Perhaps one of the most common questions you’ll be asked as a triathlete is “how many miles” is the race you’re training for? In which case, you break down how long the swim, bike, and run will be for your intended race.
Triathlon distances vary widely, ranging from 16 total miles for traditional sprint distance triathlons to over 140 miles for Ironman. While most beginners start with sprint triathlons, the life of most passionate triathletes will eventually test the waters with Olympic and long-course triathlons.
Below is information on average triathlon distances for the various race types, as well as average times for age grouper and professional caliber triathletes. We also offer training tips and insights to give you perspective and expectations on each distance of triathlon.
Triathlon Distances in Miles/Kilometers
|Sprint Triathlon||0.5 miles (750m)||12.4 miles (20km)||3.1 miles (5km)|
|Olympic Triathlon||0.93 miles (1.5km)||24.8 miles (40km)||6.2 miles (10km)|
|ITU Long Course Triathlon||1.86 miles (3km)||49.6 miles (80km)||12.4 miles (20km)|
|Half Ironman / 70.3 Triathlon||1.2 miles (1.9km)||56 miles (90km)||13.1 miles (21.09km)|
|Full Ironman Triathlon||2.4 miles (3.8km)||112 miles (180km)||26.2 miles (42.195km)|
Because Ironman distance triathlons are 7x the distance to that of sprint triathlons, the volume and intensity of training is dramatically different on either end of the spectrum. In addition to average and good times for each distance, below we offer training tips and expectations for spring, Olympic, and Ironman/long-course distance triathlons.
Sprint Triathlon Distance: Times & Training
For beginners just entering the triathlon scene, completing a sprint distance race is typically the most common place to start. Sprint triathlon distances include swimming 0.5 miles (750 meter/2,460 feet), cycling 12.4 miles (20 kilometers), and running 3.1 miles (5 kilometers). The length of a sprint triathlon is a perfect entry-level distance for beginners, but it’s also a sufficient distance for athletes of all levels looking to fine-tune their transitions and gain more race experience.
At first glance, the word “sprint” might seem overreaching for an event that can take 2 hours or more to finish; but take into consideration the perspective of a professional triathlete. Depending on elevation and conditions, a sprint distance triathlon might take around 1 hour or less for pros, while Ironman distance triathlons usually finish between 8 and 10 hours for elite-caliber triathletes.
When you break down each leg of a sprint triathlon, it’s easier to view each leg as a strong, concerted effort (versus a lower-effort, well-paced effort like Ironman). In other words, athletes can often maintain an anaerobic or higher level of energy output over the course of a 60-90 minute race. Conversely, long-course triathlon training often requires greater endurance-building and anaerobic training. That being low-intensity, high volume training.
While building endurance is important for both sprint and Olympic distance triathlons, competitive triathletes focus on speedwork, drills, and fast transitions. Coming out of the water early is also important, so learning to become an efficient swimmer is vital to becoming a better triathlete. But also consider the bike and run make up a vast majority of the mileage in a sprint distance triathlon. Fast cyclists and runners will often regain tremendous ground, even with a mediocre swim.
Learn more about different types of sprint triathlon distances.
Olympic Triathlon Distance: Times & Training
Olympic triathlon distances are a 0.93-mile (1.5-kilometer) swim, 24.8-mile (40-kilometer) bike, and 6.2-mile (10-kilometer) run, exactly double the length of a sprint triathlon.
If you’ve ever watched an Olympic, ITU, or SuperLeague triathlon online or on television, then you’re probably familiar with the level of intensity and efficiency that’s displayed by pro triathletes. Not only are transition times mere seconds, but the overall pace is often extremely fast, hovering just above a 5-minute mile run pace.
High-caliber professionals will often finish Olympic triathlons in around 2 hours or less, with the men’s record currently at just over 1 hour, 46 minutes. But for top age groupers, Olympic distance triathlon times typically range between 2 and 2 ½ hours. At any rate, Olympic triathlons require diligent pacing, energy management, and sufficient stamina. Because distances are double that of a sprint triathlon, most athletes spend over an hour on the bike, only to run 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) directly afterward.
The graduation to Olympic distance triathlon requires greater dedication to training. Allocating time early in the season to cultivate endurance, build strength, and prevent injury is important for athletes of all skill levels. However, attention to speedwork, while still critical for competitive triathletes, is less of a priority for newbies looking to level-up from sprint triathlon distances.
For cases of beginners and amateurs racing their first Olympic triathlon, finish times can often extend beyond 3 hours. In other words, building endurance, efficiency, and strength can offer greater rewards for new athletes versus focusing on speedwork and intensity.
Learn more about Olympic distance triathlon.
Long-Course & Ironman Triathlon Distance: Times & Training
Long course triathlon or “Iron-distance” is often an umbrella term used to describe both Ironman and half-Ironman distance triathlon. Half-Ironman’s are also called “70.3” races based on the combined mileage for all three disciplines (full-Ironman distance is 140.6 miles).
Half-Ironman or 70.3 triathlon distances entail swimming 1.2 miles (1.9 kilometers), cycling 56 miles (90 kilometers), and running 13.1 miles (21.09 kilometers), or a half marathon. Similar to how sprint distance compares to Olympic, a full-Ironman triathlon is double those legs, with distances being a 2.4-mile (3.8 kilometers) swim, 112-mile (180 kilometers) bike ride, and run 26.2-mile (42.195 kilometers) run.
On the professional level, half-Ironman distance triathlons fringe on near sprint distance speeds. The fastest 70.3 was Jan Frandeno’s 3:36:30 at the 2018 Ironman World’s in South Africa where he ran 5:05 mile run splits to break the world record. Such speeds also point to other top-performing Olympic distance pros like Javier Gómez and Alistair Brownlee who have entered the Iron-distance scene with great success. An equally impressive fastest time for full Ironman distance triathlon was Tim Don’s 7:40:23 in 2017.
While average professional times range between 4-5 hours for 70.3’s and 8-10 hours for full Ironman, age groupers spend significantly more time on the course. For top age-groupers, good times on moderately difficult courses can range between 5-6 hours for 70.3 and 10-12 hours for Ironman. But for busy athletes who have minimal time training, you can expect 6-7+ hour half’s and 13+ hour full’s.
In most cases, 70.3 triathlons are more approachable for amateurs and age grouper athletes, as the level of commitment and training substantially escalates for full Ironman triathlons. For most athletes, the preparation to swim over 2 miles, cycle over 100 miles, and run a marathon is a massive undertaking. Factor-in family, work, and other life demands, and time allocation for Ironman training can be a difficult balancing act.
Both amateur and professional triathletes often benefit from triathlon coaching and working with a great coach who aligns with an athlete’s objectives with the right training plan, support, and attention. Working with an Ironman coach can not only be helpful for motivation and accountability but also providing structured training plans that are custom-programmed to an athlete’s goals, skill level, and lifestyle.
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