Triathlon: Understand the modality and its distances






When it comes to triathlon, despite being a sport that has been growing a lot in recent times, it is still not known by many people. Even most are unaware of or are in doubt about how the distances of the modality are. The triathlon is the combination of 3 sports (swimming, cycling and running) that together form a unique and special sport.

Actually, triathlon events have several types of distances. From the shortest, but not really easy, to the longest and most strenuous. Which makes us wonder if it’s really possible to complete such a challenge.

So below, we’ll talk a little about the history of triathlon, the types of races and their respective distances and difficulties.

How and where triathlons originated

Many people, including experienced practitioners of the sport, believe that triathlon originated in Hawaii (USA). But actually, Hawaii is where Ironman was born, and we’ll talk about that next. However, in fact, the modality originated in the city of San Diego, in the state of California, also in the United States.

It was in 1974 that an athletics club in the city of San Diego, during the vacation periods, gave its athletes swimming and cycling exercises. In order for these athletes to keep themselves in shape, without having to practice athletics. However, upon returning from vacation, these athletes underwent a test of 500 meters of swimming, followed by 12km of cycling and then 5km of running.

In conclusion, athletes loved doing this so much that they asked for this test to be done for years to come. Obviously, in a more organized way, as a competition between them and the city’s lifeguards. Certainly because they were famous as good sportsmen. However, professional athletes won out. However, there are indications that the modality was already practiced in France since the year 1920.

How Ironman came to be

Now talking about the Ironman, it appeared a little later, in 1978. It all started, in a discussion between American marines, about which athlete was the most resistant (the swimmer, the cyclist or the runner).

Commander John Collins then came up with the idea of ​​them competing against each other. Using the longest races of the 3 modalities held in Hawaii. The Waikiki swim crossing 3.8km, the Oahu bike race 180km and the Honolulu marathon 42,195m.

In conclusion, of the 15 athletes who participated in the race, 12 finished. The winner was the sailor Gordon Haller with a time of 11hrs 46min 58sec and this was called “iron man”, the then Ironman.

Short triathlon or Sprint triathlon

The Short triathlon is a test that, as its name says, has the shortest distances among triathlon competitions. However, today these distances are also called Sprint triathlon.

This type of test has the distances of 750 meters of swimming, 20km of cycling and 5 km of running. Therefore, it is ideal and highly sought after by those who are starting triathlon. However, although these distances seem short, they are enough to leave anyone exhausted.

As far as the rules of a short triathlon are concerned, normally in the cycling course, the vacuum is released. That is, athletes are allowed to form platoons. Therefore, the athlete who is in front wears out more than those who are in the vacuum, just behind, making less effort. Therefore, when a vacuum is allowed in the tests, the athlete must be aware of his test tactics. Mainly due to the greater risk of accidents, due to the formation of platoons with several athletes.

Olympic Triathlon or Standard Triathlon

Since the beginning of triathlon practice, the sport has undergone several adaptations and reformulations to be included as an Olympic sport. This happened in the year 2000 at the Sydney Olympics in Australia. The premiere was a success and over 300,000 people watched the race in Sydney.

The distances defined for the modality in the Olympics were 1.5km of swimming, 40km of cycling and 10km of running, as well as in the short triathlon.

On the cycling course, vacuum is allowed. However, in official competitions, when vacuum is allowed, athletes can only participate in the race with road bikes. So, with some specific rules regarding the geometry of the bikes. Therefore, it is not allowed to use aerodynamic clips on the handlebars.

Half Ironman trials

The half Ironman races are among the most sought after by amateur athletes due to their distances. Because, although they are difficult and challenging distances (1.8km of swimming, 90km of cycling, 21km of running), however, it is still half the distances of a complete Ironman (full distance).

Many of the athletes who face this challenge are probably aiming and testing themselves to face a complete Ironman in the future. However, anyone who thinks it is an easy challenge to complete is wrong. By the way, no type of triathlon race is easy. Even the shorter ones mentioned above are very difficult too.

The half Ironman events are also called Ironman 70.3. That’s because the combined distances of all 3 modalities are 70.3 miles. In this type of race, as well as in full Ironman, the vacuum between athletes during the cycling course is prohibited. So athletes who use this type of advantage are punished or even disqualified from the competition. However, in events where vacuum is prohibited, athletes can use clip-on bikes that are more aerodynamic.

Ironman Trials

As far as Ironman is concerned, it can be said that every Ironman is a triathlon, but not every triathlon is an Ironman. This is said because Ironman events are the pinnacle of the sport. Due to the distances and its difficulty to complete a sporting challenge of this magnitude. For this reason, it is often the dream of amateur and professional triathletes.

The impressive distances of an Ironman, as already mentioned since its inception, are 3.8km of swimming, 180km of cycling and 42,195m of running. Several cities around the world hold various Ironman events. However, its world dispute takes place annually in October in Kona, Hawaii (USA), where it all began.

To be able to compete in the world championships in Kona, both amateur and professional athletes need to qualify for the world championships through their participation. And good placement in another Ironman race held around the world, where places are distributed.


Now you know the main distances and the history behind this spectacular and unique sport. Although there are other triathlon events, with other distances besides these, they are less common, so we focus on the most sought after among practitioners of the modality.

So if this reading helped you, leave your comment here and check out our other articles about the sport. Be sure to share with a friend who is also passionate about Mundo TRI.

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