The Pros and Cons of the 4 Triathlon Distances

Although there are creative variations on traditional triathlon distances (such as some races that make the swim longer to appease the fish in our midst, or races that make the bike longer to make us feel like we’re getting the mileage we deserve. from our multi-thousand dollar time trial bike, or races that lengthen the race to just be masochistic and cruel), there are generally 4 triathlon distances: Sprint, Olympic, Half-Ironman, and Ironman. So to help you with your preparation for the triathlon racing season, here’s a quick look at the pros and cons of each triathlon distance.


Pros: Imagine a sedentary, overweight person sitting on the couch and licking Cheetos residue from their fingers. Technically, it would be possible for that person to be on the starting line of a sprint triathlon only 12 to 16 weeks later. This is because since sprint triathlon distances are short, they have a low barrier to entry and do not require extensive physical preparation. You only need to be able to swim 400 to 600 meters (8 to 12 laps in a pool), ride a bike for 10 to 15 miles, and run or walk for 2 to 4 miles, and this requires continuous exercise for about 50 minutes to 2 hours. This may be difficult for some, but it is doable for most. Also, if you are fit or experienced in triathlon and want to go faster in a sprint triathlon, it will take less time to train than longer distances, so it is quite rare for the sprint triathlon distance to be a family disaster. .

Cons: Sprint triathlons don’t get a lot of notoriety. You may be offended when someone asks you how your “Mini-Triathlon” went. And if you decide to go fast or aim for a spot on the podium, a sprint triathlon will hurt a lot. You’ll need to be in a red-hot high intensity effort near maximum heart rate for about 2-3 times longer than a 5K run. That’s an area that is difficult for most to enter, but the price you have to pay if you want to win or place yourself in a sprint triathlon distance. Another potential scam for many is that you simply don’t have much time to eat during a sprint triathlon, so those competing for access to a mobile buffet of gels and cookies will be disappointed.


Pros: As the name implies, the Olympic distance is pretty much the same triathlon distance covered in the Olympics (1.5km swimming, 40km cycling, 10km running), so when someone shows you ask if you did a “Mini-Triathlon”, you can answer by saying: “No, I did exactly what they do at the Olympics”. This will probably make you feel good inside and at the same time, you won’t have to train as much as Half-Ironman and Ironman triathletes, so your spouse, children, family and friends will not find you a complete stranger. If you are a triathlon addict, you can do a lot of Olympic distance races in a year and not have a high risk of overtraining or injury as they are relatively short and you will recover quickly. Also, you can actually eat quite a bit. Enjoy your meal.

Cons – At the same time, the intensity of your Olympic triathlon distance training will be much higher than Half-Ironman and Ironman triathlon. So, just like in the sprint triathlon, you have to be willing to go into the cave of pain much more often. If you’re out of shape, your teammates may still catch you in an Olympic distance triathlon, who will probably say something like, “Come on, it’s only 25% of an Ironman.” However, when you reach the 5K point of the race, you will be planning to take revenge on these companions. And if you want to get on the podium in an Olympic distance race, be prepared to run flawlessly as the smallest mistakes can cost you precious seconds that add up very quickly for this triathlon distance.

Half Ironman:

Pros: Congratulations, you have the right to brag about completing a triathlon distance that contains the word “Ironman”, without having to give up the whole day. In fact, at many Half-Ironman events, you can finish for lunch, feel great about yourself, and still have the rest of the day to make excuses not to mow the grass (“Come on, I only did one Ironman event!”) or to go have a lot of cold beer. If you don’t like the searing intensity of training and sprinting and Olympic distance races, but don’t have time to dedicate to Ironman, then this triathlon distance is a good compromise. Plus, you can travel long distances to compete in a Half-Ironman without the same kind of race-day stress that you experience in Ironman. Lastly, if you make a mistake during a Half-Ironman race, like remembering to poop in the middle of the half marathon, you’ll still have plenty of time to make up those lost seconds.

Cons: With all the training and effort you’ll put into a half-Ironman triathlon distance, sometimes you’ll find yourself asking the question, “Why didn’t I just sign up for an Ironman?” After all, you’re usually as sore the next day after a Half Ironman as you are from an Ironman, and you still have to do a lot of logistical planning for the race when it comes to hydration, electrolytes, or food. Also, the “Half” part of “Half Ironman” doesn’t lend itself so well to bragging rights (“Did you only do half? How’s that? Did you give up half?”), But you’ll sound desperate. and boring trying to explain what a 70.3 is (“Well, a full Ironman is swimming 2.4 miles, riding a bike 112 miles, running 26.2 miles, which is 140.6 miles, but what I’ve done .. . friend, wake up “.)

Iron Man:

Pros: It’s Ironman, to shout out loud. This event has been elevated to the category of dignified tattoo. You heard me? You can swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, run a marathon, and then get a tattoo and your parents will still be proud of you. Heck, your boss probably will too. Unless you’re a musician, Harley fan, or artist, in what other social settings are tattoos acceptable? Even if you skip the tattoo, you will have the right to brag for life, you will feel great about yourself and you will be able to eat more than 4000 calories a day and stay slim.

Cons: Ironman is a logistical nightmare. Not only do you need to squeeze in 12 to 25 hours of training in any given week, but you also need to figure out how to eat and drink while commuting long distances without your gut swelling like a bloated balloon or your fragile body sphincters screaming in anguish. . You will become best friends with your local sports medicine doctor and physical therapist, and this is not a good thing. During the royal race, you will go through periods that have been compared to childbirth, a death march, and a “very dark place.” When you’re done, you may experience symptoms of PTSD. You may forget what your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife is like, and your romantic moments with them may involve nothing more than you lying like a sack of potatoes on the couch as they lovingly caress their hands through your sweaty hair. . You may need to appease them by allowing them to help you design your tattoo.

While the information above will give you a good basis for your triathlon distance decision, I cannot guarantee your safety or sanity if you choose to think outside of the triathlon distance framework described in this article and decide to go for a race. like the American Triple T, which includes a Sprint triathlon, 2 Olympics and a half Ironman in a weekend, or a consecutive Ironman triathlon like Ultraman. Make sure to drop me a line if you are tackling a new triathlon distance. I would love to hear your story. And be sure to visit the Rock Star Triathlete Academy, at, where you can join me for a weekly webinar to discuss your triathlon training, nutrition, and more.