As in running, triathlon does not have any prescribed race lengths.

However, just as in running, there are also some competition formats in triathlon with fixed course lengths that have become established as a priority. For example, there is an "Olympic distance", which, as the name suggests, includes the course lengths that have to be completed at Olympic Games. And if in running the marathon is called the "supreme discipline", then in triathlon this applies to the "long distance".

This page describes the different competition formats in triathlon including the course lengths. You will also find out where to find the current dates of triathlon competitions.

The different distances in triathlon

First of all, there is a big difference between triathlon and running. While a marathon race must be measured exactly to the meter to be suitable for the best list, there is no such requirement in triathlon. Depending on the regulations, deviations of up to 10 percent are permitted in the three sub-disciplines. This of course makes an international comparison of best times difficult.

1) Long distance

  • Swimming: 3.86 km (= 2.4 miles)
  • Cycling: 180 km (= 112 miles)
  • Running: 42.195 km (=26.2 miles)

Austria eXtreme Triathlon

Apart from the Olympic Games, the focus in triathlon is on the long-distance events. This is because it is by far the longest and toughest of the regulated disciplines in triathlon (of course, there are also ultra distances with variable course lengths). Compared to the marathon race, the long distance is many times more demanding, because before the marathon there are almost four kilometers to swim and 180 kilometers of cycling to complete.

Well-known and major long-distance races

The long distance is also called IRONMAN in the linguistic jargon. The IRONMAN was a worldwide competition format of the WTC with numerous long-distance events on all continents of the world. The name is protected and may only be used by Ironman events.

The most famous triathlon race in the world is the IRONMAN Hawaii. It is the Ironman World Championships. Participation is only possible by qualifying through another Ironman.

Also well known is the CHALLENGE series, a competing format to the IRONMAN. With the Challenge Roth (Bavaria) one of the biggest long distance triathlons in the world takes place in Germany.

The fastest athletes cover this long distance in under 8 hours. During cycling there is basically a slipstream ban.


2) Middle distance

  • Swimming: 1.9 km (= 1.2 miles)
  • Bike: 90 km (= 56 miles)
  • Run: 21.1 km (= 13.1 miles)

IRONMAN 70.3 Kraichgau

 

In the middle distance, all three triathlon sub-disciplines lead over half of the long distance. After a 1.9-kilometer swim, there is a 90-kilometer bike course and a final half-marathon run. Here, too, a slipstream ban applies in principle.

The middle distance often serves as a transition discipline from the Olympic distance to the long distance. In contrast to the long distance, where more than two races per year do not make sense, several middle distance races per year can be completed. In principle, athletes also use participation in the middle distance in preparation for a long distance. However, it is equally a discipline that requires outstanding endurance and a lot of training effort. In addition, about two weeks of recovery after a middle distance race must be expected until targeted training is possible again.

Well-known and big middle distance races

The two competitors mentioned above have also secured locations worldwide over the middle distance. The races of the WTC are called IRONMAN 70.3. 70.3 indicates the total race distance in miles (1.2 + 56 + 13.1).

The Challenge Family calls its middle-distance races the "Challenge Half."

The fastest athletes need three and a half hours for the middle distance.

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3) Olympic distance

  • Swimming: 1.5 km
  • Cycling: 40 km
  • Running: 10 km

Hamburg Wasser World Triathlon

In the Olympic distance, the bike distance and the run distance are more than halved in contrast to the middle distance, but there is only a slight difference in the swim. However, there is no general slipstream ban. There are differences in the interpretation of the rules depending on the format of the competition. At the Olympic Games, for example, slipstreaming is allowed.

The Olympic distance is very suitable for athletes who do not want to/are not able to invest so much time in training. It also serves as an entry distance for longer distances. In the same way, the Olympic distance can be integrated into the preparation for a middle distance or long distance.

Famous and big middle distance races

Here, too, the WTC has its own format with 5150, although it does not enjoy nearly as high a status worldwide as the IRONMAN and IRONMAN 70.3 races.

The Hamburg Wasser World Triathlon describes itself as the world's largest triathlon race with around 10,000 participants. A sprint and a relay are also offered.

For a top place over the Olympic distance, a time of under two hours is a prerequisite. The Olympic distance is also known as the short distance.


4) Sprint and Super Sprint

  • Swimming: up to 0.75 km
  • Cycling: up to 20 km
  • Running: up to 5 km

There are no precisely regulated distances. The distances given above apply primarily to the sprint. In the super sprint, the three sub-disciplines are about half as long. The German Triathlon Association specifies the following lengths: 0.25 - 0.5 km swimming + 6.5 - 13 km cycling + 1.75 - 3.5 km running.

Whether sprint or super sprint, internationally these competitions have no status. They serve primarily as an entry competition into triathlon or as a transition from junior sport to adult sport. Sprint and Super Sprint are often offered within the framework of a triathlon event as a supporting competition. In the regional area, however, one or the other triathlon is also held where the sprint is the longest distance.


5) Other formats

Duathlon (Bike & Run)

In duathlon, swimming is omitted. Normally, you run first, then bike, and then run again. Unfortunately, the duathlon is a "dying" sport. For the most part, there are only duathlon competitions as a framework competition. A well-known duathlon format was the Powerman.

The long distance consists of 10 - 20 km cycling + 120 - 150 km cycling + 20 - 30 km running. However, there are almost no competitions of this. All formats in the Duathlon:

  • Long distance: 10 - 20 km running + 120 - 150 km cycling + 20 - 30 km running.
  • Middle distance: 10 - 20 km running + 60 - 90 km cycling + 10 km running
  • Short distance: 5 - 10 km running + 30 - 40 km cycling + 5 km running
  • Sprint: 5 km running + 20 km cycling + 2,5 km running

Most of the competitions are offered over the middle and short distance.

Aquathlon (SwimRun)

The Aquathlon is mostly offered as a framework competition or junior competition in the context of triathlon events. Typical formats for the Aquathlon:

  • 5 km run + 2 km swim + 5 km run
  • 2.5 km run + 1 km swim + 2.5 km run

SwimRun is a format with several stages of swimming and running.

Aquabike

Combination of swimming and cycling. There are very few of these competitions in German-speaking countries.

Crosstriathlon

Triathlon in the terrain. Instead of cycling on the course, there is usually an MTB course.

Crossduathlon

Duathlon off-road. Here, too, there is a switch from the bike to the MTB.

Winter triathlon

Swimming is replaced by cross-country skiing. The race starts with a run, followed by cycling and cross-country skiing.

Relay events

In many triathlon races relays are offered. Usually a team consists of three athletes, where one athlete each completes a sub-discipline.

Children's triathlon

Junior triathlons do not have fixed distances. Mostly they go up to the super sprint distance, but shorter distances are also possible, such as 50 meters swimming + 1,000 meters cycling + 400 meters running. The distances are adapted to the age groups.


Summary: All triathlon distances

DistanceSwimBikeRun
Long Distance
3,86 k 180 k 42,2 k
Middle Distance
1,9 k 90 k 21,1 k
Olympic Distance
1,5 k 40 k 10 k
Sprint 0,75 k 20 k 5 k
Super-Sprint 0,5 k 10 k 2,5 k

 

Triathlon distance at IRONMAN: 3.86 km swimming + 180 km cycling + 42.2 km running

Triathlon distance at Olympics: 1.5 km swimming + 40 km cycling + 10 km running

Triathlon distance in Hawaii: 3.86 km swimming + 180.2 km cycling + 42.2 km running (Ironman Hawaii)

More Marathon:

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