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What's the best triathlon distance race for you? (part 1)

Posted Feb 12 2011 9:20am


Although there are creative variations on the traditional triathlon distances (such as some races that make the swim longer to appease the fish among us, or the races that make the bike longer to make us feel like we're getting deserved mileage from our multi-thousand dollar time trial bike, or the races that make the run longer to simply be masochistic and cruel), there are generally 4 triathlon distances: Sprint, Olympic, Half-Ironman and Ironman. So to help you with your triathlon race season preparation, here's a quick peak at the pros and cons of each triathlon distance.

Sprint Distance:

Pros - Imagine an overweight, sedentary individual sitting on the couch and licking Cheetos residue off their fingers. Technically, it would be possible for that person to be standing on the starting line of a Sprint triathlon just 12-16 weeks later. This is because since sprint triathlon distances are short, they have a low barrier to entry and don't require extensive physical preparation.

You only need to be able to swim 400-600 meters (8-12 laps in a pool), ride a bicycle 10-15 miles, and run or walk 2-4 miles, and this requires continuously exercising for about 50 minutes to 2 hours. This may be tough for some, but it is do-able for most. Furthermore, if you're fit or experienced in triathlon, and you want to go faster in a Sprint triathlon, it will take less training time than the longer distances, so it's pretty rare for Sprint triathlon distance to be a family-wrecker.

Cons - Sprint triathlons don't carry much notoriety. You may become offended when someone asks you how your "Mini-Triathlon" went. And if you do decide to go fast or shoot for a podium spot, a sprint triathlon is going to hurt, a lot. You'll need to be at a red hot high-intensity effort near maximum heart rate for about 2-3 times as long as a 5K run.

That's a zone that's tough for most to get into, but the price you have to pay if you want to win or place in a Sprint triathlon distance. Another possible con for many is that you simply don't have much time to eat food during a Sprint triathlon, so those who compete in order to have access to a moving buffet of gels and cookies will be disappointed.


Olympic Distance:

Pros - As the name implies, the Olympic distance is pretty much the same triathlon distance covered in the Olympics (1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run), so when someone asks you if you did a "Mini-Triathlon", you can respond by saying, No, I did exactly what they do in the Olympics.

This will probably make you feel good inside, and at the same time, you still don't have to train quite as much as the Half-Ironman and Ironman triathletes, so your spouse, kids, family and friends will not find you a complete stranger. If you are a triathlon junkie, you can do a ton of Olympic distances races in a year, and not have a high risk of over-training or injury, since they are relatively short and you'll recover quickly. Plus, you actually get to eat a little bit. Bon appetit.

Cons - At the same time, the intensity of your Olympic triathlon distance training will be far greater than the Half-Ironman and Ironman triathlon. So, similar to Sprint triathlon, you need to be willing to go into the pain cave far more often. If you're not fit, it's still possible to get roped into an Olympic distance triathlon by your peers, who will probably say something like, 'C'mon, it's just 25 percent of an Ironman. When you reach the 5K point of the run, however, you will be planning revenge on these peers. And if you do want to get on the podium for an Olympic distance race, be ready to execute flawlessly, since the tiniest mistakes can cost you precious seconds that add up very quickly for this triathlon distance.

Be sure to check out the Rock Star Triathlete Academy, at , where you can join me for a weekly webinar to talk about your triathlon training, nutrition and more.

Editor's Note: This is just part obe of Ben's story. Be sure to come back tomorrow for the pros and cons of the half and full Iron distance race. 


Ben Greenfield has been coaching athletes for over a decade from the website , and is author of the modern triathlon coaching manual, "How To Be A Triathlon Coach," at .

Follow on twitter @ everymantri or view latest videos on YouTube .

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