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What is a Triathlon? Everything You Need To Know About Triathlon

What is a Triathlon Everything You Need To Know About Triathlon
what is triathlon

Most people know that triathlon is made up of swimming, cycling and running – but with multiple distance options, disciplines, transition zones and even spin-off sports, it can sometimes seem a little impenetrable at first. We give you the low down on your new favourite sport.

Triathlon is a great sport to keep active, and by taking on the three elements of swimming, cycling and running you can keep training fun and varied too!

Triathlon is not an extreme sport, it’s not a sport for elite athletes and it’s not an unachievable target. Long Course Triathlon is one tiny part of the sport, and whilst attractive to some individuals, not representative of the entire sport!

The sport of Triathlon has been around since the mid 70s, and is increasing in popularity every year and now is of the fastest growing sports in the world. It’s a sport most people can take part in regardless of age, gender or shape. There are a wide variety of race distances and types of events, from sprint to Ironman, from pool based to open water events and now the ever growing woman only events; together this is what makes triathlons so popular.

Competing in your first triathlon is exciting, but can be overwhelming but fear not you don’t have to be ‘super fit’ to take part, in fact you don’t even have to excel at any of the 3 sports individually and that’s the beauty of it. It’s also the perfect sport for developing all round health and fitness as training across the disciplines strengthens and tones your body, it also keeps the boredom at bay by the variety in the sessions

Variety and inclusiveness are key to the appeal of triathlon. Firstly you get a mixture of environments, perhaps a lake or pool swim, followed by a cycle through the countryside, followed by an off-road run. It can require some careful planning to get the balance right, but it is both invigorating and motivating, and the mixture of training sessions reduces the risk of injury. Many races are run in age groups, meaning that you compete directly against athletes of the same age and sex. There are many beginner and novice triathlon races out there and with hundreds of races every year you will easy find one that fits your abilities. Good advice for your first triathlon would be to start with a sprint or super sprint triathlon.

In its purest form, a triathlon is made up of swimming, cycling and running sections, which are raced in that order with transitions from one discipline to another between each. With a range of different distances and race formats and a thriving and inclusive community, triathlon is equal parts exciting, challenging and rewarding – both in training and in racing – and can take you to exotic locations with events popping up all across the world.

Triathlon is a demanding sport that tests an athlete’s skill and speed at swimming, cycling and running. A triathlon is a continuous, non-stop race that starts with the swim (usually in open water), which is followed by a bike leg and then a run. There are also off-road triathlons where the bike and run legs take place off-road.

This common triathlon format involving swimming, cycling, and running is the most popular and standardized race type. Professional organizations like Ironman, Super League, and ITU are a few recognizable platforms in this realm of triathlon.

If you made a list on the most intense and harshest sports on the globe then a triathlon would definitely be on that list. A triathlon is a competition involving perpetual and persevering endurance contests. Meaning, a triathlon is simply a multi-level competition that commonly features contests in swimming, cycling, and running. It is an individual sports in which participants are competing for the greatest time. Originating from France in the early 1920s, this sport is certainly a unique one. The sport forces competitors to be in the best shape; whereas, their perseverance and endurance will be pushed to the extreme. However, the triathlon is formatted to different groups. To be exact, there is a race format called the Kids of Steel, which varies at the age of the kid athlete. A triathlon is a very popular sport, and in this article we will get further into the essence on a triathlon.

At many races, event directors provide not only individual competitor categories, but team categories as well. For many single-sport athletes, team competition provides a new camaraderie to their solo training. Additionally, it might just spark the fire to train for a triathlon as an individual competitor.

History Of Triathlon

History Of Triathlon

Triathlon, an endurance contest involving swimming, cycling, and running. The sport evolved out of a 1970s American craze for long-distance running and fitness and was introduced as an Olympic sport at the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia.

The sport debuted in San Diego, California, on September 25, 1974, when a race organized by local athletes Jack Johnstone and Don Shanahan was dubbed a triathlon. The event saw 46 competitors swim 460 metres (500 yards), run 9.6 km (6 miles), and bike 8 km (5 miles). Several years later John Collins, a U.S. Navy officer stationed in Hawaii who had finished 35th in the San Diego race, established the Hawaiian Ironman. That triathlon begins with a 3.8-km (2.4-mile) swim, followed by a 180-km (112-mile) bicycle ride and a 42-km (26.2-mile) run (the equivalent of a marathon). Only 15 athletes participated in the inaugural Hawaiian Ironman triathlon, but the race quickly gained international attention and became the sport’s premier competition. At the beginning of the 21st century, the Hawaiian Ironman regularly attracted some 1,600 competitors representing more than 50 countries.

While triathlons were initially sponsored by local clubs, the more important races, including the Hawaiian Ironman, soon began to garner corporate sponsorships. In 1989 the International Triathlon Union (ITU), the sport’s official governing body, was founded in Avignon, France, with the mission to promote the sport’s global appeal. The ITU hosts an annual World Championship.

Different Distances of Triathlons

Different Distances of Triathlons

Sprint Triathlon

Whether you’re a weekend warrior looking to test your endurance and strength, or a fitness newbie needing a goal to work toward, the sprint distance is the perfect starting point in your triathlon journey.

“The sprint is an excellent way to break into the multisport world of triathlon,” says Ryan. “It’s challenging, but does not require huge lifestyle modifications to train adequately, and it may be the bug that bites you— enticing you to try the next level.”

On average, you will swim 1/2 mile (750 meters), bike for 12.4 miles (20K), and run for 3.1 miles (5K). Depending on your fitness level, course conditions, and the weather on race day, you can expect to complete these three legs in about 1.5 hours.

When training for a sprint triathlon, you can plan on carving out at least three to four months if you’re a novice. However, if you’re an experienced triathlete, Ryan says you may only need four to six weeks to get race-day ready.

Since the sprint is a popular choice for novice racers, Holland says if your triathlon involves an open water swim, be sure to get out of the pool and into the open water for at least a few practice swims.

Olympic Triathlon

Once you’ve conquered the sprint triathlon, it’s time to tackle the Olympic distance. Fair warning: the Olympic distance is no easy feat. In fact, this is a popular choice for competitors who are training for an Ironman, which means you will meet some fierce competitors on race day.

When you line up on the starting line, get ready to swim 0.93 miles (1.5K), bike 24.85 miles (40K), and run 6.2 miles (10K). Plan on spending about three to four hours outdoors swimming, biking, and running when you get to this level. While not overly long, Ryan does say that by the end, it will test your endurance, make your quads burn, and put your mental fortitude to the test.

Ryan says novices may require three to five months to be ready for this distance, while experienced triathletes may only require six to 12 weeks.

By the time you’re competing in the Olympic distance, there’s a good chance you’ll know what your strengths and weaknesses are. That’s why Holland says this is an ideal time to identify which leg you feel the least confident about doing on race day and spend more time working on that during your triathlon training.

Half Ironman Triathlon (70.3 Triathlon)

The Half Ironman is the primer for the ultimate race: the Ironman. This distance (70.3 miles) will test both your mental and physical strength as you swim 1.2 miles (1.9K), bike 56 miles (90K), and run 13.1 miles (21.1K). It’s important to note, says Holland, that there are Ironman-distance triathlons as well as specific “Ironman” branded tris, since “Ironman” is a trademarked name.

Once you reach this level of competition, you can expect to spend about five to seven hours completing this race. So, if this triathlon is on your to-do list, make sure you plan accordingly. Ryan says novices may require four to six months to be ready for this distance, while experienced triathletes may only require three to four months.

“Nutrition on the course becomes much more important as you get up to the half Ironman and Ironman distance triathlons,” explains Holland. He suggests figuring out what your specific fueling plan will be—hydration as well as nutrition—as you will exercise continuously for an extended period of time.

Ironman Triathlon

Ironman Triathlon

Ironman triathlon (the full 140.6 distance) is the holy grail in the world of multisport. Originating from a grassroots race that started in Hawaii back in 1975, Ironman quickly evolved into what is now the iconic event for long-course athletes. Every year in October, the Ironman World Championships are held in Kona, Hawaii where only the top qualifying age groupers and professionals meet to take one of the toughest courses.

The distances of an Ironman triathlon are composed of a 2.4-mile (3.8 kilometers) swim, 112-mile (180 kilometers) bike ride, and run 26.2-mile (42.195 kilometers) run, or full marathon. While the fastest time for full Ironman distance triathlon was Tim Don’s 7:40:23 in 2017, finish times for top age groupers typically averages between 10-12 hours, and the vast majority of athletes arrive at the finish line well beyond the 12-hour mark.

Extensions of Ironman have evolved over the years, with Ultraman being a prime example that also takes place on the big island of Kona. Limited to a field of 40, this race requires each athlete to complete a 6.2-mile (10 kilometers) open ocean swim, a 261.4-mile (421 kilometers) bike ride, and a 52.4-mile (84 kilometers) ultra-marathon run for a total distance of 320 miles (515 kilometers). This race spans over the course of 3 days and is a true test of ultra-endurance.


Quadrathlon is a multisport event that comprises of four disciplines: swimming, kayaking, cycling, running. It had its roots almost 30 years ago when the first event was held in Ibiza in 1987. The initial race was a very tough 5k swim, 20k kayak, 100k bike and 21.1k run – essentially a middle distance triathlon but much harder! However, such was the interest that three years later in 1990 the World Quadrathlon Federation (WQF) was created.

The sport has remained relatively quiet in the intervening years, but since the World Cup Series commenced in 2001, there has been an upsurge in interest, in particular more significantly in the UK during the last three years. In addition to the WQF events, the British Quadrathlon Association (BQA) run a British National Trophy Series. This comprises five races of varying distances and a mixture of the four disciplines, although all start with the swim and end with the run.

The series includes the British Championships and two other national or even European Championships. Some of the races are real tests of endurance, whilst others offer a manageable new challenge for multi-sport athletes looking for something a bit different. The main events are held in Brigg, Doncaster, Box End, Shrewsbury and Bude, although more challenging races in slightly different formats are held in Scotland and Wales.

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