Everyone has heard about the triathlon, but what exactly is it? What happens in this sport and under what conditions is it practised? All will be explained!


The triathlon is a sport that combines swimming, cycling and running and has the particular feature that these three disciplines are conducted in immediate succession to each other. Although the triathlon is often likened to the Ironman distance and superhuman levels of effort, you should bear in mind that there are a variety of triathlon distances designed for every level of ability so that every sportsman and woman can quickly get into the swing of things.It is also a great way of adding some variety to your sports or simply to give yourself a new challenge.

Discover how the sport emerged, how it is practised today and what are the benefits!


Triathlon is a discipline in which the following three sports are practised in immediate succession: swimming, cycling and running.Although the first signs of a succession of the sports being practised can be dated back to 1934 at La Rochelle with an itinerary involving a 200m swim, 10 km cycle and 1200 m run in a stadium, the origin of the modern triathlon goes back to the 1970s in California when athletes would complete a run, cycle and swim leg one after the other for their athletics training. The first race was held in San Diego 1974 with an 8km run, and 8km cycle and an 800 m swim. In 1975, the first triathlon was held with the disciplines completed in the order that we know today: 800m swim, 8km cycle and 8km run. The distances completed were quite reasonable, in contrast to the reputation of the triathlon that most people have today and that is often likened to the famous Ironman, with its association with superhuman physical achievements.

Indeed, ever since 1977 when the long-distance triathlon was created in Hawaii, the word Ironman has been on everyone's lips. Explanation: At the time, there were three races on the islands that had the reputation of being very hard in each discipline: the Waikiki Rough Water Swim involving a 3.824km swim, the Around Oahu Bike Race involving a 179km cycle and the Honolulu marathon involving a 42.195km run. A debate heated up as to the sporting ability of the athletes completing these events: which ones were the best? To resolve the issue, John Collins, a captain in the US Navy, offered to complete all three events one after the other. Of the 15 participants who took to the starting line,12 finished and Gordon Haller came first in 11 hours 46 minutes 58 seconds. The winner is known as the Ironman.



From the 1980s onwards, the triathlon arrived in Europe and the first long-distance triathlon was organised in Nice in 1982. Although it was initially seen as a sport for nutters, the triathlon started to gain a new following and the European Triathlon Union was created in 1985 and immediately followed by the organisation of the European Championships. The French Triathlon Federation was founded in 1989. Little by little, the world of triathlon became more organised and the official distances that emerged were standardised by the International Federation and most of the currently organised races follow the standards.

The triathlon distances range from an initiation format, also known as XS (400 m swim, 10 km cycle, 2.5 km run) to the Ironman race format, also known as XXL (3800 m swim, 180 km cycle, 42.195 km run).


Although the training is done in a swimming pool, the swim on the day of the race is done in open water: lake, sea or river, except for some races that are done in a pool. The starts are mass starts or they are broken down into successive waves when the numbers involved are too big in order to have a more regular flow of competitors. The start can be done from a standing position, in the water or with a dive. This is followed the cycle leg during which the athletes are supposed to ride by themselves without benefiting from the slipstream of a peloton (also known as drafting). However, in order to make the sport more exciting to watch, drafting is authorised in the major federal and Olympic events. Finally, the triathlon finishes with a run on roads and/or paths.

The triathlon is practised alone or in the form of a relay race involving two or three people so that each person can make the most of the discipline that suits them best.

One of the main features of the triathlon is the fact that the three disciplines are completed in succession with a transition between each that must be completed as quickly as possible in order to save time, particularly in the shorter events. Indeed, the transition time is included in the overall race time. This requires some prior organisation and training so that the competitor can quickly find his belongings after the swim leg and after the cycle leg.


To practise the triathlon, a certain amount of equipment is needed for each discipline:

In swimming, you will need a swimsuit, swim hat and swimming goggles.

In cycling, you will need a bike, a helmet and glasses to protect your eyes from the sun and from gravel thrown up from the road.

In running, you will need the standard running equipment, i.e. trainers and running outfit.

You can potentially complete your equipment with a tri suit that can be worn for all three disciplines without having to change during the triathlon.



The triathlon has many benefits given the variety of the disciplines that make it up and the different locations in which it can be practised. 

Indeed, the swimming, cycling and running activities have a number of benefits:~The three sports are complementary and two of them – swimming and cycling – are sports where the body is supported, i.e. low impact sports for the joints.~They are complementary, e.g. swimming improves breathing, which is useful for cycling and running. ~Practising sports one after the other relieves any boredom in training as you can switch from swimming to cycling if you are tired of it, and once you have spent a little too much time in the saddle, you can run!~Racing in the countryside provides opportunities to discover new scenery and enjoy nature.~The variety and number of races available throughout the world provide plenty of opportunities for new challenges and visits to new locations each time you sign up for a triathlon. Why not organise a weekend or holiday around your sport?

You now know more about this succession of different disciplines, known as the triathlon, from its origins to how it is practised today. It offers a vast number of different training options, race formats, racing locations and sporting experiences, all of which make this sport highly appealing due to its diversity. So, why not take the plunge right now?

Source: FFTRI - 2016 figures



Passionnée de sport, j’ai longtemps pratiqué la danse avant de découvrir le triathlon qui est devenu une vraie addiction dès ma première course ! Adepte des distances Sprint et Olympique, j’aime la variété qu’offre ce sport tant au niveau de sa pratique que de l’environnement dans lequel il me fait évoluer. Le triathlon c’est toujours de beaux défis en perspective avec beaucoup de plaisir à la clé !