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Triathlon is a multidiscipline sport, combining swimming, cycling and running in sequence.There are five official distances: Sprint Distance (750m swim, 20km bike, 5km bike); Olympic (1.5km swim, 40km bike, 10km swim); ITU Long (3km swim, 80km bike, 20km run); Half/Middle-Distance/70.3/Half-Ironman (1.9km swim, 90km bike, 21.1km run); Full/Ironman (3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42.2km run). There are other unofficial distances, such as super-sprint triathlons or ultra-triathlons. Multisports have been growing in popularity in the UK over recent years, particularly triathlons. The UK now has over 1,000 triathlon events each year with over 200,000 participants. Some triathlons take place in cities, with the swim section in pools or manmade lakes, and the cycle and run elements through cities and past landmarks. Alternatively, some triathlons require open-water swimming in the sea, and take the cycling and running sections off-road onto trails and difficult terrains. There are multisport variations of triathlons such as duathlon, aquathlon, and aquabike, which focus on two of the disciplines but not all three.

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Triathlons in the UK

The triathlon is a multi-sport event combining swimming, cycling and running. The length and duration of these events can vary greatly, ranging from just a few miles to 140 plus. In addition, conditions in competition can differ from event to event. The swim could be in an indoor pool or the sea, and cycling or running on flat coastal roads or rolling countryside hills.

The UK plays host to some of the best triathlon events in the world. Large scale events such as the ITU Worlds Triathlon Leeds and London Triathlon host athletes of all levels of experience with big crowds building a buzzing atmosphere.

What you need to know about Triathlons

The Super-Sprint distance (400m,10k, 2.5k) and Sprint distance (750m, 20k, 5k) triathlons are great for beginners looking to explore multi-sport. These events can be attempted without much prior training, however, if you want to be competitive you should practice your transitions as they can make a big difference to your time. Our 8 week sprint triathlon training plan will get you up to speed. If you are well prepared you could expect to finish a Super-Sprint in under an hour and the Sprint in under 90 minutes.

Olympic (1.5k, 40k, 10k) distance triathlons are the standard distance for international competition. To be competitive here, you’ll need to take your training seriously. We recommend following our 12 week middle distance triathlon training plan (designed for Half Ironman preparation) to get you in shape. If you want to compete in a big name event, the ITU World Triathlon event in Leeds is one of the most popular in the UK, and you’ll get to see some of the worlds best competing for the World Series title. If you can finish one of these in under 3 hours, kudos to you.

The final two distances are the Middle Distance / Half Ironman (1.9k, 90k, 21.1k) and the Full Distance / Ironman (3.8k, 180k, 42.2k). Finishing these events is an achievement in itself. IRONMAN UK and the Outlaw Triathlon are among the UK’s favourites. If you have trained well for a Half Ironman you could be pushing for under 6 hours for men and 7 for women. For the full distance, anything under the 17hr cut off point is a solid accomplishment, but under 13 hours (men) and 14 hours (women) deserves serious respect.


To compete in a triathlon you’ll need the right gear. We’ve written a blog post on 33 essential items to pack for a triathlon, which highlights what you really need and why. Don’t forget your swim cap!

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