.

I just wanted to vent and get that off my chest, it bugs me so much when triathlon is instantly reduced to Iron Man and everything else.  All triathlons are difficult and require some level of training for most of us mortals.  As a triathlete, like most other triathletes I know, I respect all distances.  I have participated in three triathlons now and I can respect anybody that gives the time to complete any distance, large or otherwise.   Til next time.



  1. YAY. I’m with you, brothah!

  2. Yeah, I can see where you’re coming from, but… I hate to say it but I never respected the sprint distance either – it’s like an hour and twenty on a bad day. The Olympic distance gets a lot more respect because it has the word “Olympic” in it, but there are guys out there doing those in two hours… The sprints are meant as a stepping stone OR, as the name implies, as a sprint. Now, for the non-athletic just getting into endurance exercise, we’re talking a completely different language! In that case a sprint is a big deal, it’s huge! Anyone disparaging someone for putting in the effort, but “only” on a sprint, is a loser and shouldn’t be paid attention to anyway. The important point is not to give the jerks of the world free time in your head. Brother I catch hell for being slow from time to time, but I’m giving it all I want to give so I’m okay with their remarks. See what I mean?

    1. I actually disagree. I don’t think the sprints are considered or meant as a stepping stone. Just because they tend to be the first race beginners do shouldn’t make it any less of an event. That would be like saying those professionals who run 100 and 200 meter sprints are using those as stepping stones to 5K and 10K races. The sprint event is simply a race entirely on its own.

      As I’ve met more and more triathletes its rather rare to find someone who does both sprints and longer half and full events. Its not because these individuals consider one or the other to be better, its just a matter of what type of strengths they have. Some thrive on the red zone and pushing the ceiling while others thrive on the long aerobic hauls.

      I do however completely agree to not give others an ounce of thought as I’d imagine most haven’t done any of the above!

      1. IowaTriBob in Florida summed up my feelings and thoughts on this. There are quite a few triathletes that love long distance races, but there are also numerous triathletes that train for pure speed. I give big credit to some of these guys who finish with amazing fast times in these sprint distance races. Usually the podium is decided by seconds. I wonder if the Iron series of races has warped perceptions of triathlon into being about only the longest most grueling distances.

  3. […] “ONLY” A Sprint Distance Triathlon – Soapbox Time (chatterdoesfitness.wordpress.com) […]

  4. A sprint much more than the sum of its parts and can yield valuable lessons around pacing, nutrition, gear choices, and strategy. The knowledge I gained during my sprints prepared me to move onto the long course, and I still enjoy racing shorter distances – every race is a learning experience.

    1. My thoughts exactly.

  5. If it was only a sprint, why are the friends not doing it and when have they done any type of triathlon? My first tri this weekend and it is a sprint and I am very proud about it. I am using it as a learning experience as I go for a 70.3 in June 2014.

    1. Good point, I have done three so far in my inaugural year as a triathlete and every race has been challenging and special. Good luck this weekend and remember to stick to your game plan and have some fun. My second race was the more enjoyable one add I had less stress and a better idea if what to expect. Good luck.

  6. Good rant. Take a look at the books by Andy Holgate (on here as ironholgs). Should be able to get them on amazon. I’d love to read your version.

    1. The first triathlon book besides the Friel bible was Holgate’s book on his initial triathlon experiences. If you have time to look at my old posts, I have changed in allot of ways more than physicality. I am so confident now compared to back then. This is probably the biggest non physical change that has come from this adventure. Maybe one of these days I will tie up all the loose threads and put something out on line, maybe. I have been playing with this idea and think it would be fun to present a compressed view of my transformation off the couch. Thanks

  7. I agree Chatter…

    1. You definitely in for Ameilia?

  8. In related news….it is usually people who have never done a triathlon that make comments like that.

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  22. kruzmeister · · Reply

    I’ll join you on the soap box Chatter. I completely agree, any triathlon distance is to be respected and any person who attempts a triathlon of any distance should be respected even more. I am in awe every time I do a sprint tri at just how fast some people are, just as I am in awe of those who do Ironman because of how far they go. As you know I want to be an Ironman, but I will always remember my first triathlon (a sprint distance – 400n/15k/4k) and the feeling of accomplishment I felt, just like I did when I PR’d my time the following year. And I will continue to race them, even after I become an Ironman!

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