Triathlon races come in many different sizes and competing in a multi-discipline event is daunting enough without navigating through which type of event you should start with.  This blog is intended to help you understand the different triathlon distances and what they will mean in terms of amount of training needed to get you over the finish line.  So, triathlon distances explained & how much training you really need to do.

Read on to discover the standard triathlon distances & training commitments.

Why is triathlon in that order?

All different triathlon distances begin with a swim, followed by a cycle and finishes with a run. A triathlon always follows this order. The length of each discipline varies depending the race distance you are participating in. Triathlon begins with a swim to maximise the safety of triathletes with most incidents generally during the swim. Starting with the swim means all participants are as fresh as possible and least likely to suffer during the swim at the start.

If you are nervous about swimming in open water read our article on Top Tips for open water swimming. This brings together a wealth of knowledge from our expert panel of swim specialists who help you master open water swimming.

Following with the bike leg means you spread out the athletes avoiding a mass bike exodus. You also ensure drafting is reduced as a possibility with spacing from the swim. Completing a race with a run means you can improve logistics for spectators. Tracking swimmers is very hard as everyone looks the same and on the bike races tend to have a course that takes people away from a central location. By finishing with a run you maximise the excitement and connection with triathletes as they reach the end of the race.


Super Sprint Triathlon

This type of triathlon race is the entry level to triathlon with the swim generally conducted in a pool so avoiding the added uncertainty of an open water event.

Triathlon DistanceSwimBikeRunFinish timeTraining
Super Sprint Triathlon400m10km2.5kmSub 1 hour1-3 months
Super Sprint Triathlon Distances and training

What is a Super Sprint Triathlon?

Distances for a Super Sprint triathlon are usually a 400m swim, 10km bike & a 2.5km run.

How Long Does it Take to Complete a Super Sprint Triathlon?

Finishing times vary with experience but you should be thinking of completing it in under an hour.

How Long do you need to train for a Super Sprint Triathlon?

Training for a Super Sprint depends on your base level of fitness but most active people should be able to get themselves into suitable shape in under 1 – 3 months.

If you train listening to music running or cycling you face the constant worry about staying aware of your surroundings. We have reviewed the Oladance open ear headphones that don’t block out all the surrounding noise. Find out if Nick thought this was worthwhile as a runner and cyclist who never used headphones before for this reason.

Our Favourite Super Sprint Triathlon

My favourite Super Sprint Triathlon is the Dorney Lake Super Sprint Triathlon which happens over a number of weekends from May through to August.  Why do I love it?  Beautiful Olympic rowing venue dripping in history and inspiring for everyone racing here.  Super flat bike and run course around the lake with the bike closed road and no cars to dodge. Perfect beginner course.

To help stay organised in transition we have produced the 9 of the Best Triathlon Bags  with something for every budget. A triathlon bag stops you getting flustered following registration by having all your kit stored ready for transition. Having your kit set up in a sequential manner means as you reach transition after the swim and bike you can minimise time wasted.

Sprint Triathlon

A Sprint distance triathlon is often the first opportunity for triathletes to try their hand at an open water event.

Triathlon DistanceSwimBikeRunFinish timeTraining
Sprint Triathlon750m20km5kmSub 2 hours3-6 months
Sprint Triathlon Distances and training

What is a Sprint Triathlon?

Distances for a Sprint Triathlon are usually a 750m swim, 20km bike & 5km run.

How Long Does it Take to Complete a Sprint Triathlon?

Finishing times vary but the key differentiator tends to be your performance on the bike.  For your first attempt you should certainly be aiming for under 2 hours. Top triathletes would be completing a Sprint Triathlon in under an hour.

How long should you train for a Sprint Triathlon?

Training for a Sprint triathlon varies and will depend on which discipline is your strength but you should be able to get round with 3 – 6 months training.

Our Favourite Sprint Triathlon

My favourite Sprint Triathlon is the Blenheim Palace Sprint Triathlon which happens in May each year.  Why do I love this Sprint Triathlon distance race?  The transition area is in the grounds of the Palace with spectators able to sit across the grounds to get the best view.  Swim is a straight line without any bunching corners to worry beginners or less confident swimmers.  The bike course is closed road and challenging with plenty of bends and tight sections to navigate.  Watch for people not used to cycling in groups here.  Run is a loop course with a small set of hills to demolish.

Blenheim Palace Triathlon
Blenheim Palace Triathlon

Triathlon is a very demanding sport. To help ensure your training is effective we recommend using a heart rate monitor. Read the  Triathlon Heart Rate Monitors Buyers Guide 2023 that provides insight on why they are useful and which ones you should be buying. All are suitable for every discipline in triathlon.

Olympic Triathlon

Sensibly named triathlon distance which refers to the same distances as competed every 4 years at the Olympics.  Having seen the Brownlee Brothers making this look easy it is your chance to feel like an Olympian.

Triathlon DistanceSwimBikeRunFinish timeTraining
Olympic Triathlon1500m40km10kmSub 3 hours6 months
Olympic Triathlon Distances and training

What is an Olympic Triathlon?

An Olympic Triathlon Distances are a 1500m swim, 40km bike & 10km run.  Some events have been created with Olympic plus distances to most commonly increase the bike and/or run distance.

How Long Does it Take to Complete an Olympic Triathlon?

You could be talking about 3 hours of punishment here to complete an Olympic Triathlon. Not something to attempt if your only exercise experience has been dashing to the toilets in the pub. Top triathletes complete Olympic distance triathlons in under 1 hour 50 minutes. This varies depending on the course.

How long should you train for an Olympic Triathlon?

Training for an Olympic triathlon is certainly something you can achieve on your own but you might it more structured and simpler by joining your local triathlon club.  From a standing start of zero fitness you should probably be allowing about 6 months of training to enjoy your race.

Our Favourite Olympic Triathlon

My favourite Olympic Triathlon is the Croyde Ocean Triathlon which happens in the Summer each year on the North coast of Devon.  Why do I love it?  Aside from Croyde being one of my favourite places in the world the course is spectacular.  The swim is a super challenging Ocean open water encounter that sees you swim back from the Woolacombe bay end towards Putsborough, a challenging swim for anyone.  The bike course is a hilly out and back, arguably more suited to an aero bike than a triathlon bike.   Challenging and tiring in equal measure.  The run is 8 miles of pain.  Extending the usual 6.2 mile distance the run leg is an epic amount of climbing and descending including a beach mile in the middle to completely load the legs with lactic acid.  The only run course that I have ever walked any section of!

Read our Croyde Ocean Triathlon review from 2019 for a full brief on everything you need to know about the Croyde Ocean Triathlon.

Croyde Ocean Triathlon Race Review
Croyde Ocean Triathlon Race

Swimming is the first discipline of a triathlon and the most technically complex. Swimming in open water is daunting for most new to the sport and indeed puts some off even entering. A quality swimming wetsuit will give you confidence and make you faster in the water. Check our list of the  15 Best Triathlon Wetsuits 2023 Buying Guide  with a range of quality triathlon wetsuts. We review new triathlon swimming wetsuits every year so we can share with you the best wetsuit for you to consider.

Middle Distance Triathlon – 70.3

Otherwise dubbed the half-ironman distance triathlon certainly a serious challenge to any athlete possibly undersold with the label “Middle Distance”.

Triathlon DistanceSwimBikeRunFinish timeTraining
Half Ironman Triathlon1.2m56m13.1m5-7 hours6-9 months
Half Ironman Triathlon Distances and training

What is a middle distance Triathlon?

The distances for a middle distance triathlon crank it up to a total of 70.3 miles or 113 km in total.  The swim comes in at 1.2 miles, 56 miles to get through on the bike followed by a full half-marathon run of 13.1 miles.

How Long Does it Take to Complete a middle distance Triathlon?

Time to complete a middle distance triathlon can vary depending on the type of swim, sea, river or lake & the difficulty of the bike & run course.  All in a 70.3 distance triathlon could be over 6 hours of intense exercise to complete. For professional triathletes completing a 70.3 triathlon they will be looking to finish in under 4 hours.

How long should you train for an middle distance Triathlon?

Training for something like this really needs a plan and an understanding family!  Certainly you could preparing for a triathlon race of this distance for 6 – 9 months.

Our Favourite middle distance Triathlon

My favourite middle distance Triathlon is the Cotswolds 113 Triathlon which happens early in the season so a perfect training event for anyone stepping to full Ironman Triathlon.  Why do I love it?  The swim is a lake swim so mild water temperatures and no waves to speak of.  Plenty of corners but only a single loop.  The bike is the gem here.  Country roads and near bowling green flat.  It is a course built for PBs.  The run is a loop back around the lake and a mix of cross country and road running.  A beautiful setting for a very quick course and the perfect introduction for anyone going longer distances.

If you are looking to go long in triathlon distance then a triathlon specific saddle may be an essential purchase. Upwards of 6 hours in the saddle means comfort is key. Coming off the bike to run needs you with as many energy left in the tank as possible. We test the  Top 5 Triathlon Saddles – Find the optimal fit saddle for you and don’t settle for your standard bike saddle.

Ironman Distance Triathlon

The Daddy of triathlons that refers to the brand “Ironman” but includes all long distance triathlons whether they are official Ironman events or not.

Triathlon DistanceSwimBikeRunFinish timeTraining
Ironman Triathlon2.4m112m26.2m10-17 hoursUp to a year
Ironman Triathlon Distances and training

What is an Ironman Triathlon?

The distance of each discipline in Ironman Triathlon is enough to worry any normal individual attempting just one of them.  Completing an Ironman triathlon means swimming 2.4 miles (3.86km), then cycling 112 miles (180.25km) finishing off with a marathon running 26.2 miles (42.2km).

How Long Does it Take to Complete a Ironman Triathlon?

An Ironman triathlon is completed all in one day, no breaks and time for recovery.  Most races have a cut off time of 17 hours with cut off times after each discipline. So, you could get to the end of the bike after 12 hours of exercise to be told your race was over and not allowed to attempt the marathon. Professional triathletes will be looking to finish in under 9 hours. Elite triathletes in certain triathlon races have been breaking the 8 hour barrier.

How long should you train for a Ironman Triathlon?

You should be thinking about training time for an Ironman Triathlon in terms of a years worth of planning and effort.  And not just the longevity of the training.  Consider building up to a training schedule where you are putting in more than 15 hours of training each week.  Think long and hard about that one if you work full time and have a young family.  Six hour bike rides with four hour runs are not easy to just squeeze into a lunch hour.

Our Favourite Ironman Triathlon

My favourite Ironman Triathlon can only be the iconic Ironman World Championship Kona event.  The first and the Godfather of Ironman triathlons.  Open water swim around the bays of Hawaii with a baking bike and run course that has been graced by the greats such as Dave Scott and Mark Allen.  In our offices Scott would contest that Ironman Wales is harder and his choice having beaten the dragon on three occasions but Kona has to the ultimate.

We hope this has answered your questions with triathlon distances explained & how much training you really need to do.

Can you walk in a triathlon?

Something we regularly get asked is can you walk in a triathlon? Are there any rules stopping you walking in a triathlon? There are no rules to stop you walking at any point in a triathlon. In fact for longer distance triathlon events walking is likely to be a key factor in helping you finish. If you feel you need to walk it will break up the cadence of your run so important to consider how you walk. If you walk with short stride length and maintain cadence it will help you return to a running pace.

The only rule that may impact a decision on running is where events have cut off times for the overall finish and each discipline. You may not have time to walk if you are close to the cut off time. This would mean walking could result in you not finishing.

Having the perfect running shoe is crucial for marathon distance ironman. If you are looking at new running shoe options we have done a head to head comparison of the Asics Nimbus vs Asics Cumulus. Read on to see if either of these could be your next favourite running shoe.

List of all Triathlon Distances

SuperSprint Triathlon400m / 0.25m10km / 6.2m2.5km / 1.5m
Sprint Triathlon750m / 0.5m20km / 20km5km / 3.1m
Olympic Triathlon1500m / 0.93m40km / 24.8m10km / 6.2m
Middle Distance Triathlon (70.3)1900m / 1.2m90km / 56m21.1km / 13.1m
Ironman Triathlon (140.6)3800m / 2.4m180km / / 26.2m
Table of Triathlon Distances

Buy Our Favourite Triathlon Products

With such a wealth of products to consider when buying triathlon kit we are often asked for our Top 3 best buys.  Being honest this varies from month to month but at the time of writing the following are my Top Tips for buying triathlon kit.  These are not all big money but might help you save time and stress on the day with things you might not realise before you start.

Race belt is a must. Zone 3 have developed the best one we have ever used. Complete with race number straps but also with an awesome pouch for energy gels. It may not be cheap but works a dream and helps keep your top pocket free. Buy the Zone3 Endurance Number Belt with Neoprene Fuel Pouch for £21 from Wiggle.

A good triathlon watch will help you in every training session, not just racing. Our pick of the best at the moment is the Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar. Forget having to charge up your watch this recharges during the day. More data than even the most geeky triathlete could ever need and with connectivity to a wealth of peripherals. Buy the Garmin Forerunner for £549.99 from Wiggle.

Elastic laces for your running trainers are a must. Ask any experienced triathlete and they will I am sure agree. Reduce your T2 time by a minute simply by swapping laces for elastic ones. Try shaving a minute from your run time. Much harder. And one of the cheapest additions to you triathlon locker. Buy a set of DHB elastic laces from Wiggle for £3.

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Categories: Triathlon

Billy Ferguson

Having founded Trivelo in 2015 after many years competing in triathlon Billy continues to enjoy training and triathlon. Founder Billy is strongest in the water but continues to try and convince his body that he is an ultra runner.


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