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Everything You Need to Know about Triathlons

October 06, 2014
Everything You Need to Know about Triathlons

You already ride, and you occasionally either swim or run… So you’re already a third into the way of a quality base for a triathlon – ha!

But what are the distances and what are some of the races out there? We find out more and get familiar with some pretty common tri terms as well (that aren’t all that common outside of tri!). So if you’re new to the tri scene, this will have you covered!

The Distances

Sprint Triathlon Distance

The distance for sprint triathlons can vary, but expect something like the following:

  • Swim – 500m to 750m
  • Bike – 20km
  • Run – 5km

Olympic Triathlon Distance

The name says it all – this is the distance raced at Olympic level. There is no variance:

  • Swim – 1.5km
  • Bike – 40km
  • Run – 10km

Long Triathlon Distance

  • Swim – 3km
  • Bike – 80km
  • Run – 20km

Half Ironman Triathlon Distance, or a 70.3

70.3 refers to the total number of miles raced in a half triathlon.

  • Swim – 1.9km
  • Bike – 90km
  • Run – 21.09km (half a marathon)

Ironman Triathlon Distance, or a Full

  • Swim – 3.8km
  • Bike – 180km
  • Run – 42.195km (a full marathon)

Introducing NZ's Pro Triathlete Tom Davison - Click Read Article

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Triathlon Terms

There’s the odd word here and there that could be considered classic tri terminology. These include:


An aerodynamic feature to a bike that enables the rider to assume a quite aggressive position. Aerobars are standard features to time trial bikes (see below) but they can also be independent components added to a road bike, which is ideal if you’re just starting out and not yet sure you will really get into tris.


Refers to a training session that stacks one discipline atop the other. EG – you might ride and then straight after do a run. This is called a brick session.


When a triathlete rides behind another triathlete and is effectively in their slip stream. This is considered cheating and is banned from most triathlon races.

Negative Split

To achieve the second half of a training session or race in a faster time than the first. EG, say you were running 10km and the first 5km you ran in 30mins, but the last 5km you ran in 27mins, this means you negatively split.

T1 and T2

Or Transition 1 and Transition 2. Refers to the bike compound area and the point during the race at which you access it. EG, if you are entering the bike compound after the swim and about to jump on the bike, then you are in T1. If you are entering the bike compound after the bike and about to run, then you are in T2. So in short - some location; different stage of the race.

TT Bike

A Time Trial Bike, this is essentially an aggressively aerodynamic bike specifically made for time trials, and therefore ideal for triathlon.

Be prepared for your triathlon with a checklist

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Who's Who?

There are plenty of big event names in the sport of triathlon. We have a look at some of the more recognised:


Is a series of global triathlon events run by the World Triathlon Corporation originally founded in 1978 in Hawaii. Today the Hawaii event is recongnised as the Ironman World Championships and is an honor to race in coveted by many triathletes. Some of the Ironman series closer to home are:

- Ironman Asia Pacific Championship in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia - Ironman Australia in Port Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia - Ironman Cairns in Cairns, Queensland, Australia - Ironman Western Australia in Busselton, Australia

New Zealand
- Ironman New Zealand in Taupo, New Zealand


Up there with equal honour amongst many triathletes is the Challenge Roth triathlon event held in Roth Germany. The race is the same distance as Ironman events and has over 4000 participants annually. The Challenge Family is apparently the fastest growing global long distance triathlon series and now boasts 40 long distance triathlons in 17 countries worldwide.


Xterra was founded by TEAMunlimited in 1996 originally by the name of Aquaterra later changing to Xterra. The race is typically known as the 'offroad' triathlon championship and is held around the world in some of natures most demanding climates. The length of the race varies due to the difficulty and variability of the terrain, there are two typical Xterra race lengths. These are;

  • Championship/pro: 1.5 km swim, 30 km mountain biking, 11 km trail run
  • Sport: 500 m swim, 15 km mountain biking, 5 km trail Run


Is a standalone Ironman length triathlon held in Norway. 250 Participants are allowed to enter annually with 160 of those allowed to enter the final stage before the cut off. Those who make the cut off time are awarded a black jersey with the title 'Norseman' whilst finishers receive a white finishers jersey. The race itself climbs some 5000 meters starting at sea level.

See Also - 12 Weeks to Prepare for an Ironman?