Ironman vs Triathlon- The Ultimate Guide

One of the main questions we get here at Kitbrix is “what is the difference between an Ironman Triathlon and a Triathlon?”. Whilst very similar there are some major differences. All Ironman races are triathlons, but not all triathlons are Ironman races.

A Triathlon refers to a race that consists of three disciplines completed back to back; swimming, cycling and running. The first Triathlon originated in France in 1920 in a bid to answer the long debated question, “who is the fittest athlete, the swimmer, cyclist or the runner?”. The Ironman Triathlon on the other hand, originated much later in 1978 with longer distances than any other triathlon and started with just 15 participants. The name came from a statement made “whoever finishes first, we shall call him the Iron Man” due to the difficulty of completing such a feat. Ironman is also a trademarked name, with the race being organised by ‘Ironman’. There are other triathlons that cover the same distances, but these are simply called ‘Iron-distance races’.

For more information you can read our blog ‘What is a Triathlon’ here.

ironman vs triathlon

Ironman vs Triathlon length

The Ironman Triathlons are the two longest triathlon distances you can participate in, of which there are two. The shorter of the two is the ‘Half Ironman Triathlon’, also known as the ‘70.3 Triathlon’. The longer of the two is the ‘Ironman Triathlon’ also known as the ‘140.6 Triathlon’.

How long is a Half-Ironman or 70.3 Triathlon?

  • 1.2 mile / 1.9 km swim
  • 56 mile / 90 km bike
  • 13.1 mile / 21.1 km run

How long is an Ironman Triathlon?

  • 2.4 mile / 3.8 km swim
  • 112 mile / 180.2 km bike
  • 26.2 mile / 42.2 km run

Other triathlons are shorter in distance compared to an Ironman. You can read our blog ‘How Long is a Triathlon?’ for individual race lengths here.

Ironman vs Triathlon training

With the Ironman Triathlon covering so many miles and taking a full day to compete, training and preparation is a long but extremely important process. For example, if you were to take part in a Sprint Triathlon or an Olympic Standard Triathlon, this could be done with a few months of preparation. For those same athletes, preparing for an Ironman Triathlon can take a year to complete with training consuming nearly all free time. This is not to forget the mental preparation that is also needed to complete an Ironman Triathlon.

ironman vs triathlon

Ironman vs Triathlon recovery

The Ironman Triathlons are arguably some of the hardest competitions to compete in physically. The Ironman world record was made by Jon Frodeno in just 7:35:39. And with most athletes taking longer than this, this race is a strenuous and enduring task. With this comes long recovery times. An Ironman 140.6 triathlete can expect to be in recovery for 21+ days that can take up to 3 months! After competing in an Ironman Triathlon it is recommended to have a week of complete rest with at least 21 days of steady workouts before assessing your recovery and resuming normal training. 

A Sprint Triathlon on the other hand, the shortest triathlon, is 16 miles long in total and has a world record held by Mario Mola for completing it in a mere 51:15. After competing in a Sprint Triathlon you can expect to be in recovery for approximately 7 to 10 days with only 2 days needed for complete rest. After this a Sprint Triathlon competitor can resume steady workouts until fully recovered.  

You can read more about triathlon post-race recovery on our blog, ‘Triathlon Post-Race Recovery Time’.