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How Far Is a Triathlon?

   May 23rd, 2018   Posted In: Articles   Tags:

Whew, How Far Is a Triathlon?

Everyone has seen the “IM” logo – you know, the Ironman logo – and you may be wondering, “are all triathlons considered an Ironman? Or are all Ironman events a triathlon?” Hang on, we have a lot to cover here, and I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. First thing is first: Triathlon events vary in distances; from a “smaller” (using this term VERY loosely) event, totaling 14(ish) miles – also known as a “sprint triathlon,” to a “larger” (not using this term loosely at all) event, totaling 140.6 miles – can also be referred to as a “Full Distance.” We will be covering four popular distances. All-in-all, the triathlon covers many distances – Sprint, Olympic, Half, and Full distances. There’s something for everyone. The order, you ask? Swim first, followed by biking, followed by a run. Three events (swim, bike, run) make up a triathlon, hence the “tri.” So, how many miles is a triathlon? Let’s find out!

The sprint distance is typically an athlete’s first triathlon experience. A sprint typically begins with a 300 yard pool swim OR a 750 meter open water swim. Why the different ranges? Two big factors are location and athlete count. The bike portion usually falls between 10-15 miles, again, depending on the race. The standard 5k running race rounds out the sprint tri, but this number can fluctuate a bit.

how far is a triathlonThe Olympic distance is a standard distance that combines three popular Olympic distance events: 1.5km swim, 40km bike ride, and a 10km run. This is a great distance for those looking to challenge themselves past that sprint distance or for someone who is well trained in at least 2 of the 3 disciplines, again craving an additional challenge that the sprint cannot offer to them.

Let’s skip over the Half for a minute and jump straight to the Full distance triathlon. Also known as the Ultra distance to many people! The people who complete a full distance are certifiably crazy!  All jokes aside, these are the athletes that are committed to competitive triathlons. The Full/Ultra triathlon: 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and a full marathon (26.2 miles)! Which gives the grand total of 140.6 miles. Yes, now it all makes sense…now you finally know the reference to the 140.6 bumper stickers. Most of your non-elite athletes will complete the full triathlon in 12 to 13 hours, with many events allowing athletes 17 hours to finish before closing the course.

Which brings me to the Half distance. You guessed it! The Half distance is exactly half of the full. A 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and half marathon (13.1 miles). Giving the Half triathlon the total distance of 70.3 miles. Ever see one of those stickers? Keep an eye out, you’ll definitely see a few of those stuck on cars.

Speaking of stickers…that brings me back to the beginning of this article – the Ironman event. Yes, we have come full circle. To make this as simple as possible, I will give this analogy that hopefully everyone can understand. You know that all Rock –N – Roll Marathons are in fact, marathons, but not all marathons are a Rock – N – Roll marathon event. Rock – N – Roll is the corporation that owns the rights to the ginormous Rock – N – Roll marathon event series. That is exactly the Ironman, but in triathlon form. All Ironman events are triathlons, but not all triathlons are an Ironman event.

An Ironman Triathlon is defined as “one of a series of long-distance triathlon races organized by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) consisting of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2-mile (42.2 km) run, raced in that order and without a break. It is widely considered one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world” (to quote the dictionary). By completing an Ironman 140.6 (full) tri, vs. a non-Ironman 140.6 (full) tri, you simply have earned the bragging rights to call yourself a true “Ironman” as well as one of those fancy stickers. Or an “IM” logo tattoo. To me, branded or unbranded, finishing a sprint, an Olympic, a half, or a full distance triathlon makes you a total badass. Or, makes you crazy. Either way, you’ve earned that sticker.

How far is a triathlon? The straight answer here is that it just depends on the type of triathlon. Whether you’re looking for competing in something small or in something more challenging, you have options!

Adam Himmelwright is a swimmer that started competing in triathlons as a way to get back into shape. In the 2009 Nations Triathlon, Adam swam the swim portion in a relay triathlon. That propelled him to competing solo. Eight years and numerous tri's later, he is living the triathlete lifestyle.

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