An official sprint triathlon involves a 750-meter swim, a 20-kilometer bike ride and 5K run. If you've signed up to take on this challenge, you may wonder what constitutes a respectable showing. Although you don't expect to hang with the leaders, you probably don't want to be struggling in the back either. What makes a good time depends on your gender, age and the course.
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Survive the Swim
For athletes who take up swimming later in life, this can be the hardest part of the race, while athletes who swam in high school or college may excel. The fastest athletes who placed at the 2013 USA Triathlon National Age Group National Championship completed the swim in 9 to 12 minutes. Those who placed in the middle of the competitive field of more than 1,000 athletes took 14 to 16 minutes to cover the distance. Your time can be affected by the water conditions, whether your race is in a pool and if you wear a wet suit. Although not guaranteed, pool swims and wet suits can yield faster times.
A 20-kilometer ride is roughly 12.4 miles. Elite male racers finish this distance in just under 30 minutes, while elite women usually come in around 33 to 35 minutes. How long the ride takes is dependent on the course and weather conditions. A hilly, windy course is obviously going to take more time than a flat course on a still day. You can be pleased with a speed of between 17 and 20 mph, which will put your finish time at between 36 and 45 minutes.
Run It Out
The time it takes to complete the run is also dependent on the course. A hilly, windy run is inevitably going to slow you down. Running after you've already swam 750 meters and biked 20 kilometers is not the same as going out fresh. If you're an experienced runner, you can't expect your time to match your best 5K times. Dehydration and lack of fuel can begin to affect your performance on the run, too, especially if you did not practice good hydration and nutrition practices through the rest of the race. Elite athletes can still hold a sub 6-minute-per-mile pace, but a good effort is anything faster than 8-minute miles so you complete the run in between 22 and 26 minutes.
Total It All Up
Don't forget the fourth sport in triathlon -- the transition. Getting out of your swim gear into your helmet, cycling shorts and shoes and then later moving into your run clothes and kicks can add minutes, or shave minutes, off your final time. Transition times depend on skill and practice as well as your choices in gear. Wearing a tri suit -- a specially-made piece of apparel that triples as a swimsuit, a padded cycling kit and a running outfit cuts down on some of the lag time in transition. Laying all your gear out and planning a system in advance can lead to transition times ranging from 1 minute, 30 seconds to more than 3 minutes. The size of the transition area and its distance from the swim-in, bike-out and in and run-out portions of the course also affects the time it takes in this part of the race. When you add in transitions and total up all the times for the events, an elite finisher may complete a sprint triathlon in just about an hour, while middle-of-the-pack finishers may come in around an 1 hour, 30 minutes. The fastest men are usually faster than the fastest women, and the fastest younger competitors are usually faster than the fastest masters -- but this isn't the case at every race. Ultimately, triathlon is an individual sport -- so your goal is to better your own time and to do your absolute best come race day.