What distance?

A little editorial here. Triathlon is a pretty broad sport. Not only do you have to be proficient at three different sports, but you also have to be able to do several distances that take between one hour and ten (or 16, depending on the athlete).

Wait a minute. No you don’t. You only have to be good at one.

There are four distinct distances in our sport, and, contrary to popular belief, they aren’t stepping stones for the ironman.

The four distance are much like events in swimming or track (only 60 times longer). There are sprinters, there are D guys, and there’s mid-D. Just because the D guys think they’re better due to the extra hours they put in, doesn’t mean their event is “better”. Actually, for the age groupers out there doing triathlon, there’s something to be said for the people who decide not to go long because they want to have time for their kids and family. It’s a little hard to scoff at that.

I’m getting off subject. The point is there are four distances that cover exactly what needs to be covered.

The sprint is half an olympic, .75k/20k/5k, and is equivalent to a 400m race at the track, or a 100m swim. You have to focus almost entirely on speed.

Mine is the Olympic Distance, or the international short course, 1.5k swim, 40k bike, and 10k run. A little more endurance, and nutrition comes into play here, but the main objective is still speed. It’s like a 200 IM in swimming, or a 1500 on the track.

The 70.3, or half ironman is 1.2miles / 56 miles / 13.1 miles and is more like a 500 freestyle, or a 400IM, or a 5k in track. (only WAY more boring)

Then there’s the ironman. That’s the 2.4 swim / 112 bike / 26.2 run. I’ll try that out when I’m 40, and realize it’s cheaper than a porche. It’s like the mile swim, or the 10k run. The guys that do this are entirely different than the sprinters doing the 100 and 200 free, or the 400 and 1500m runs. Same sport, different athletes.

And there are plenty of distances! Four is completely enough!


The tri 101 is something between a half and a full IM. I don’t know the distances exactly.

Some corporate folks decided that triathlon was growing so rapidly that there must be more space for profit. “Why not just invent a new distance?” they thought. Because there’s no need for something in between a half and a full ironman! There’s already something between the two (here’s the editorial coming through), it’s intangible, but it’s there. What lies between the two is a line between healthy athletes and completely insane exercise addicts. (note: Michellie Jones was quoted with a similar opinion back in her Olympic days, and now she’s the IM world champion, so I’m not saying that level of insanity is beyond me, I’m just not there now.)

So why straddle that line? Just leap it. If an athlete is going to train for something like Ironman, their motives are different than the guys doing the shorter distances. They want to do the longest, most grueling, most well known race they can. It’s bragging rights just to finish it, and they don’t care if it keeps them from walking for a week, or if it takes them 16 hours, or if they are the last person across the line.

Bragging rights. So why would anyone sign up for something that takes just as many hours of training, but falls short of what many triathletes see as the pinnacle of accomplishment?

They didn’t.
To me it’s more impressive to see somebody doing 10 shorter races, improving throughout the season, and finishing healthy, and in great physical condition, ready and excited for more. Too bad there’s not a tattoo for that.

Published by Ben

Ben Collins Professional Triathlete

Join the Conversation


  1. Exactly! I’m tired of people at work asking me “when I’m going to do an Ironman”, as if the Olympic races I’m doing are the ‘rookie races’ and the big boys go to do Ironman. I choose not to abuse my body like that… yet:) Agreed on the 101 race as well.

    Keep it up dude, this site has been a pleasure to read.

  2. I resent your comment about the Ironman being “like the mile swim”. It’s not like the mile swim. It’s like the 25k, maybe, but not the mile. The mile, when swum correctly, is a speed event. It’s elegance and art and ferocity and finesse. It’s the approximate aerobic equivalent of a 5k running. To compare it to the Ironman is to impugn the dignity of distance swimming.

    This has me so enraged, in fact, that I might just write a follow-up…

  3. Nice job ben. I finally got away from doing those sprint events – or basically – run until you can’t keep yourself from throwing up. After doing a pseudo long distance race (1/35/10) – I actually enjoyed it. I’d rather run 10 miles than swim a mile – so for me the swim (swim spelled backwards is ‘dumb’) is rough regardless of the distance. I’m just glad directors are smart enough to max the swim at 2.4 miles.

  4. The reason I compare IM triathletes to milers is because in swimming, the mile is the longest event. The D-guys are typically the ones who refuse to take days off, swim 15-20k every day, think more is always better, and scoff at the mid-D and sprint guys for not training as “hard”. I know because I WAS a D-guy. That’s the same way a lot of IM guys train. Now, some milers get to the level (like you) where they can maintain some decent speed for the whole race. Similarly, it would be pretty tough to say Macca or Stadler running 2:30-2:45 marathons at the end of an 8 hour IM “lack speed”. I’m not saying IM isn’t a race, it’s just a different mindset for the guys that do it.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *