Triathlon And Ironman: Answers and Information For Your Most Common Questions


Q. What is a triathlon?

A triathlon is a competition involving the completion of three continuous and sequential endurance disciplines, namely, swimming, cycling, and running in immediate succession, one after the other.

Q. Is the order of the disciplines fixed?
Yes. The order is swim, then bike and finally run.

Q. What are the distances involved?
Just like there are multiple distances in running races (half marathon, full marathon, etc), there are various distances in triathlon races too, as follows:

Race Type Swim Bike Run
Super Sprint 400 m 10 km 2.5 km
Sprint 750 m 20 km 5 km
Olympic / International / Standard-course / short-course 1.5 km 40 km 10 km
Half Ironman / middle-distance / 70.3 1.93 km 90 km 21.09 km
Full Ironman / long distance / 140.6 3.8 km 180.2 km 42.2 km


Q. What is the difference between triathlon and Ironman?

An Ironman is just one brand of a series of triathlon races, similar to the Rock n Roll series of marathon races. However, there are many triathlon races organized by various companies like the Challenge Series or the ITU (International Triathlon Union).

Q. Who organizes the Ironman series of triathlon races?

World Triathlon Corporation. Its a private, for-profit company, similar to Procam, which organizes various races in India like SCMM (Mumbai Marathon), Airtel Delhi Half Marathon and TCS 10K.

Q. Is there a calendar of triathlons in India?
A non-exhaustive calendar can be found here:

Q. Is there a calendar of Ironman (full and half) races?


Q. Can I use any swim stroke I want?

Yes. You can even use backstroke if you want. Most common stroke used is the front crawl (freestyle) while a sizable minority employ breaststroke.

Q. Can I use floating or propulsion devices?
No. Devices like flippers, fins, pull-buoys are not allowed.

Q. Is drafting allowed?
Yes, Drafting (swimming close to another swimming in front of you to reduce drag) is allowed and is employed by many advanced and competitive participants.

Q. What is a wetsuit?
A wetsuit is a full body (sleeved or sleeveless) rubber suit used for protection against cold water. In many triathlon races, a wetsuit is legal if the water temperature is less than 78F (26C).

Q. Does wetsuit offer any advantage?
Yes, due to its material and thickness, a wetsuit provides considerable buoyancy which results in faster swim times over the same distance.

Q. Can I wear a wetsuit even if water is not cold to get the buoyancy advantage?

Yes, but many races will disqualify you from podium contention if you wear a wetsuit when it is not mandatory. Further, it is not recommended that you wear a wetsuit if the water temperature f above 84F(29C) due to chances of overheating.

Q. Am I allowed to take a break and hold onto something during the swim?

Yes. You can hold onto any non-moving object like a raft or canoe.


Q. Is drafting legal?

In some races, like those governed by World Triathlon Corporation (the Ironman races), drafting is not allowed. In other races, such as those organized by the ITU, drafting and the formation of peletons is legal.

Q. Can I use a road bike or is a special tri bike necessary?

A tri bike is not necessary. You can use a normal road bike if you wish.

Q. How is a tri bike different from a normal road bike?

The tri bike is designed to be very aerodynamically efficient. They have aerobars, also commonly referred to as “tri-bars,” which are handlebars designed to reduce the cyclist’s wind profile. Instead of the familiar curved “drop bars” of road bikes, aerobars stretch straight forward from the center of these handlebars at the stem of the fork. Padded cups or pads in the middle of the bars support the athlete’s elbows and/or forearms while the hands are stretched forward to hold the center bars. This position keeps the rider’s elbows in close to the body and lowers his or her torso compared to the usual upright position.

The brake levers are mounted on the side horns; the rider will hold these instead of the center bars when braking or maneuvering is required. Often the gear shifters mounted at the tips of the aero bars allowing the athlete to change gears without compromising their aerodynamic position.

Riding with aerobars is facilitated by adopting a steep seat-tube angle, often referred to as an “aggressive” geometry. The forward nature of this positioning is not as easy to control as traditional seat tube angle and upright position. Maneuverability is compromised for an aerodynamic body position when a bike is fitted with low aerobars.

Q. What are triathlon shoes?

Triathlon shoes are similar to other forms of cycling shoes used in racing, with automatic binding cleats (clip less) that snap the cyclist’s feet to the pedals. Tri shoes may be padded to allow comfortable use without socks, have holes to allow water from the swim to drain easily, and have only one or two Velcro straps for ease of fastening rather than the three straps or laces found on modern road racing shoes.

Q. Is there mechanical support during the bike portion of an Ironman?

Yes. Ironman races often have numerous support vehicles patrolling the bike route in case you need assistance with mechanical failures on your bike. However, its advisable that you have some proficiency in fixing basic bike problems like flats, chain drops, etc. You cannot tell when the support vehicle will turn up near you.


Q. How is running in a triathlon different from normal running?

The main difference is that running in a triathlon occurs after the athlete has already been exercising in two other disciplines for an extended period of time, so many muscles are already tired. The effect of switching from cycling to running can be profound; first-time triathletes are often astonished at their muscle weakness, and discover that they run at a much slower pace than they are accustomed to in training.


Q. What does transition mean?

The change over from sport to sport takes place in a designated transition area. The transition provides a staging area where bicycles, running shoes, hydration and other gear is setup ready to be used during the next leg of the triathlon.

Q. What is T1 and T2?

The first transition, known as T1, is between the swim-to-bike segments of the race. The second transition, T2, is between the bike-to-run segments. Most events have one common transition area for both T1 and T2, while some point to point events have two separate transition areas.

Q. Is time spent in transitions calculated in my total time?

Yes! The time spent in transition is a timed segment and contributes towards the overall finishing time of the event.

Ironman – Race Day

Q. When does a full Ironman race start?

The race typically starts at 7:00 a.m.

Q. What are the cut-off times for Ironman races?

Most Ironman events have a strict time limit of 17 hours to complete the race, some Ironman races have a cutoff of 16 hours. The mandatory swim cut off for the 2.4-mile (3.9 km) swim is 9:20 a.m. (2 hours 20 minutes), the mandatory bike cut off time is 5:30 p.m. (10 hours 30 minutes for swim + bike), and the mandatory marathon cut off is midnight (17 hours for the entire race). Any participant who manages to complete the triathlon within these timings becomes an Ironman.

Q. Do Ironman races offer aid-stations?

Yes, aid stations are present at regular intervals on the bike and run courses provide water and energy drinks to the athletes as they pass by. Aid stations often provide various types of food as well, including such items as energy bars, energy gels, fruits, cookies, soup, and ice and basic medical supplies.

Ironman – General

Q. How much does it cost to do one Ironman event? Does it cost tens of lakhs?
No! Lets break it down:

Race Registration: ~40K (~30K for half Ironman race)
Flight: ~50K

7 days hotel stay and other expenses: ~30K

Training Costs for 1 year (Coaching, gels, proteins, etc): 30K-40K
Total approximate expenses if you already have a bike and other equipment: ~150K (1.5 lakh)

For your first race, you will also need to buy a bike and other equipment:
Decent Carbon Fork Road Bike: ~75-100K
Decent Full Carbon Road Bike: ~150K – 200K
Decent Tri Bike: ~200-400K (in my opinion, not at all required for first few Ironman races)
Misc equipment purchase (swimsuits, googles, helmets, shoes, etc): ~20-30K

Total approximate expenses for your first race including a bike and other equipment: ~250K (2.5 lakh) (assuming you buy a carbon-fork road bike)

Obviously these a highly approximate ballpark figures, you can reduce costs by staying at friends/relatives. You can reduce flight costs by choosing South East Asian races. Or by buying a second hand bike. Lots of ways to reduce costs!

Q. What is the minimum age to compete in an Ironman race?
18 years.

Q. Is there any qualification criteria to enter an Ironman race?
No. There is no qualification criteria for either the full or half Ironman race.

Q. Can I race with an headphone, MP3, Ipod, or other music device?
No. It will result in a time penalty and/or instant disqualification.

Q. How many Ironman races are held every year?

Worldwide there are almost 30 full Ironman and 40 half Ironman races held every year, at many different countries around the world. Given the number of races, there is at least 1 full or half Ironman race almost every weekend.

Q. I read a lot of confusing stuff about many athletes winning the same Ironman race. How is that possible?

Blame the media! What they really mean is that the athlete completed the Ironman event within the cutoff time of 17 hours. Actually winning the race (coming 1st) is totally different and would typically need a time of around 8 hours.

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