Sprint triathlons, Olympic distance, and the half and full Ironman are the most common triathlon distances.

There are many choices for novice or experienced triathletes when it comes to triathlon distances.

Today there are triathlons in pretty well every city in the world as the sport continues to grow at a rapid pace. It’s possible to attempt your very first “Try a Tri” up to the Ironman Triathlon distance.

Pick a race? Why would you pick a race before you even lace up your running shoes for the first time, or learn how to swim?

Chances are that you seldom if ever get in your car without having a destination in mind.

When you have a predetermined destination you can plan the route that will ultimately get you where you want to go, and at the same time will know approximately how long it will take to get there.

Well, doing a triathlon is no different. This is especially true if it’s your very first one. If you have a goal to shoot for it’s far easier to stay committed and to prepare with a purpose. Of course there are many triathlon distances to choose from.

It’s important to have a time frame that meshes with your level of ability and the degree of difficulty of the triathlon distances you are preparing for.

The triathlon you have in mind might be a few months or a few years away. It doesn’t really matter how far away it is. What is truly important is to allow yourself enough time to go into the race knowing that you are properly prepared.
triathlon distances
For example, when I witnessed my very first triathlon on television it happened to be the 1982 Hawaii Ironman. I knew almost right away that I wanted to cross that finish line in Kona one day.

Back then, there were no shorter races or triathlon distances to choose from, so basically it was the Ironman or nothing.

My goal was to enter the Ironman two years later in 1984 because I didn’t know how to swim and had to learn to swim well enough to make it through the 2.4 miles in Kona harbor.

I also had to get back on a bike as I hadn’t been on one since grade school. For me to jump into the 1983 Ironman would have been unrealistic and most likely a huge mistake.

It was an immense help that I could always focus on the finish line in Kona whenever the going got tough over the long months of training, and it sustained me and kept me motivated to never lose sight of my Hawaii dream.

Today those who are new to the sport have many choices when they decide they want to enter the world of triathlon. The days are long gone when the Ironman was the only option.

The races today have triathlon distances that allow you to gradually increase your endurance over months or even years.

Yes, there are still those who jump right into the Ironman as their first triathlon, but for the majority of novice triathletes this is not necessarily the best decision.

It makes much more sense to ease into the sport and increase the triathlon distances they compete in as their self-confidence, conditioning, and athletic ability improve.

There are so many possibilities open to you when it comes to choosing a triathlon that will suit you best. Perhaps the swim portion of a triathlon is making you hesitant about giving the sport a try. However, there is a solution for you.


The “try a tri” race is a perfect distance if you are a bit nervous about the swim leg of a triathlon.

There is no set distance for a “try a tri” but races of this type focus on letting people take part in and complete their first triathlon.

triathlon distances

"Trying your first tri

The swim is normally quite short and most seem to be in the 300 to 400 meter range. It’s a very doable distance and if you like, you can even do the breast-stroke for the entire swim. Always keep in mind however, that a long, smooth front crawl is your ultimate goal for your triathlon swim.

If swimming in the open water worries you a bit at first, then find a “try a tri” that has a pool swim. From there you can progress to a “try a tri” that has a short open water swim as opposed to a pool swim.

Normally the bike portion will be around 15 kilometers and the run will be in the 3 kilometer range. It’s the perfect way to experience this great sport for the first time and for many novice triathletes it’s one of the best options as far as triathlon distances.


If you are still in the process of learning how to swim and are not quite ready to take on your first individual triathlon, consider forming a relay team.

If you feel you’re not quite ready for the swim or bike, then perhaps you can do the run portion of the race and find two friends who can do the swim and bike legs.

You could attempt a different leg each time as you work on improving your fitness and skill levels. By taking part in a relay you will have more options as to what length of race you can do as you are only doing one discipline and not all three.

Once you gain confidence and become more proficient at swimming, biking, and running, you will be able to do a short tri all on your own.

Also, by being part of a relay team, you will get a feeling for what the sport is all about and it will inspire you to continue improving.


A “sprint triathlon” would be the natural progression from a “try a tri”. A sprint triathlon normally involves a swim of anywhere from a 500 meters to 1000 meters, a 20 kilometer bike, and a 5 kilometer run.

Once again, these are not standard triathlon distances and will vary from race to race, but will normally be shorter than the Olympic distance and longer than a “try a tri”. If you cannot find a “try a tri” in your area, then a “sprint triathlon” would be the logical choice if you are a complete beginner.


The “Olympic distance” is a set triathlon distance regardless of where you happen to live in the world. The swim is 1500 meters, followed by a 40 kilometer bike, and a 10 kilometer run.

Whether an Olympic distance triathlon is in the Summer Olympic Games or in your city, this is the standard distance.

As you get into the longer races such as this one, you can normally expect the swim to be in the open water as opposed to a pool.

For one thing it’s far easier for race organizers to manage as pool swims require lap counters and many different heats as pools can only accommodate a limited amount of swimmers at one time.

It’s a very doable distance for the novice triathlete who is a competent swimmer, but if you are nervous about the swim, a shorter triathlon would be a perfect choice to start out with. As you gain confidence and experience you can enter longer races.


This is also a set distance and includes a 1.9 kilometer swim, followed by a 90 kilometer bike and a 21.1 kilometer run.

Once you get into triathlons of this distance you will require more endurance and of course, a lot more training time under your belt.

Currently there are official WTC Ironman 70.3 races springing up all over the world.


Races like Ironman Canada are a set distance all over the world.

The Ironman includes a 3.86 kilometer swim, followed by a 180.25 kilometer bike and a 42.195 kilometer run. In my mind, this is the greatest endurance race in the world.

There are longer races out there and races that are very challenging in their own right, but the Ironman distance is still the greatest race in the world for one main reason.

It’s within the reach of ordinary people who hear the challenge of the Iron Gods and are truly “Ironstruck”.

It’s extremely challenging and difficult, yet at the same time, possible for so many if only they believe in themselves and are prepared to do whatever it takes to reach the Ironman finish line.

There are people out there who envision the Ironman finish line, and it’s that dream that sustains them as they put in the hours, weeks, months, and even years of training.

So pick a race. There are many triathlon distances to choose from. Set your sights on a goal and envision yourself crossing that finish line regardless of how long the race is.

As you prepare, never let go of that thought and you will feel the true power of a passion – of a dream – and how it can give you wings and lift you as it gets closer and closer to becoming a reality.

Feel free to contact me with any triathlon questions or concerns you might have and I will be glad to help.

I would love to help you realize your triathlon goals and dreams no matter which of the triathlon distances you choose.


Visit for information on Ironman 70.3 and full distance Ironman races.

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