What is the Difference Between Long Course and Short Course Triathlon?

Triathlon: an athletic competition in which people competing must swim, ride a bicycle, and run particular distances without stopping between events.  The main perks?  You are able to get in shape while being able to consume copious amounts of food to fuel your training.  You get to meet other people who love endurance sports and wearing tight spandex. As well, there are many international races, so you can go on vacation across the world.


Many people considering completing a triathlon do not realize that the word “triathlon” is an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of races.  They assume that in order to be a triathlete they have to complete a full ironman - quite the daunting task.  


Triathlon is a sport friendly for all ages and abilities - you just have to pick the right distance.  


Short Course 



Short course triathlons consist of the sprint and olympic distance.  In the sprint, athletes cover a 750m swim, 20km bike, and 5km run.  The Olympic distance is doubled, with athletes covering a 1500m swim, 40km bike, and 10km run.  


A short course triathlon is a great starting point for beginner triathletes. In Alberta, there are numerous races hosted throughout the province.  For those who are nervous about swimming in a lake, many local short course races use a pool.  


Training wise - a short course triathlon is very flexible.  If you have a limited amount of time to set aside to train, then this distance is perfect. Workouts are typically shorter with more speed work. A short course triathlon is also great if you’re looking for a challenge.  Elite athletes will train so that they are capable of sprinting during the entire race.  This is grueling.  


Many sprint races are also draft legal now.  What is draft legal?  It means during the bike portion you are able to ride behind other riders and get pulled in their draft.  It is super fun while making the bike portion considerably easier.  


Long Course 


Long course triathlon consists of the half ironman and full ironman.  In a half ironman, athletes complete a 1.9km swim, 90km bike, and 21km run.  In a full ironman, athletes complete a 3.8km swim, 180km bike, and 42km run.  


An ironman is a great challenge for the ultra endurance athlete.  It will not only test you physically, but will take a ton of mental strength to finish.  The swim portion is always completed in open water, where athletes are able to wear wetsuits.  The bike is normally on highways and consists of larger loops and out and backs.  There are also numerous aid stations for athletes to grab nutrition – a critical aspect to completing an ironman comfortably. 



Training wise – an Ironman requires a bit more time and dedication.  You need to train your body to be able to tolerate a larger amount of volume.  In comparison to a short course race, long course race training is mostly aerobic.  


One of the greatest perks of completing a long course race is being able to call yourself an Ironman.  Bragging rights for life.  


At the end of the day, it is up to you to decide which distance is best to you. You can choose to stick with one specific distance or complete all of them.  The main goal of triathlon is to have fun.