Modifying the Ironman Distance

A triathlon consists of three sports, obviously. Most people who begin competing in triathlons usually have a background in at least one of the three sports. However, due to the structure of the distances, your strength may not be as useful of a weapon as you had hoped.

In the hierarchy of the three sports, I’d give people who were runners a slight edge over cyclists because we all know the race is always won in the run. However, if you came in as a swimmer you will need to strengthen the other two sports drastically to compete. Everything is disproportionately weighted against you that you have no advantage over the field.

Let’s use someone who can do an Ironman in eight hours for the sake of simple math and easy rounding. Say…one hour swim, four hour ride and a three hour run. By using those numbers, which are actually generous for the swim, you have a time breakdown of 12.5% swim, 50% bike, 37.5% run. You can see how the swimmer has no edge in the race.

What if we made a slight change to the distances in the race? Just a little tweak in the interest of balance and fairness?

What if you took two miles from the bike and gave it to the swim? The bike times would get marginally faster, but the swim has now become much more important! I did a 4.5 mile swim this June in 1:27 on cruise control and swimming is my strength. So we can say your average pro could then do no worse than 1:30 in a 4.4 mile swim.

Again, we’ll just use easy numbers for simple math, but say it now takes that same person eight and a half hours to do that race. They do the swim in an hour and a half, the bike in four hours and the run in three hours. The swim now takes up 17.6% of the race, the bike takes up 47.1% of the race and the run takes up 35.2% of the race.

It’s not even across the board here, but you’ve managed to keep the distance at 140.6 and make the swim a bigger factor in the race. Why not give this some consideration? Such a minor adjustment can have an enormous but amazing impact. The swim will no longer be just a formality. Maybe it’ll even change what we say about how “You can’t win it in the swim, but you can lose it.”


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