Triathlon is a multi-sport event that involves swimming, cycling, and running. No breaks between, bit the process and area to change between the disciplines is known as transition. It is a physically demanding sport that requires a combination of aerobic endurance, muscular endurance and skill. Training for triathlon is multi-faceted and includes approximately 50% of weekly time spent cycling and the remainder divided between running, swimming and strength/conditioning work. Triathletes typically train more hours per week than runners as the lower impact of swimming and cycling allows for a larger aerobic volume of training (with lower injury risk).
One of the unique aspects of triathlon is that it offers a range of distances to suit different levels of fitness and experience. From short, sprint-distance races to long, ultra-distance events, there is something for everyone in the triathlon world. Another unique aspect lies in the ability of amateurs to race alongside the world’s elite at many of the bigger events (Ironman for instance); same time, same course, same rules!
The most common triathlon distance is the sprint distance, of which there are, broadly speaking, 2 varieties. The swimming pool based events host a 400m (16 lengths) swim while the open water events have a 750-meter swim. Both then incorporate a 20-kilometer bike ride, and a 5-kilometer run. This is a great distance for beginners and those looking to test their fitness in a shorter time frame. Although called a sprint (due to its relationship to other triathlon distances, this remains a very aerobically dominated event).
The Standard or Olympic distance (used in the Olympic Games since 2000) consists of a 1.5-kilometer swim, a 40-kilometer bike ride, and a 10-kilometer run. This distance is suitable for those who have some triathlon experience and are looking to take on a greater challenge.
For those looking for an even greater challenge, Middle distance races come next (also known as half-ironman or 70.3). This distance consists of a 1.9-kilometer swim, a 90-kilometer bike ride, and a 21.1-kilometer run. This event takes around 4hrs for the quickest and up to 8 hours for those at the back of the pack. This distance doesn’t have such a big jump in swim distance from the standard distance races but over double the bike and run content; so if you’re a weaker swimmer then this distance may suit.
The long distance or Ironman race covers 140.6 kms, consisting of a 3.8-kilometer swim, a 180-kilometer (112 miles) bike ride, and a 42.2-kilometer (marathon) run. This distance is only for the most dedicated triathletes, as it requires a massive amount of training and endurance. Often seen as the pinnacle of achievements for amateurs this often prompts them to celebrate with a tattoo!
There are many variations on triathlon, such as aqua-bike (swim and bike), duathlon (run, bike run), aquathlon or swim-run amongst others. Its also possible to complete longer distances but this remains the realm of the real ultra-endurance competitor; Ultraman, Deca-ironman for instance. Currently, sitting at the top of this endurance tree is the IronCowboy (James Lawrence) who last year completed 101 Iron distance triathlons in 102 days straight….. WOW!