What’s the Difference Between an Ironman and a Triathlon?

Yeah, what is the difference between a triathlon and an Ironman anyway? The question doesn’t really make sense, because an Ironman is a triathlon, the same way a square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not necessarily a square, you know?

There are four standard distances when it comes to triathlons, and an Ironman is the name for the longest one. Here are all four and their distances:

Sprint Triathlon Distances. It’s called “sprint” because it’s short. It may not feel very short the first time you do one (I thought I was going to die during both the swim and the run–the bike was easy), but just wait until you do a half or full Ironman, then a sprint triathlon will feel like an easy workout.

Swim: 750 meters

Bike: approx. 15 miles (this tends to vary a lot due to course constraints so you’ll see both shorter and longer distances on the bike)

Run: 5K (3.25 miles)

Olympic Triathlon Distances. I don’t know why it’s called “Olympic”. There are no podiums, no fancy medals, no drug tests, etc.

Swim: 1500 meters

Bike: approx. 30 miles (again, it may vary depending on the course)

Run: 10K (6.5 miles)

Half-Ironman Triathlon Distances. They call it an “Ironman 70.3″ officially, but everyone other than the Ironman trademark holders call it a “half Ironman”.

Swim: 1.2 miles (where’d that metric system go?)

Bike: 56 miles (they get a bit more strict about the exact distance when it comes to the Ironman races)

Run: 13.1 miles (half marathon)

Ironman Triathlon Distances.

Swim: 2.4 miles

Bike: 112 miles

Run: 26.2 miles (full marathon)

Can you call yourself an Ironman if you’ve done an Ironman 70.3? Some people dance around this and wimp out by saying “Not in my book” as though “Hey, someone else may find that harmless, just don’t blame me if you get in trouble and look like a fool.” But I’m not a wimp, so I’m going to just say it–no, nobody calls themselves an Ironman if they’ve only done a half-Ironman. Sorry. But you can call yourself a half-Ironman all you want, which is what I do since that’s as far as I’ve gone so far.

Now where this can get a bit confusing is that there are official and unofficial “Ironman” races. Anybody can set up a triathlon with the Ironman distances, but that doesn’t mean they can call it an “Ironman” race, because the term Ironman is trademarked, copyrighted, internationally trademarked, stamped, and frequently infringed on, although I don’t know anybody who would do such a thing. At least nobody who would admit it.

When somebody sets up a race that is Ironman or half-Ironman distance, they won’t call it an Ironman race due to the trademark issue, but everyone will still refer to it as an Ironman race, like this:

“Hey, are you going to do the such and such Ironman?”

“Well, it’s not really an Ironman…”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, but it’s the same distances, and you don’t really expect me to say ‘Are you going to do the such and such triathlon that is similar to an Ironman in that it’s the same distances, it just isn’t officially called an Ironman race?’ do you?”

“Well, no, I guess not, that would be pretty inefficient to have to say all that…”

So are you an Ironman if you complete an Ironman-distance race that isn’t an official Ironman race? Rrr…that’s a tough one, I mean, not in my book, but who knows.


    My question was what is the difference between an ironman & a silverman, the distances are the same. Is it just that one is officially an ironman and the other one is not?

  • Joshua

    Yep. It’s just the “brand” of the triathlon event.

  • Sam

    An Olympic triathlon is called ‘olympic’ because that is the distances they use in the olympics

  • MArk

    Where does the 70.3 part in the name come from?

  • Waiyin

    70.3 = 1.2 56 13.1

  • Rob

    Ok so we have 2 races, one is Olympic distance and the other is Ironman distance. You can participate in a race that is Olympic distance and CAN say you completed an Olympic Triathlon, without being an Olympian in the Olympics…but if you participate in a race that is Ironman distance, you can’t say you did an Ironman triathlon.