What is an Ironman Triathlon – Ironman Triathlon Distance – Can I do one?

reaction to ironman triathlon distanceA lot of people have heard of an Ironman. But it seems from talking to them very few really know what its is. or what the ironman triathlon distance is. I know this because of the look on their faces when you tell them!  So lets get into it. What is an ironman triathlon.


A Triathlon is an event where the athlete performs 3 separate disciplines one after the other with no rest. First come the swim, then the bicycle leg followed by the run. This is true for almost all triathlon events. The different types and names you hear are related to the distance of the legs. These start with the diminutive Sprint triathlon.

Spint Triathlon:triathlon swimmers

400 meter Swim – 20km (12mile) Bike – 5k (3.1 mile) Run     Pool based Sprint triathlon

750 meter Swim – 20km (12mile) Bike – 5k (3.1 mile) Run      Open Water based Sprint Triathlon

As you can see the name Sprint is a bit deceptive as there is not a great deal of sprinting going on with those distances. Its a really tough event and the perfect starting point.


Olympic Distance / Standard Distance:

olympic triathlon start

1500 meter Swim – 40km (25mile) Bike – 10k (6.2 mile) Run

This is the standard bearer of triathlons and the one most people think of when you say triathlon. This is the distance raced during the Olympics, hence the name. At these distances thinks are really tough the swim is the equivalent of 60 25m pool lengths but swum in the open water either lakes, rivers or the ocean. often in murky cold water. just completing the swim is an incredible achievement. And many people view a 10k run as a good “challenge” event. Times tend to be in the 2hr range for the very fast guys and girls with anything under 2:30 considered a very fine achievement.

Normally when you tell someone you are doing an Ironman Triathlon they instantly think of the Olympic event. This normally triggers looks and sounds of admiration. But they probably don’t know the exact distances so will follow up with a question. “So what are the distances ?” and you get to real off the following:

Ironman / Iron distance Triathlon:

2.4 Mile (3.8km) Swim

112 Mile (180km) Bike

26.2 mile (42km) Marathon Run

Peoples reaction tend to be quite amusing….If that was you first time hearing it I imagine you probably just had a similar reaction. I know I did. They are all pretty unthinkable distances. People don’t always know how to process that. They understand what its like to DRIVE 112 miles and probably consider that a long and arduous drive. They know a Marathon is the ULTIMATE running distance. How does anyone run one AFTER riding that far….how does anyone do ANYTHING after that ride!

Don’t forget the swim though. Nearly two and a half miles of open water swimming, Its 152 equivalent pool lengths. But open water swimming just doesn’t equate to pool swimming. Its normally the discipline most people struggle with.

This is all done back to back within a strict time limit Normally 17hours. Its ok to rest between or during events (although maybe not the swim) but the clock is still ticking. Its one continuous incredible effort.

It can be very hard to imagine yourself ever being able to complete this incredible feat. Even Marathon runners or century (100mile) cyclists still struggle to see how they could possibly achieve such a mammoth under taking. Non athletic people simply cannot believe it could ever be possible to even do a standard distance let alone a ironman. People assume you need to be a genetic freak. A super human. But you don’t.

You can do an Ironman too!  Anyone can. I honestly believe that. see my can I complete an Ironman post for further reading.

CyclingrunningIronman Finish

There a few other distances available such as the Half Iron Distance (or Ironman70.3) which is actually as it sounds half the distance of a full ironman. Often done as a warm up or test event for a full distance.

1900 meter Swim – 90km (56mile) Bike – 21k(13.1 mile) Run

Or the ITU long-distance

4000 meter Swim – 120km (75mile) Bike – 30k(19 mile) Run

They also be done as a DOUBLE Iron distance or a triple! There is even a DECA Iron Distance…That 10x the distance of a Ironman. Done as either ten back to back ironmans over ten days OR one iron distance with 10times longer distances.

And you thought an Ironman was insane!

Let me know If you have any comments about this post in the comments below? Are you tempted to complete an Ironman ? Or just tempted to get into triathlon at all?


Stephen James


  1. Hi Stephen nice info I really love athletes who do have the ability to do this sport cause you will need a lot of stamina in order to complete the whole round.

    • Thanks Alham
      You certainly do need a lot of stamina, however this can be trained into just about any individual. Its more about believing you can and doing the appropriate training than anything else. And the training is far more managable than most people think it would be

  2. Hi,
    IRONMAN Triathlon is really for one to challenge one’s endurance. The last held event in Singapore was in 2012, AVIVA IRONMAN 70.3. IRONMAN Endurance Asia has set up their headquarters in Singapore, who knows whether they will held the IRONMAN events again in this small island. I think in coming future it will be since extreme sports is getting more well receiving in the city.


    • Thanks for reading Ian
      I’m sure Singapore would be a fantastic location for an ironman Event. We are spoilt in the UK with multiple events and easy access to many more in Europe. Hopefully they resurrect Ironman Singapore as that does sound a great event.

  3. Hi Stephen,
    Interesting post. I was searching for interval training to increase stamina and somehow ended up here. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to see that these high intense activities that look seemingly impossible, can actually be done if you put your mind to it and train consistently. For me its the extra motivation I needed to now go and run some more on the treadmill!

    • Hi EVE,
      Glad I have inspired you to do a bit more running. Interval training is used a lot in ironman. especially for time crunched ironman training, which is most of us. Enjoy your Training. And check back as I will be writing in depth about interval training.

  4. Hi Stephen

    Being a jogger myself, I can appreciated the distances that these athletes do, but what I do is nothing compared to what these guys are doing. While I’m not going to be doing a triathlon anytime soon, I have a lot of admiration and respect for what these athletes are putting themselves through in completing these events.

    To do an Ironman Triathlon is really the ultimate test in endurance, stamina and willpower and to think that they can go twice, three times or even ten times the distances is almost inconceivable.

    For those wishing to do the Ironman event, it’s good that there are lead up or test events like the Sprint Triathlon to start with as I think the body needs time to adjust to the rigours and the distances involved, what a challenge this is, good post.

    • Hi Adrian, Thanks for reading
      I always find the more involved in sport someone is the more they understand just how much of an achievement ironman is.
      Test / warm up events are great for honing/practicing skills and building confidence, they are also great fun. I don’t need to do these events anymore but I still do as I just enjoy racing. They are by no means necessary though. You can train the adaptions needed (called brick training) I find the main advantage is the confidence building aspect.

  5. My high school football coach actually competed in an Ironman. He’s an army vet and he said it was the hardest thing he’s ever done in his life.

    • Hi Brandon, Thanks for the comment. Surprised an Army Vet would say that! Sure these events are tough but nothing compared to some of the things encountered in the armed services. Its only a hobby and you know at any point you can just get off the ride. Not always the case with those guys!

  6. Oh my goodness! I find it amazing that a body can be trained to handle this type of challenge. I have heard of an ironman before but honestly had no idea exactly what it entails. I am so impressed!

    • Hi Rachel, Thanks for reading,
      Glad you are impressed its an amazingg feat of endurance and will power. But it is quite trainable. The human body is a truly incredible machine!

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