Triathlon is increasingly popular both among recreational and professional athletes, and since it combines swimming, cycling, and running into a single sport, it's no surprise that many consider it the king of endurance sports.
But what is triathlon and why should you try it?
In this blog, we talk about triathlon, different types of triathlon, and why we recommend it to all endurance athletes.
What is triathlon?
Triathlon can be defined as a sport that combines three endurance disciplines and five events, if in addition to the three disciplines we also include the two transitions from swimming to cycling and from cycling to running.
This means that triathlon is not merely the sum of an athlete's ability in three different sports, but it's actually more complex than that, as it requires the ability to perform these transitions and prepare for the physical and technical requirements of the competition as a whole.
Triathlon is a sport that you can practice your entire life. Since it combines more disciplines, it allows you to fully develop your body, which is incredibly important both in the young age as later on in life.
Due to the diversity provided by triathlon, you can incorporate different types of training into your daily routine, making it the basis of your dynamic lifestyle.
Triathletes wear a special uniform that works for swimming as well as cycling and running.
Types of triathlon
The most common form of triathlon is a combination of swimming, cycling, and running in this order respectively. Each discipline is followed by a transition.
The transition from swimming to cycling is called T1 (transition 1), and the transition from cycling to running is called T2 (transition 2).
A triathlon competition can begin in several ways. The competitors can start in group, i.e. all at the same time, they can start in several waves based on age or the registered swimming times, or they can start individually with few-second intervals similar to cycling time trials.
We know several variation of triathlon. The competition formats under the European Triathlon Union (ETU) and the World Triathlon Federation (WT) who also organize European Championships (EC) and World Championships (WC) are:
- Aquathlon: swimming – running – swimming; or swimming – running
- Duathlon: running – cycling – running
- Cross triathlon: swimming – cycling (MTB) – running (trail running)
- Cross duathlon: running (trail running) – cycling (MTB) – running (trail running)
- Winter triathlon: running (usually over snow and trackless paths) – cycling (MTB) – cross-country skiing
- Indoor triathlon: swimming – cycling – running (velodrome with an assembly pool at the center)
- Mixed relay triathlon: every member of the team, composed by two men and two women, must finish the relatively short triathlon and pass the baton to the next team member
Mixed relay triathlon
A competition format with four-member teams composed by two men and two women. Each team member must finish the entire super sprint distance of the triathlon before passing the baton to the next team member:
- 250 m swimming,
- 6-10 km cycling,
- 1,5-2,5 km running.
Men go first, pass the baton to women, then men again, and finally women finish the race.
The mixed relay competition lasts 60 to 90 minutes.
This format changed the trends in triathlon, as the sport became faster and more intense, which makes it more exciting for broadcasting.
In addition to different competition formats, triathlon competitions are fundamentally distinguished by their length. Roughly, they are divided in:
- short-distance triathlon,
- middle-distance triathlon,
- and long-distance triathlon.
In most triathlon competitions, 15-20% is represented by swimming, about 50% by cycling, and about 30% by running.
In competitions where slipstreaming is allowed (short-distance triathlon), there is a saying that the swimming portion can "lose" you the race, but it cannot win it. This is based on the fact that in triathlon, all three disciplines are very important and you need to discover your strength and weaknesses, as the weaknesses in triathlon can hurt you more than you can benefit from your strengths.
Short-distance triathlons includes all distances up to the standard distance, which is the one used at the Olympic Games.
The distances of short-distance triathlon:
- 1500 m swimming
- 40 km cycling
- 10 km running
Middle- and long-distance triathlon
Probably the most popular among recreational athletes are middle- and long-distance triathlon, in which an athlete has to face a challenge lasting from 5 to 15 hours.
Both distances are used in the context of European and World Championships.
The distances of middle-distance triathlon:
- 1900 m swimming
- 90 km cycling
- 21 km running
The distance of long-distance triathlon:
- 3800 m swimming
- 180 km cycling
- 42,2 km running
Competitions are organized both by the European Triathlon Union (ETU) and the World Triathlon Federation (WT). But the most triathlon events in the world are organized by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), which also includes Ironman and Ironman 70.3, probably the two events most recognizable to the general sports population.
All competitions organized by ETU, WT, and WTC are intended both for professional and recreational athletes.
Professional triathletes are grouped in the category Elite, while recreational athletes are grouped in the category Age Group and may be referred to as Age Groupers.
Same as in other sports, the age of the athletes is rapidly decreasing. While in the past the best triathletes were 25 to 35 years old, the athletes today reach their peak at 20 years old or in some cases even younger.
This trend allows triathletes to compete more regularly and have more competitions on average in their race program.
Finishing over winning is the slogan of competitive triathlon, which emphasizes the essence of this wonderful sport, that is reaching the finish line is more important than winning.
Triathlon at the Olympic Games
Triathlon was first introduced to the Olympic Games in 2000 at the Opera House in Sydney, Australia.
At the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, in 2020 (2021), they also added the mixed relay of national teams.
And let's not forget about para triathlon, which has been part of the Olympic Games since 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. These competitions are organized by WT and ETU. It is an amazing story that presents triathlon from a completely different perspective and writes the sports and life stories we can witness in triathlon.
Triathlon is an endurance sport that merges swimming, cycling, and running.
It is divided by distance (short, middle, long) and various types, such as aquathlon, duathlon, winter triathlon, and mixed relay triathlon.
There are several types of competitions, and the main slogan remains finishing over winning, which emphasizes participation over competitiveness.
Since 2000, triathlon is part of the Olympic Games.
Since triathlon is a sport that unites several disciplines, it allows you to develop your whole body. You can practice triathlon in different periods of life, which is why we recommend it to all endurance athletes.