Olympic Distance Triathlon and Training
What is the Olympic Distance Triathlon?
Of the five most popular triathlon distances the Olympic Distance is the one right in the middle. The distance you need to cover is 1500 meters for the swim, 40 kilometers for the bike and 10 kilometers for the run portion. To put it in perspective, this triathlon is comparable to a Marathon in terms of how long it takes (a little bit shorter) and how hard it is, except that the stress on the body is spread across three different sports, which is challenging because of the having to switch from one to the other but also less one-dimensional in terms of the wear on the body during the race. Some beginners with previous endurance experience go for this distance to start their triathlon journey, others like to start with the Supersprint or Sprint (750m swim / 20km bike / 5km run) to get a feel for triathlon and its technical challenges first.
When compared head to head to the longest and most famous triathlon, a full distance IRONMAN (3.5km swim / 180km bike / 42km run) event, the Olympic triathlon is an entirely different animal in terms of distance and required training. That being said, Olympic triathlons are nothing to sneeze at! These races are challenging and they can push athletes to the limit of their endurance capabilities. Some people who like the Olympic Distance and try to get better at it enjoy the fact that it takes not as long and you generally perform at a higher intensity than in the longer distances, powering through the race a bit more rather than enduring and trying to keep a steady and strong effort for twice the distance.
Some Historical Facts About the Olympic Triathlon
Many men and women have competed in the triathlon over the years, posting some impressive records. However, the Olympics has only adopted the triathlon fairly recently. In fact, the Sydney Olympics in 2000 were the first olympics games to feature the race. Since then, the sport has continued to gain massive popularity amongst the masses.
As far as the men’s olympic triathlon world record is concerned, Alistair Brownlee is the current record holder. He earned a gold medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics by posting a time of 1:45:01. This served to break his own previous world record of 1:46:25, which he set at the London Olympics just 4 years prior.
The women’s division boasts similarly impressive Olympic triathlon champions. The current female olympic triathlon world record belongs to Flora Duffy. She competed in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with a time of 1:55:36.
However, these records should be interpreted with caution. Some skeptics have identified concerns pertaining to course length and drafting policies. Regardless, these athletes have achieved some outstanding times over the past two decades and the minor discrepancies in question should not diminish their accomplishments.
Olympic Triathlon: Distance per Discipline and Training
Olympic Distance Swimming
The first portion of the triathlon consists of swimming 1.5 kilometers. In comparison to other triathlons like the half distance (1.9km/90km/21km) the swim portion is actually a bit larger in this triathlon in terms of the percentage of the race it covers. Most events are wetsuit legal unless the temperature rises above a certain point and the wetsuit not only provides the look most prominently associated with triathlon, but also gives a bit of an uplift in the water.
For many athletes, the swim is the most difficult portion of the race. Swimming takes total body coordination and is taxing on the heart, lungs, and muscles, especially if you aren’t a routined swimmer yet. In addition, there is no easy way to visually control what your body is doing in the water, making things like learning the correct synchronization of the breathing motion and pattern, body position, rotation and kicking motion and frequency much harder.
Swim training is unique among the three disciplines as many people are not good swimmers or cannot even swim freestyle yet. While it is allowed to swim breast stroke, most people who get into triathlon also aspire to learn how to swim ”the right way”. After all, freestyle (also called front-crawl) is the fastest and most efficient way to swim. Improving takes a bit of time and feedback. Not only will you find yourself reflecting a lot about your own body movements, you will likely also dig into Youtube videos, and maybe film yourself during the swim to get a feel for what you are doing, maybe even join a club or get a personal swim coach, to help you master this challenging new skill, that requires you to synchronize many new movements in an element you’re not used to.
Olympic Distance Cycling
The Olympic triathlon cycling distance is 40 kilometers. The good news: Cycling 40 kilometers is generally something most people have the least trouble with out of the three parts of this triathlon. Drafting is usually not allowed and if you are a beginner, a decent road bike will likely be a good and flexible enough option for training and the race. Once you have more experience, you can look into getting a dedicated triathlon time trial bike, which puts the body into a more aero position, but also requires some muscular adjustment and better bike handling skills. Taking in some nutrition on the bike is fine, especially if you take longer to finish, but you will not need to eat too much, unlike in longer triathlon distances.
Training for this part of the Olympic Distance triathlon requires laying a good fundament of endurance and then training towards being able to maintain a faster pace without getting your heart rate up too high in the bike portion. As you train for an Olympic Distance, after achieving the initial endurance required you will have less long endurance training sessions and more tempo and interval sessions than you might have training for the longer distances, making training a bit more intense. It’s important to monitor your heart rate and not cross you lactic threshold, as this will cause your muscles to exponentially fatigue. Overpacing in the bike portion of the race will often lead to unwanted results, so even taking it a bit easy towards the end of the bike leg and loosening up to get ready for the run usually makes sense.
Olympic Distance Running
To finish off the Olympic Distance, all athletes are required to run 10 kilometers. After swimming 1.5 km and biking 40 km, running is always a challenging way to finish a race! While you might have ran 10 kilometers at some point in your life, it’s of course a bit harder after having done the swim and bike portion beforehand. Running is a high-impact activity that stresses the body’s systems to a high degree. In an Olympic Distance triathlon you will likely be extending the intensity level beyond the second of your lactic thresholds and tap into your anaerobic metabolism, but it’s important to not do this too early and to extensively, as you might run out of power before the finish line and slow down too much.
In terms of running shoes, you will generally need a good high-end pair of running shoes for training and if you like to be a bit faster and like a bit more forward momentum while running, you might want to look into carbon plate running shoes, with the Hoka One One Carbon X 2 for example being a good mix between durable training shoe and race shoe. When experimenting with different running shoes it’s always important to monitor how your body feels and adjust in time, if anything feels uncomfortable during or after running.
Am I fit enough to do an Olympic Distance Triathlon?
There are multiple ways to approach a triathlon race, or any endurance race for that matter. Answering the question of whether you are in good enough shape is highly individual. You either want to finish the race and find out if you can do it at all, or you already have finished the particular distance or a similar effort and now your goal is to get faster, maintain your time or just generally continue to be in good enough shape to finish again. Regarding the Olympic Triathlon, if you have some endurance or prolonged team sports history, your body is likely in a fairly decent starting position to manage finishing the Olympic Distance with a few months of dedicated training, depending on how your recent training and health history looks. If you start at nearly zero fitness you will likely need at least a half year of thorough preparation and consistent training or even longer, depending on your individual setup.
How do I Sign up for an Olympic Distance Triathlon Race?
Fees for Olympic Distance Triathlons normally range between 50€ to 150€ and you usually have to sign up well in advance. In the Northern hemisphere the triathlon event season mostly ranges from April to October. For most triathlons you need a license from a triathlon club or national triathlon association to participate. At most events you can also buy a single-day license, but sometimes this won’t suffice, so be sure to check with the organizers.
How Will the TRIQ App Help me to Prepare for an Olympic Distance Triathlon?
The TRIQ app helps you in many ways. For one, it immediately prescribes a purposeful training schedule based on you individually, your race goal, the time left until your race, your current fitness, and your personal availability in terms of hours and time slots during each week. Furthermore, the app has the ability to track your daily readiness if you check-in regularly, reporting how you feel and scanning your heart rate variability (HRV) with your phone’s camera in the morning. The app then uses the outcome and directly adjust your training, making it slightly harder or easier, depending on how well recovered you are from day to day. But where the app shines brightest (and likely outshines humans) is when something changes. Either you miss a session or train differently than expected, or you can’t train for a few days. Within seconds after you tell the app, you will have your adjusted and optimized training schedule to look at and look forward to. This saves a lot of time and stress and puts you in position to start target-oriented triathlon training almost immediately and never look back.