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What Are the Types of Triathlons?

   August 2nd, 2023   Posted In: Articles   Tags:

Types of Triathlons

Whether you’re a couch potato in need of some motivation or an experienced athlete looking to push your limits, competing in a triathlon might be just what you need. But, of course, you want to know what you’re signing up for. How long does a triathlon last? The short answer is: it depends! There are several race options that appeal to different fitness levels and abilities. When choosing your first tri, you should also take into consideration how much time you can devote to training.

But we’re here to find out what types of triathlons there are. So here it is… Below are the four common types of triathlons. (The distance covered gets longer as you progress from one to the next.)


The sprint distance is great for those new to triathlons. Sprint races involve a 750 meter (0.465 mile) swim, a 20 kilometer (12.5 mile) bike, and 5 km (3.1 mile) run. Many triathletes start with a sprint race and are quickly pulled into the tri lifestyle. If that happens to you, you may want to move on to the next distance, but you can also stick to sprints. You can work towards a goal like improving your time or finishing in the top five of your age group!

types of triathlons

Olympic Triathlon

If you are interested in a longer race, look for an Olympic triathlon, also known as the “international distance”, “standard course”, or “short course”. The distances are double that of a sprint tri: a 1.5 kilometer (0.93 mile) swim, a 40km (25 mile) bike, and 10 km (6.2 mile) run. Fun fact: although races of this distance have been done since the 1970s, triathlon only became a recognized Olympic sport at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia (Source: Olympic.org).

Half Triathlon

Next is the Half triathlon. This is sometimes called a 70.3 triathlon for the total mileage covered during the race. The Half involves a 1.9 kilometer (1.2 mile) swim, a 90 km (56 mile) bike, and 21.1 km (13.1 mile) run.

Go Big or Go Home – Full Triathlon

The final step in the triathlon journey is the Full triathlon. This epic event requires participants to complete a 3.8 kilometer (2.4 mile) swim, a 180.2 km (112 mile) bike, and a full marathon of 42.2 km (26.2 mile). You may hear people refer to both the Half and the Full distances as “Half-Ironman” or “Ironman” triathlons. Keep in mind that Ironman is a brand, and official Ironman races are those organized by the World Triathlon Corporation. There are many other Half and Full triathlons offered around the world, and completing any race at those distances is a great accomplishment, whether “Ironman” is in the name or not!

If you’re exhausted just reading about a Full triathlon, don’t give up hope! There is a new tri trend that may be right for you. Recently, “mini sprint” triathlons have become more popular as introductory races for people new to the sport. There is no official distance for these races; the only requirement is that they are shorter than a traditional sprint tri. In general, mini sprints feature swims of less than one mile, cycling courses of less than 15 miles, and runs under 3.1 miles (Source: Livestrong.com).

With all of the race options available, which one will YOU choose for your next challenge?!

Shop our triathlon wetsuit selection here.




Editor’s Note

This post was originally published in 2019 and has since been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Kathryn is a cyclist at heart, but got hooked on triathlons about 10 years ago, and enjoys helping newbies prepare for their first race. Kathryn’s professional background includes non-profit management, marketing, and more recently, editing and writing. She loves to travel – she and her husband lived in the Netherlands for several years. They’re back in the U.S., but are always planning their next European adventure!

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  • Evon says:

    What are the types of triathlons where a different person completes a single disciine….essentially a 3 man team. Each person on the team does the part at which they excell.

    • Elizabeth Werdnik says:

      Hey Evon! I believe you are thinking of triathlon relays, where a team of three athletes completes a leg of the race each. These might be organized locally for you to partake in! There’s even the ITU Triathlon Mixed Relay World Championships, though in those races a team of four (two women and two men) complete a super-sprint distance triathlon each. Cheers!

  • Amber says:

    How do you recommend someone train for a sprint or mini sprint triathlon? If I can compete this will be my very first race. I’m not even sure where to start or where I can compete. I’d love to hear any advice you have. By the way, I’m in the USA. 🙂


    • Elizabeth Werdnik says:

      Hi Amber! Congrats on taking on the challenge of a triathlon. Check out https://www.mytimetotri.com/ to learn more about triathlons, how to get started on a training plan, find races in your area, and connect with a coach and/or community to help you along the journey. Best of luck!

  • TJM says:

    This post really isn’t accurate. An Olympic distance triathlon is a “full” triathlon. The Ironman distance is non-standard and is no more the “final step in a triathlon journey” than a 50 or 100 mile ultra marathon is the final step in a running journey. A 70.3 is not half of a triathlon, it is a full 70.3 mile ultra distance race. And a sprint is not merely a “beginner” triathlon. Elite, professional Olympic athletes race these in the WTS circuit on multiple occasions all season. It is certainly easier for humans to go longer than it is to go faster, but ultra distance events like Ironman are not the primary triathlon events that many American amateur athletes believe they are. Consider that a 10k is a long distance running event (100m is a sprint, and 800m is “middle distance”) and takes the elite athletes less than 30 minutes to complete. You don’t need to race for 8 to 17 hours to do a “full” race.

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