Insider's Guide to Long-Distance Triathlons

Triathlons, no matter the distance, all start with the same basic foundation: swim, bike, run. As the distances gets longer, the dynamics of the races change, forcing athletes to employ different strategies.

Nutrition, gear and training in a sprint triathlon are wildly different from an IRONMAN. There are other subtle differences as well, especially in long-distance races, which can throw off even seasoned sprint and Olympic-distance triathletes.

More: 5 IM 70.3 Nutrition Mistakes to Avoid


Athletes preparing for long-distance and IRONMAN races often focus their training on the endurance components of the swim, bike and run. Aspiring IRONMAN participants would be wise to spend some time learning and rehearsing their transitions.

Shorter triathlons typically have one transition area, where the triathlete moves from swim-to-bike and then later from bike-to-run.

IRONMAN and long-distance triathlons often have two separate transitions areas, plus the bike racking area. Typically, participants are not allowed to leave gear or bags near their bikes. Transition 1, or T1, is located soon after exiting the swim.

More: Triathlon Transition Tips

Here, triathletes pick up a gear bag that contains everything they need for the bike, including their helmet, glasses and shoes. If you're not wearing your biking clothing under your wetsuit, you'll want to put it in your bag. Most events have changing tents next to T1.

Triathletes, now dressed in their bike gear, can  run into the racking area, pick up their bike and head out.

Transition 2, or T2, is where you pick up everything you need for the run, including hat, shoes and socks.

Insider Tip: Keep the contents of your bag simple. In other words, don't over pack. You'll waste valuable time digging through your bags at T1 and T2 if it's stuffed with loads of gear. Place your nutrition on your bike to help keep your T1 transition bag a little slimmer.


IRONMAN races often attract big crowds. Still, don't expect every mile of the bike and run to be littered with supporters. Sections of the bike and running course might have few fans, if any.

Some triathletes might enjoy the quieter moments. Others, especially first-timers, can struggle without spectators cheering them on.

Insider Tip: Prepare for the isolation during your training. Skip riding or running with music. And incorporate some long, hard solo bikes and runs into your training.


Gastrointestinal distress and nausea are common afflictions among long-distance runners and triathletes during a race. What some might not be prepared for is sudden nausea after you've crossed the finish line.

More: Real Foods for Race Day

Insider Tip: Don't slam liquids too quickly after IRONMAN or long-distance triathlons. If you feel nauseous or don't have an appetite, stick with liquid carbs such as sports drink. Eat small bites of solid food as soon as you can. Focus on carbohydrates following the race, including pizza, cookies and sandwiches.


Long-distance and IRONMAN races require check-in and packet pickup up to two days before the event. Be prepared for the additional time commitment needed to pick up your race packet, prepare your gear bags and drop off your gear for each transition as well as your bike.

The event site can have a carnival atmosphere. Enjoy it; but beware. Stay away from the delicious smells emanating from the numerous food vendors the day before the race.

Insider Tip: Keep your sun exposure to a minimum in the days leading up to the race. In dry, sunny locales, such as IRONMAN Arizona, triathletes can get too much sun and become dehydrated without even realizing it.

More: 5 Little Things That Make a Big Difference on Race Day

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About the Author

Kirsten Korosec

Kirsten Korosec is the tennis editor for When she's not on the court, she can be found hiking, rock climbing and participating in endurance events.

Kirsten Korosec is the tennis editor for When she's not on the court, she can be found hiking, rock climbing and participating in endurance events.

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