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It feels like an eternity since we last zipped up our tri suits and racked our bikes but the good news is that race season is fast approaching – and we can’t wait. Before we get as excited as someone buying a new bike (the pinnacle of excitement!!) there’s just a small matter of what events and crucially what distance to undertake.

For those new to the sport, or who need a refresher after such an absence on the start list, here’s our guide to all the distances to hopefully help you pick the best one suitable for you.

 

Super Sprint Triathlon

400m swim | 10k bike | 2.5k run

The very shortest format of triathlon racing and a brilliant starting point for anyone setting out on their triathlon journey. The training definitely doesn’t have to take over your life and the race itself generally will take less than an hour to complete. If you can swim, cycle and run individually then just put them all together and you’ve got yourself a triathlon.

Many Sprint distance triathlons also have a super-sprint event running alongside them so it also gives you something to aim for if you wish to pursue your new triathlon life. Just because it’s called a triathlon, don’t think you have to have all the gear for your first event either, your favourite swim kit will be fine in the pool, any road-worthy bike will be okay and you can even walk the 2.5k run if you’re struggling. It’s all about challenging yourself and getting to the finish line with a smile. Cross that line and you’ve become a “triathlete” for life.

Best tip – if it’s your first ever triathlon then just enjoy the occasion and don’t put any pressure on yourself. It will be a PB (personal best) time whatever happens so just keep smiling.

 

Sprint Triathlon

750m swim | 20k bike | 5k run

A favoured distance amongst all ages and one where it gets a little more competitive, if you want it to. Roughly double the distance of super-sprint it means you have to be a little more tactical about conserving your energy if racing fast but it’s also a distance that is achievable for the majority of people. Even over this distance, many triathletes will have a favoured discipline they look forward to the most. The good news is that the one you like the least won’t last too long before you move on.

These can take place in a pool or open water depending on the time of year and location. They’ll generally take place in the start of the triathlon season (April/May) and throughout the summer.

Best tip – practice transitions as this is where time can crucially be lost. Remember where your bike is racked and think methodically when changing. Remember the bike helmet is always first before touching your bike.

 

Olympic / Standard Triathlon

1,500m swim (open water) | 40k bike | 10k run

Doubling the distance again and this is where endurance plays a more serious part as even the world’s best elite triathletes (like the Brownlee’s) take just under 2 hours to complete an Olympic Triathlon. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy this distance though as it’s a genuine challenge for triathletes at all levels and one which newcomers can still test themselves at. Again, training for this distance doesn’t have to take over your life but it will require some open water swim training and you being comfortable with being able to ride for over an hour as well as run a 10k.

Due to this distance featuring in the Olympic Games (hence the name) and featuring on the World Triathlon Series, it’s no surprise this is one of the most popular distances. It attracts age groupers looking to improve on their previous times as well as those new to the sport so it’s a great mix and great opportunity to pick up some tips.

Best tip – walk through the transition areas to see where the mount/dismount lines are. That way you’ll avoid any penalties on race day and know exactly where you can jump on and off your bike.

 

Middle Distance / 70.3 / Half IRONMAN

1,900m swim | 90k bike | 21.1k run

Taking anywhere up to 8 hours (sub 4 for the pro’s!!) to complete the three disciplines, this is where things require more planning to achieve your finish line goals. Completing a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and half marathon is not something to be undertaken lightly and although it can be done as your first triathlon, many work their way up through the distance before tackling this one so as to gain experience and understanding of the sport. Generally the bigger/longer the distance then the more rules there are and the greater potential for things to go wrong.

That’s not to say this isn’t an achievable distance but it does require a training plan and working on specific disciplines to ensure you achieve the most from your race experience.

Before entering this distance it’s worth considering the environment of where to race. If you’re not a strong swimmer then it’s worth looking at lake swims to eliminate any rough seas conditions that could hamper your day and likewise if you’re not good on hills or live somewhere flat then choose a race with a similar profile to play to your strengths.

This distance also relies heavily on the fourth discipline – nutrition. This is something that’s well worth practicing in training as can be the difference between starting and a DNF, which no one wants.

Best tip – learn to pace yourself and stick to a plan. Races like this are never won on the swim or early on the bike but is a test of endurance so best to finish strong and looking good for the finish photo.

Long Distance / 140.6 / IRONMAN

3,800m swim | 180k bike | 42.2k run

Most commonly referred to as IRONMAN, the common misconception is that you’re not a real triathlete unless you’ve completed an IRONMAN event. Nothing could be further from the truth but it does take a certain sort of person to subject themselves to anything up to 17 hours of racing.

Ask anyone on the street about this distance and they’ll probably acknowledge that a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike is pretty long and extreme but it’s when you add the marathon run (walk or shuffle) on the end they suddenly realise the full extent of just how tough this distance is.

There’s no shame in saying this distance is not for everyone and speak to any coach or experienced triathlete and they would ask you to question yourself as to why you want to tackle this distance. It definitely wouldn’t be advised as your first one if you’re new to the sport as it requires a huge amount of discipline, training and commitment just to get to the start line. You’ll also need plenty of support from friends and family along the way and so undertaking a long distance triathlon shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Best tipif you make it to the finish line then savour every second of it as these are moments you’ll remember forever, no matter what state you’re in. You’ve earned the right to be there and there’s no better feeling in triathlon than this.

 

Aquathlon

If you’re not a keen cyclist, or dare we say it looking to do a multi-sport event on the cheap, then this is the event for you. Minimum kit needed (swim suit, goggles, running shoes, shorts and shirt) but still lots of fun and no need to clean your bike after or pack it in the car.

Distances can vary but expect to find anywhere between a 200m and 1k pool swim followed by a 5k to 10k run so it also won’t take up a huge amount of your time. They often take place early in the season as a way to test your winter training and prepare you for the season ahead but also during the British summer months when the sea water is warmer. 

Best tip – don’t worry about counting lengths in the pool as a race official will be assigned to your lane and will dip a float in when you’ve only got 2 lengths to go.

 

Duathlon

Run. Bike. Run. Speak to any triathlete and most will say that swimming is their weakest discipline so the beauty of duathlon is that there’s no swimming to worry about at all. Just a run, followed by a bike then a final run to the finish. These can taker place on or off-road and vary in distance although the most popular ones are 5k/20k/2.5k or a 10k/40k/5k distance.

Best tippractice brick sessions where your training involves two disciplines (bike and run) back-to-back. This will help your body adapt to changing between different sports quickly. 

 

Aquabike

A relatively new format but gaining in popularity, particularity amongst competitors who may have a running injury and still want to do an event or simply if you don’t enjoy running. Although they don’t have an established distance like in triathlon the format remains of a open water swim followed by a cycle.

Best tipchoose a location you’ll be most comfortable in as conditions vary greater between the sea and lake. If possible also try to get some training from swim to bike in as it will make the event more enjoyable on the day.

 

We hope this has helped explain a few things and if craving some race action then we suggest heading over to British Triathlon where you’ll find all their officially permitted events across the country.