Triathlon distances can vary from a short sprint distance triathlon to the longer Ironman triathlon distance and even multi-day ultra triathlon distances for the experienced triathlete.
The terms used to identify the different triathlon distances can be a little confusing, so we’ve explained the different triathlon types below.
If you’re confused on what events make up a triathlon or in what order, check out our “ What is the order of a triathlon” article.
SPRINT TRIATHLON DISTANCES
Sprint triathlons (also sometimes called “mini-triathlons”) are the shortest distance triathlons and if you’re looking to enter your first triathlon, these races are usually considered to be the best beginner triathlons.
Sprint triathlon distances can vary depending on the specific race and race course but typically sprint triathlon distances will be:
Swim Distance: Under a 1/4 mile or 400 yards/meters. Some swim distances may be around 250 yards/meters. These sprint triathlons can be held in open water (a lake or river) or in a pool.
Bike Distance: The bike portion of a sprint triathlon will also be the shortest cycling distance and can range from 8 to 16 miles in length. The shorter biking length allows beginner triathletes to use mountain or hybrid bikes as well as road or triathlon bikes.
Run Distance: Most sprint triathlon run distances will be 5 km (3.1 miles) or less. There’s typically water or other aid stations on the run portion of these sprint triathlons so usually no need to put on a fuel belt or carry much in the way of nutrition on the run.
OLYMPIC DISTANCE TRIATHLON DISTANCES
Olympic distance triathlons are a popular distance for many triathletes and is the distance used in the Olympics (hence the name).
Olympic Triathlon Swim Distance: 1.5 km (about 0.95 miles)
Olympic Triathlon Bike Distance: 40 km (24 miles)
Olympic Triathlon Run Distance: 10 km (6.2 miles)
HALF IRONMAN TRIATHLON DISTANCES
Half Ironman triathlons are obviously half the distance of a full Ironman triathlon.
Half Ironman Triathlon Swim Distance: 1.2 mile swim (about 1.9 km)
Half Ironman Triathlon Bike Distance: 56 mile bike (90 km)
Half Ironman Triathlon Run Distance: 13.1 miles (21km) run – matching the half marathon distance.
Half Ironman triathlons may also be called “70.3” triathlons or 70.3 Ironman triathlons.
The 70.3 is the sum (in miles) of the swim (1.2 miles), bike (56 miles) and run (13.1 miles)
IRONMAN TRIATHLON DISTANCES
The Ironman triathlon distance is one of the icon racing distances in triathlons and for some triathletes , a true measure of their triathlon ability.
Ironman Triathlon Swim Distance: The swim distance of an Ironman triathlon is 2.4 miles (3.9 km) in length.
Ironman Triathlon Bike Distance: The bike portion of an Ironman distance triathlon is 112 miles (or 180 km).
Ironman Triathlon Run Distance: The run distance at an Ironman triathlon is a marathon, which is 26.2 miles or 40.2 kilometers.
Just like the half Ironman distances can be referred to as a 70.3 Ironman or Ironman 70.3, a full Ironman distance triathlon might use “140.6” which is the sum (in miles) of the swim (2.4 miles), bike (112 miles) and run (26.2 miles).
The first Ironman distance race was held on the island of Oahu, Hawaii in 1978. The race is now held every October in Kona, Hawaii and serves as the Ironman World Championships. There are now Ironman sanctioned races throughout the world that act as qualifiers for the Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Kona. The Ironman name is trademarked, so only licensed races can use the “Ironman” name, but there are other non-Ironman races that use the same distances
ULTRA TRIATHLON DISTANCES
If an Ironman distance triathlon wasn’t long enough, there are triathletes out there that train and race even long triathlons that can take several days to complete. An “ultra” distance triathlon is considered any triathlon that has the following distances:
Ultra Triathlon Swim Distance: over 2.4 miles
Ultra Triathlon Bike Distance: over 112 miles
Ultra Triathlon Run Distance: over 26.2 miles