The triathlon originally emerged to settle the long-standing debate, ‘who is the fittest athlete, swimmers, runners or cyclists? This led to the Triathlon being conceived in France in 1920. The athletes competing in the first recorded Triathlon had to complete a 3 kilometre run, followed by a 12 kilometre cycle and finish with a swim across the Marne. These distances were much shorter than Triathlons typically held today. The Ironman, arguably one of the most well-known and toughest modern Triathlons which wasn’t conceived until 1977. The first Ironman was a 140.6 mile race around the entire island of Oahu in Hawaii in the hopes of finally settling that long-standing debate about who are the fittest athletes.
Types of Triathlon
When asking the question ‘what is a Triathlon’, there isn’t a one size fits all answer. Yes, all Triathlons consist of running, swimming and cycling, but the distances for each part of the race and terrain all vary greatly. Luckily for the average Joe and Jane, there are Triathlons much shorter than the Ironman to get you started...
Super Sprint Triathlon- 0.3 mile (400m) swim, 6.2 mile (10km) bike, 1.6 mile (2.5km) run
Sprint Triathlon- 0.46 mile (750m) swim, 12.5 mile (20km) bike, 3.1 mile (5km) run
Olympic or Standard Triathlon- 0.93 mile (1.5km) swim, 25 mile (40km) bike, 6.2 mile (10km) run
Half-Ironman or 70.3 Triathlon- 1.2 mile (1.9km) swim, 56 mile (90km) bike, 13.1 mile (21.1km) run
Ironman Triathlon- 2.4 mile (3.8km) swim, 112 mile (180.2km) bike, 26.2 mile (42.2km) run
The swimming portion of a Triathlon is typically the shortest third. Depending on the the location and level of Triathlon, the swim may take place in either a swimming pool, lake, sea or open water. This means that in some races a wetsuit is worn, particularly if it is in open water. Swimming may also be completed in either a front crawl or breast stroke, whichever your preference.
For the cycling third of the race it is necessary to bring your own bike, and absolutely compulsory to wear a helmet. Even the professionals have to wear them! As long as your bike is road worthy and has been serviced you can race with it. The route you will be cycling is also very dependent on the location and terrain, but typically it is on open roads with other road users such as cars. Whilst the route will be signposted and should be easy to follow, it is recommended to practice on quiet roads whilst you build up your confidence cycling amongst other cars and cyclists.
Running after cycling a long distance will often feel a little different, but this will ease as you continue to run. The most important piece of gear for the running third is your trainers. It is essential that they fit perfectly and they are comfortable. The last thing you need is blisters and sore feet for the last stretch of the race. There will also be signposts along the route and drinking stations for the final push.