Just how long is that?

Thinking about tri-ing a tri, but aren’t exacty sure what you’re in for? Never fear, TGT is here to help! In today’s post, we’ll walk through all of the various triathlon distances and compare them. Here goes…

Super Sprint Triathlon

The shortest triathlons around are usually referred to as super sprints and are a great place for beginners to start. Also, to my knowledge, all super sprints feature pool swims, so no worrying about that open water! You may be wondering how the pool swim works. Typically, you are required to enter a 100yd swim time and participants are ordered from fastest to slowest seed time and start one at a time 10-15 seconds apart. Depending on the event, you’ll either swim one or two lengths per lane, then duck under the lane rope and move your way down the pool.

The distances may vary by event based, but what is shown below should be close approximations.

Super SprintIn my area, some of the best super sprint triathlons are: Ramblin’ Rose (women only), Dixie Divas (women only), and the UNC Wellness Super Sprint (wonder if they allow cheating… sorry! I had to insert a little crack on Chapel Hill!)

Pool Swim Sprint Triathlon

Next up, we have pool swim sprint triathlons, which typically have the “traditional” sprint distance bike and run legs, but an abbreviated swim distance which varies based on the size of the pool. Another great place for a first-time triathletes to start – relatively short distances and no open water.

Pool Sprint

Some if my favorite pool swim sprints in my area are: 36 North*, Huntersville Sprint (500m swim and only one length per lane!), and Tri! Ballantyne

*36 North does something really great and unique (but something that I wish wasn’t unique to pool swims), they start the slowest 10% of swimmers first, leave a 2-5 minute break, then start the remainder of the participants (still one at a time, every 10-15 seconds). This moves up the end of the race by at least an hour and makes it easier for everyone to celebrate together!

Open Water Swim Sprint Triathlon

The next step up and from here on out, you’ll have to leave the “comfort” of the lane lines and head out into open water. However, once you experience a few, I think you’ll come to find that it’s not so hard to leave the pool and you may prefer it. For one, it’s much less crowded and the races as a whole are a lot shorter since all participants will start within 30 minutes of each other (as opposed to pool swims which can take up to 2 hours for everyone to start the race). Again, distances can vary between events, usually it’s the bike leg that changes the most and sometimes the swim.


These are some of the most prevalent races around, but my favorites are: Stumpy Creek, Lake Davidson (500m swim), Belews Lake (time trial start, like a pool swim)

International/Olympic Distance Triathlon

The international or Olympic distance essentially doubles the sprint distance. From what I can tell, the term “international” is more widely used than “Olympic,” but they are interchangeable and this is the distance that is raced in the Olympics (even though the Olympics don’t follow the the standard USAT rules and allow things like drafting on the bike…). Distances vary by race for the bike leg – I’ve seen several that are 45K, or even 30 miles!

International In my opinion, the best international distance tris around are: Bandit’s Challenge, Stumpy Creek, Pinehurst, and Belews Lake (time trial start, like a pool swim)

Half Iron Distance Triathlon

This brings us to the half iron distance, or the 70.3 (that’s the total distance of the race, in miles). The swim is only one-third longer than the international, while the bike and run are a little more than doubled.

Half Iron

You’ll find that the most popular 70.3 races are run by large organizations like IRONMAN (that’s right IRONMAN is a brand of race, not a race distance) or Challenge Family. However, some more regional events do exist. In NC, the Beach 2 Battleship is very popular!

Full Iron Distance Triathlon

And the grand-daddy of them all the iron distance, or the 140.6 which exactly doubles the half iron. Most of these races also have a 17 hour time cap – don’t finish within 17 hours, your effort is recorded as a DNF (did not finish… HARSH!).


Again, you’ll find that the most popular 140.6 races are run by large organizations like IRONMAN or Challenge Family (and new races are popping up all the time!). However, some more regional events do exist, like the Beach 2 Battleship.

And a quick comparison of the distances and proportions of each of the three sports across distances…

ComparisonThis just goes to show you how many varied distances of triathlons there are, and beyond that each race has it’s own unique twists and distances. However, regardless of the distance, each sport takes up nearly the same proportion of the race in each distance.

Now’s the time to start planning out your races for next year and race organizers are just started to put out their calendars. Set your goals now and register early – beyond being committed to the race, registering early can save you a pretty penny!

Want all this info in one place? Check out this fancy infographic I create just for you!

Slide 1

Click here to download PDF.


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