Triathlons tend to attract two main types of athletes. First, you’ve got the casual fitness enthusiast who’s only taking part to enjoy the challenge. Then, you’ve got the competitive hardcore athletes who want to beat out the competition!
If you’re anything like that second type of athlete, you’ve probably wondered at some point about what the average triathlon times are across the different age groups and distances are.
This is a really good way of indicating how well you’re performing compared to other athletes of your age and ability so it’s worth doing your research on this kind of data.
Triathlon Age Groups
Before we compare the average times for each age group, let’s look at the official classifications of each, according to the most common groupings.
It’s worth bearing in mind that the male and female age group categorizations are the same but both genders are still separated on official leaderboards.
- 19 and under
- 65 and over
As a general rule, across pretty much all marathons, younger age groups will perform better than older ones.
In many triathlons (particularly those with large fields and a great number of amateur runners) the best times will be achieved by athletes aged 25-35.
Of course, this is not a definitive rule and can not be applied to every event and every distance of a triathlon. However, it does seem to be a general trend across large scale events.
Triathlon Distance Categories
As you may already know, competitive triathlons can take on a number of distances for each leg. These are the distances of each leg for the different triathlon categories:
- Swim: 400m
- Bike: 10km
- Run: 2.5km
- Swim: 750m
- Bike: 20km
- Triathlon: 5km
- Swim: 1.5km
- Bike: 40km
- Run: 10km
- Half Ironman
- Swim: 1.9km
- Bike: 90km
- Run: 21.1km
- Swim: 3.8km
- Bike: 180km
- Run: 42.2km
As you can see, the proportions of each leg in certain categories don’t scale up or down evenly as you go up to half ironman level. This does have effects on the average times for these distances, which we’ll look at further, later on.
In general, it only takes around 45 minutes to 1 hour and 45 minutes to complete a supersprint triathlon and it’s one of the best categories for beginners to get started in.
Therefore, aiming for around 1 hour and 15 minutes is an achievable target for every age group.
If we look at the 2019 Eton Supersprint Triathlon results, we can get a better understanding of how each age group performed.
Here, the best male time was a 1:08:15, achieved by a 30-34 athlete. The best time for a female was 1:14:03 and was completed by a 20-24 athlete.
If you look at the results in detail, you can also see that the typical trend of times decreasing as age increases, with the fastest time ran by a 60-64 athlete being 1:27:59 for males and 2:04:20 for females (though there was only one female runner in this age group).
Supersprint triathlons are not very common in competitive events so there isn’t much data to examine for this distance.
If you’re looking to compete in a particular supersprint event, you should try to look up times in your age group from previous years to gauge how well you perform in training.
A slight step up from the supersprint distance, you can expect times for a sprint triathlon to fall between 1 and 2 hours for most age groups.
Of course, it is possible for times to go under 1 hour in a sprint triathlon, with the fastest recorded times being 51:15 and 55:31 for males and females, respectively.
However, for the majority of us there’s no point in comparing ourselves to world record holders and a target of around 1.5 hours is attainable for everybody.
As with the previous category, the fastest age groups tend to be 25-29 and 30-34, with average times slowing down as age increases.
That’s why it’s also a good idea to check out previous times at your next event for your age group.
Naturally, this is the most common and standard distance for triathlon events and is the distance used for the Olympic games. However, even at this level, discrepancies still exist with events where sticking to the exact measurements is not possible.
For example, at the 2016 Olympic games, the course didn’t allow for a 40km cycling section and instead used 38.48km.
In fact, the supposed world records at this distance are considered controversial because many believe the course was too short.
In general, because this distance is such a step up from sprint triathlons, a target for most amateur athletes should be around 3 hours and maybe 2.5 hours for more experienced triathletes .
At this standard distance, there is plenty of data available online about times for different age groups at various events.
However, there will still be differences between events depending on how many amateur athletes are competing and what the conditions of the full course are like.
Half Ironman Times
Even a half ironman is over double the total distance of an Olympic triathlon, so anyone competing in these events should be well prepared for them.
Record times for males and females fall under 4 hours but these were done by seriously professional triathletes. A realistic target for most amateurs is around 6 hours.
However, with such a great distance come many more variables that can affect times. The level of training you go through and the conditions of the course factor so much more heavily into performance times than age.
On average, amateur athletes aged 40 and above should increase their target times by up to 7 hours for a half marathon but make sure your target is appropriate for your ability rather than following a general guideline for your age group.
Naturally, this is the longest type of triathlon you can compete in, with a total distance of around 225km! At this level, there will be even greater differences between amateur and elite runners, as well as the genders and age groups.
Anywhere from 12-14 hours is a great time for any amateur triathlete and anything quicker than that is seriously impressive!
Interestingly, a requirement for most competitions at ironman distance is to complete the course in under 17 hours, meaning you have to have prepared properly before even attempting it.
In fact, this endurance event requires so much cardiovascular endurance that the highest age categories often have no athletes competing.
If you’re thinking about completing one of these triathlons, you should definitely scale your target time up, the higher up the age brackets you are.
Other Factors That Affect Triathlon Times
Of course, the distance of the course is the main contributing factor to determining triathlon times and age definitely also has an impact. However, there are some other factors that can carry a significant amount of weight too.
As you probably already know, triathlon events are competed in separately by males and females. In a 2019 study, it was found that male triathletes completed races around 14% faster than female athletes at the elite, Olympic level.
This difference has narrowed over many years but it is still attributed to basic biological differences between the genders.
As with any sport, the amount of training you put in directly correlates to how well you can perform in competitions.
Some triathlons (particularly the longer distances) can be dangerous to attempt without the proper training and people have died trying to push themselves too hard (though this is extremely rare).
When scouting out the course for your next triathlon event, one thing you’ll want to consider is the incline in the cycling and running sectors.
Even a slight incline over the course of these legs can have a massive impact on the overall triathlon time of most athletes.
It doesn’t matter how good you are, no one can beat gravity!
Weather conditions also factor into the course. However, you can’t really plan for this more than a few weeks in advance.
We’ve gone over the estimated target times you should be looking at for each distance but there are so many different factors that can affect this.
Age is a pretty consistent factor to look out for and younger athletes will perform better on average than older ones.
The best way to work out a good target time for you, individually, is to practice and keep records of your times in each sector.
As always, you should make 100% you’ve prepared adequately for any triathlon event to keep yourself safe. Therefore, at that point in your training you should have a good idea of the times you want to be achieving.