Average Triathlon Time

You probably know what a triathlon is and what it entails, but what is the average time it takes to complete this arduous event? Of course, there are different levels of triathlon difficulty, from sprint triathlons all the way up to Ironman. So, let’s take a look at the average times you should be aiming towards within your training setup.

triathlon swimming
Patrik Nilsson - BMC Pro Triathlon Team


Factors That Influence Triathlon Times

There are several different factors that could influence the time it takes you to complete your first, second, third or more, triathlon. Let’s take a look at three of the most common.

Are you wearing a wetsuit or not? - If you’re wearing a wetsuit, i.e. in open water, the wetsuit alone can make you around 7% faster.

How much elevation? - Looking at the biking and running sections - the greater the elevation gain, the slower you’ll be. Overall that means the course will be slower, so of course, everyone else will be slower too.

Humidity and temperature levels - If you train in a humid and hot environment, you will of course get used to the conditions. However, if you don’t train in these environments and the race is in a hot and humid situation, you will be slower. To overcome this, be sure to train in the right situation according to where the race is going to be held and the average conditions for that location.

Triathlete Katrina Matthews Swim Training
Katrina Matthews - BMC Pro Triathlon Team


Swimming Average Times

The swimming section of the race is often the part which most athletes struggle with. If you’re not the strongest swimmer, or you need to work on your endurance and technique, the ZEN8 Swim Trainer will be a good tool for you. Not only does it save you time when you simply can’t get out to the nearest pool or open water for training, but it also helps you to build strength and technique at home.

Overall, around 20 minutes for the swim is an average time that is considered to be good. If you’re lower than that, perhaps around 15 minutes, even better.

Generally speaking, open water swims, especially in the sea, are a little slower than pool swims. The current can sometimes work against you in this situation. However, if you’re swimming in a river and the current is going in your direction, you may find that your speed increases.

Your wetsuit will add more buoyancy as you’re swimming and that will help you to move faster, but you will need to make sure that you’re fitted correctly for your wetsuit, to make sure that you get the extra benefits throughout the race.

Technique and open water tactics is also vital to help you move faster and preserve energy for the rest of the triathlon. Again, the ZEN8 will help you to work on the specific moves you need to master and can help you catch more water with every stroke.

Patrik Nilsson doing catch drills on the ZEN8 Swim Trainer
Patrik Nilsson - BMC Pro Triathlon Team


Cycling Average Times

Regular training on an indoor bike and making sure that you also head outside for outdoor biking on different terrains will help you to increase your speeds. For a 20km cycling circuit, you’re looking at around 40 minutes as an average. That would give you a speed of 18.6mph/30km/h. It sounds fast, but it’s entirely do-able with the right training.

Again, this comes down to proper training and kit. A tri-suit that fits you snugly is great for aerodynamics and will propel you forward that little bit faster. Of course, you should also have a professional bike with no mechanical issues.

The course also plays a huge part - if it’s over difficult terrain or it’s uphill, you’re going to be slower. On the other hand, if it’s downhill then you’ll naturally be faster.

PRO Triathlete Chris Lieferman Cycling

Chris Lieferman - BMC Pro Triathlon Team

Photo: James Mitchell Photography

Running Average Times

The average running time obviously depends upon the distance, but generally speaking, a 5km run finished in 30 minutes should be your aim. This means you’ll be able to complete a sprint triathlon distance in 1.5 hours.

Many beginner triathletes make the mistake of assuming that the running section is the easier part, but it’s actually the section that gives you the greater chance of becoming injured. By the running section, you’re also likely to be starting to feel a little fatigued. So, again, endurance and strength training is key.

Scheduling weekly sessions of cycling and running in the two months before your event is very important. Of course, you will also need well-fitting, comfortable and high quality running shoes, with elastic triathlon laces.

triathletes running for BMC Pro Triathlon Team

Patrik Nilsson - BMC Pro Triathlon Team

Photo: James Mitchell Photography


Different Events Have Different Average Finishing Times

The event itself plays a part in how quickly you should work towards finishing the course. For instance, a sprint triathlon is normally finished in around 1.5 hours on average, however an Ironman takes between 16-17 hours! In most cases, simply getting to the end of the Ironman course is a massive achievement and a cause for celebration!

The average Olympic event is often famed for producing faster finishing times. This is a regular distance event, i.e. not short distance and not long distance. The gold-standard athletes competing in this type of event will normally finish at around 1 hour, 50 minutes. However, beginners or standard competitors will normally be looking to finish within 3 hours. In that case, you’ll finish the swim in 40 minutes, cycling in an hour and then the final run will be another hour.

While of course you will want to be competitive and achieve the fastest finishing time possible, it’s vital to remember that triathlons are an individual sport. In that case, simply doing your best is key at the beginning. As someone who is new to triathlons, working to average finishing times will give you an idea of your progress rate, but it’s not something you should beat yourself up about if you finish a little over that time.

Improving your finishing time comes from practice and careful, strategic training. Identify your weak areas and work on those a little more than the areas you’re naturally good at. If you’re not a particularly strong swimmer, focus on that area, perhaps using the ZEN8 at home to build up your strength and technique.
With each event, you will become faster.

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