Last Sunday’s Tweetchat chat on triathlons (see and like the facebook page here) had us thinking about the fact that many people we talk to about triathlon are still confused by some of the terms that are bandied about. And, of course Ironman Kona, the world championships of triathlon, is coming up soon. So we thought we’d give you a good primer on one of our favorite multisports.


Confused by the map? Don’t be…it’ll all be clear soon. Source.

Technically, a triathlon is any sport that involves three sports, performed consecutively, much the way that a biathlon can be anything from a cross-country-skiing-and-shooting-fest to a run-bike-run. Strictly speaking, though, triathlon is typically defined as swim-bike-run, in that order. The individual sports, or “legs,” are separated by transitions. (“T1” is the period between the swim and the bike; “T2” is the period between the bike and the run.)

That Whole “Ironman” Thing
We can’t tell you how many people have asked us, when they find out we’ve done an Ironman, “Wait, a full one?” Sometimes we get the same question when we tell people we’re doing triathlons. Anything less than a full triathlon would be a bi-athlon, or a running or swimming or biking race. And anything less than an Ironman is a half-Ironman or an Olympic distance or a sprint race. (More on those later.) The term “triathlon” is not interchangeable with “Ironman.”

There is some controversy about the Ironman branding. We were disappointed to realize that, since the people behind the Ironman brand also operate events at the half-Ironman distance, they are extending the Ironman name to that distance. They’re calling it “70.3? instead (the full distance behind an Ironman is 140.6 miles), so as not to dilute the brand of “Ironman,” but we believe it’s backfired: Now, you can say you’ve done an “Ironman” if you did an Ironman-branded 70.3 event. They encourage it. The collective memory may eventually forget that Ironman once meant one specific distance.

The Distances
In order, from shortest to longest, the triathlons are: sprint; Olympic (or International); Half-Ironman (or “middle-distance”); Ironman (or “long distance”). Here are the distance breakdowns:
Swim: 400-800 yards (0.25-0.5 mile)
Bike: 13 miles
Run: 3.1 miles

Olympic (International)
Swim: .93 miles
Bike: 26 miles
Run: 6.2 miles

Half-Ironman (Middle)
Swim: 1.2 miles
Bike: 56 miles
Run: 13.1 miles

Ironman (Long)
Swim: 2.4 miles
Bike: 112 miles
Run: 26.2

How to Get Started
Start small. Find a friendly local race to train for. Enlist some friends to train with you and race with you. Enjoy the process, as you become competent in several disciplines and gain confidence and strength. Swim outdoors when you can. There are a ton of training programs online that you can look at to get started. We used Trinewbies.com for awhile and enjoyed it.
Next, shop. Yes, do get triathlon-specific items. You could spend a ton of money, but you don’t have to: invest in a pair of triathlon shorts that will take you straight from swim to bike and through the run. A wetsuit, if your chosen triathlon requires it, or if you live in a colder-weather clime.

Next, set some goals. They can be anything: weight loss; time spent outdoors; a time goal. Just pick something and stick to it.

Finally, pick a nice, casual restaurant in which to celebrate your first triathlon. If you don’t finish the race feeling good enough to have a margarita (okay, we’ll admit this is our own personal benchmark), then…well, try again. Then repeat.

Next week, some transition area tips.

What are your thoughts on the Ironman branding?

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