One of the most intriguing parts of triathlon is the range of distances available. There’s the Ironman swim (3.8 kilim), bike (180km), and race (42.2km).
You also have Olympic distance, which, as you may have guessed, athletes cover at the Olympics. This involves a swim (1.5km), a bike ride (40km), and a run (10km).
Then there’s the sprint that contains a swim (750m), a bike (20km), and a run (5km), which practically every triathlete has completed at some time in their triathlon career. This is what we’ll focus on today, namely a good finishing time for you to aim for…
Chasing the Elites
In fact, before we begin, a word of caution. While we’ve specified three basic distances, there are several distances in between, and for the sprint, the swim is often 400m. But for the time being, we’ll stick with the most frequent sprint, which begins with a 750m swim.
Let us begin at the most extreme end of this sprint-finishing prediction and consider what the supermen or women, i.e., the world’s finest elites, are capable of.
The ETU Sprint Triathlon European Cup was held in Barcelona at the end of October as part of the shortened 2020 triathlon season. In the men’s event, Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt beat out the seasoned Javier Gomez in a timing of 53:53 minutes, which was broken down as a 9:42 minute swim, 26:47 minute cycle, and 15:32 minute run with quick transitions in between.
In the women’s race, France’s Mathilde Gautier won in 1:00:43, beating off Anna Godoy Contreras by distance of a millisecond. Gautier won by a whisker after swimming at 10:39 minutes, biking at 30:14 minutes, and running at 17:56 minutes.
Those times of 53:53 and 1:00:43 are insane. However, this is unrealistic for the age range. So, when is the best time for us recreational athletes? This is where we’ll have to do some digging…
The Eton Sprints are one of the most popular sprint-distance races in the United Kingdom. It receives thousands of visitors each year, and its home, Dorney Lake, hosted the Olympic rowing event in 2012.
Because the ages and abilities are so diverse, it’s a decent starting point for calculating a good average time. The simplest approach to achieve this is to take the median of the men’s and women’s scores, respectively.
On the Saturday of the 2019 Eton Sprints (the 2020 edition of the Eton Sprints was canceled due to COVID-19), 361 men completed the sprint-distance event. Neil McLoughlin finished in 1:25:57, which was broken down as 15:39 minutes for the swim, 2:04 minutes for T1, 40:33 minutes for the bike, 1:50 minutes for T2, and 25:53 minutes for the run.
Besides that, a total of 190 triathletes competed in the women’s category. When it comes to the median, we’ll look at 95th-place finisher Martina Scannell (1:33:43) and 96th-place finisher Kerri-Anne Skippington (1:33:47). The average of these two times is 1:33:45.
The median swim time is 16:39 minutes (17:51 minutes + 15:27 minutes split by two); 3:52 minutes (4:04 minutes and 3:39 minutes) in T1; 46:24 minutes (44 minutes) and (48:47 minutes) on the bike; 1:45 minutes (2:20 minutes) and (1:09 minutes) in T2; and 25:14 minutes (25:31 minutes) and (24:56 minutes) on the run.
Confused by numbers? Let it explain in a simple way: a reasonable average sprint-distance time for men is 1:25:57; for women, it’s slightly under 10 minutes longer, at 1:33:45.
Of course, there are various variables that could cause the average sprint finisher time to be faster or slower than this time. This is a massive feature in its own right but as a snapshot…
Type of Swim
In terms of swimming, any distance that lies under 20 minutes is considered good. That’s fantastic if you can finish in 15 minutes or less.
Sea swims are often slower, especially in the scenario where the waves are high. Conversely, River swims might be speedier than sea swims if you have a good current.
Wetsuits naturally improve buoyancy and are especially advantageous to the weaker swimmer. So, triathlon needs to ensure to have a proper fit before getting into the swim.
Type of Bike
The average speed for the 20km bike is roughly estimated to (30km/hr) or (18.6mph). That is quite quick but not impossible.
You could get significant improvements by getting a professional bike fit and wearing a form-fitting tri suit for better aerodynamics. You’re amused if you like the luxury of a downwind course. If it’s hilly, it’s possibly a hard nut to crack!
Type of Run
If you can finish a 5km run in between 30 minutes, you will be one step closer to breaking 1:30 hours for sprint distance, which is a most frequent goal for many triathletes.
Running after the bike is a different prospect than running fresh. Therefore, the requirement of brick training is essential to get momentum.
A weekly bike-run session in the last two months before starting the triathlon race is an amazing way to be in form. Elastic triathlon laces are another significant approach to improving your performance, as they provide comfort and safety during the race.
The course also influences sprint triathlon times. An uphill, windy run will undoubtedly slow you down. Running after swimming 750 meters and biking 20 kilometers is not the same as going out fresh. If you’re a seasoned runner, don’t expect your time to match your greatest 5K times.
According to a 2014 paper on nutrition requirements for triathletes published by the University of Minnesota, dehydration and a lack of fuel can begin to influence your performance on the run.
It can especially worsen if you do not practice excellent hydration and nutrition practices throughout the race.
Besides all the hurdles and difficulties, it can be observed that Elite athletes can still maintain a sub-six-minute-per-mile pace, but a decent effort is anything quicker than 8-minute miles, so you finish the run in between 22 and 26 minutes.