What’s The Deal With Sprint Distance?
Most people have heard of Ironman. Something about 140.6 miles of endurance seems to grab people’s attention. And olympic distance triathlons aren’t far behind on the public awareness scale (the Olympics do a pretty good job of self-promotion).
But what about the third, less-celebrated distance? As a much more manageable distance than a long course or olympic course, the sprint distance often gets labeled as the “beginner’s distance”. And don’t get me wrong: if you’re new to triathlon, the sprint is a great way to dip your toes in, along with other, even shorter “try-a-tri” courses.
But there’s more to the sprint than newbie nerves and grateful avoidance of the longer courses.
In honour of the Toronto Island Triathlon happening August 21, I’m answering all your sprint distance questions. It’s everything you didn’t know you wanted to know about the sprint.
How Long Is the Sprint Distance, Anyway?
Sprint distance triathlons are quite unique because there is no standard distance. Unlike Olympic events which are almost universally a total distance of 51.5 km, sprints are all over the map. Generally they are about half the Olympic distance, at 750m swim, 20km bike and 5km run.
But some sprint courses, because of a logical turnaround point or “just because” end up adding more distance on the swim, bike and/or run. For example, you may see a 750m swim, 30km bike and 7.5km run.
Is It Really Just For Beginners?
Absolutely not. I would say it’s one of the most popular starting points for a beginner, but there are several veteran triathletes that are happy competing solely in the sprint distance.
Although Olympic and long course triathlons get a lot of the media limelight, there is something to be said for a super fast sprint time. For example, running a sub 15min 5k after biking 20k impresses the socks off of me any day!
How Long Has the Sprint Been Around?
The first ITU Sprint Distance World Championships were held in 2010 — 10 years after the first olympic triathlon. But in 1974, at the San Diego event that is widely considered to be the “first modern triathlon”, the distance was comparable to a sprint. Ok, the run was split into several sections, interspersed with swimming, and the bike was actually shorter than the run.
But with an 8km bike,10km run and 500 meter (or so) swim, the original triathlon distances are actually much closer to a sprint than an Olympic course.
How is Sprint Distance Training Different?
It may be a case for captain obvious, but it’s called “sprint” for a reason – because you’re supposed to sprint while racing it!
This kind of racing and training really pushes the upper limits of your heart rate threshold. Unlike long course racing where you are generally riding your aerobic system, you shouldn’t need to worry about muscle failure due to lactic acid build-up for a shorter period of time, like a sprint. Keep going much past that 90 minute time at crazy intensity, though, and you’re destined to shut down.
Another thing to keep in mind is that in training, you’re likely going to go well past your race distances in several different workouts. That doesn’t mean that you’re always running them at race pace. In fact it’s the opposite — the majority of your training will probably be either well below your threshold at an easy “conversation pace” or sometimes above your race effort with shorter intervals designed to push your upper fitness levels.
Yes, practicing periods of race intensity is good to show your body what you expect of it when you lace up at the event, but too much and you jeopardize your recovery time before your next quality training session.
Do Any Famous People Do Sprint Triathlons?
I knew you would ask. And here’s my answer: the Nautica Malibu Triathlon. This sprint event actually has a “celebrity division”. Past participants include Jennifer Lopez, Matthew McConaughey and Will Ferrell.
Do you want to be like David Duchovny? Do a sprint triathlon. Anna Kournikova? Jennifer Garner? You guessed it: sprint distance.
Fame is sure to follow.
Looking for a local sprint distance triathlon? Check out the Toronto Island Triathlon August 21.