How to choose the right triathlon?

Wanted to always participate in a triathlon but unsure of the types of triathlons you can join? Let us help you make that decision a little easier! :)

How To Choose The Right Triathlon?

What is a triathlon?

For anyone unfamiliar, a triathlon is an athletic event comprising of 3 main categories: swimming, cycling and running. 

A standard triathlon begins with swimming, moves on to cycling and ends with running and there is typically no rest in between. 

This sport has been gaining popularity globally and I’m sure you’re interested to know what this entails!

Categories of triathlons

There are four main categorical distances for triathlon races:

1) Sprint Triathlon

2) Olympic Triathlon

3) Half-Ironman/Long Course Triathlon

4) Ironman/Ultra Triathlon

Scroll down as we share more about the different types of triathlons!

1. Sprint triathlon

The sprint is the most popular distance in the sport. Beginner triathletes most often select sprint distances as their first events.

There are two types of sprint triathlons:

The standard sprint triathlon:
0.5km - 0.75km Swim; 20km to 22km Cycle; 5km Run

And super sprints:

0.4km Swim; 10km Cycle; 2.5km Run

2. Standard triathlon

This is the official distance of the Olympic event, and this event requires a good fitness base.

This event entails a 1.5km Swim; 40km Cycle; 10km Run.

3. Half-ironman triathlon

Half-ironman events are far more challenging than the shorter distances and sometimes are used as qualifiers for Ironman triathlons.

It is best not to attempt a race at this distance until you’ve completed a sprint or Olympic event.

A half-ironman event comprises 1.9km Swim; 90km Cycle; 21km Run.

4. Ironman triathlon

Each of the legs alone in this event challenges even the most experienced endurance athlete.

Train for an ironman distance only after you’ve had experience in shorter races and completed at least one half-ironman triathlon.

This event sees 3.8km Swim; 180km Cycle; 42km Run.

So, how do i choose which triathlon distance to compete in?

#1: What is your fitness level?

If you are just starting out in triathlon, you should focus on 1 or 2 key objectives this year.

Start by setting your benchmarks, training in each of the three sports, and get ready for your first race.

Intermediate triathletes will be more used to sequencing training sessions and races. Your body can absorb a higher training volume.

You can therefore focus on 2 or 3 objectives over the course of the year and punctuate your preparation with shorter preparatory races. For example, one or two shorter triathlons, duathlons, trail runs, road races, cyclosportives or swim and runs to provide some variety.

Everyone has a different capacity for races depending on their physical abilities and experience so far. I recommend planning one or two duathlons at the start of the season.

This will give you objectives for working on your speed. At the same time, you can also take part in a few runs or swim and runs.

#2: How much time can you commit to training for a triathlon?

If you are intending to compete in a triathlon, such as the half-ironman or ironman, you will need to have longer and more numerous training sessions.

Obviously, a high-level triathlete specialising in short formats deals with large training volumes but in general, the longer the distance, the more time you need for preparation.

You should therefore take all factors into account when deciding which triathlon to participate in as you need plenty of time for training.


#3: What race format should you choose?

Your fitness level determines the race format you should sign up for.

Beginner athletes will prefer short races such as the sprint triathlon. More advanced athletes, or athletes accustomed to longer exercise periods, can sign up for the standard Olympic triathlon. And finally, intermediate triathletes can opt for the half-ironman or ironman triathlons.


#4: What are your motivations?

You have to develop your training schedule in consideration of your short, medium and long-term motivations

Let's imagine that you were thinking of doing a half-ironman or ironman in two years' time, you would have to organise the next two years accordingly and develop a schedule with a two-year objective.

However, if your motivation is to complete your first triathlon, you would set your objective after a few months of practice to prepare yourself and meet this challenge!


#5: Are you going solo or in a group?

Triathlon is an individual sport but it's better signing up in a group!

On the day of the race, you are fighting your own battle, but taking part in a race with friends or teammates is important for several reasons. 

Firstly, there's the race preparation. It's easier to find training companions if several of you are preparing at the same time. 

Also, organising trips will be easier and more fun. Some trips can be long and it's also a good chance to share a few days of holiday with friends. 

Finally, sharing experiences after a race can be an important moment for race participants.

A few tips from us to you

#1: Make sure you get a period of rest between each race to optimise your performance

Between short races, you will soon be able to resume your training pace and move on to the next race.

However, you will need to rest properly between longer races. If you are preparing a half-ironman triathlon, you can do an Olympic triathlon a few weeks before your race.

If you want to do two half-ironman triathlons in a row, you should leave at least a two-month period between the two.

For an ironman triathlon, you can do a half-ironman race up to 6 weeks beforehand. If you are doing two ironman triathlons in a row, make sure you do a maximum of two over the course of the year.

Once again, everyone is different and has a different capacity in terms of sequences. Don't forget that it's important to manage your efforts throughout the season.

It is impossible to have high-performance all year round so you have to manage your fitness peaks through finetuning.


#2: Spend time managing time for your training sessions, work and personal life.

It is important to sit down and plan your schedule. Considering the points mentioned above, you should list your constraints throughout the preparation period.

It wouldn't be a good idea to do a half-ironman when you know that you will have a packed work schedule in the 2 months before that!

Look at your calendar, write down the races that you are interested in, share them with your friends, decide and sign up. Registration to races is often done early in the season and some races are literally overrun with participants! When setting your objectives, make sure you set aside rest periods and maintain balance in life.

Finally, don't forget that you are responsible for choosing your own races and for putting everything in place in order to achieve your objectives. You may sometimes wonder why you have decided to embark on this adventure, but during those times, remember how important it is to you a few weeks or months ago

I like to remember that it isn't just about getting to the finish line, but also the journey that counts, so enjoy it throughout the year!

Fun fact

How did triathlons come about?

Triathlons date back to 25th September 1974 where Don Shanahan and Jack Johnstone pioneered this sport. With a sponsorship from the San Diego Track Club, the inaugural triathlon race comprised of a 500m swim, 8km cycle and 10km run. 

Over time, triathlons were participated by many and this sport was given Olympic status in 1989, making it the fastest sport to achieve such a status! This sport made its official debut in the international arena at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. 

Ever since, the popularity of triathlons has skyrocketed and gained international standing. 

The official distance for the triathlon was set by the International Triathlon Union, which was founded in Avignon, France. It comprises a 1.5km swim, 40km cycle and 10km run, totaling up to 51.5km covered. This was then adopted by the Olympic game and has remained the official distance till date.

Triathlon product recommendations

For short distances:

For longer distances:

How Do I Choose the Right Triathlon for Me? Here's How.

Written by: camille ract

Triathlon enthusiast

The best part about triathlons is the thrill of the journey.