Triathlon vs Marathon: What’s the Difference?

Triathlons and marathons are both races that require a high amount of athletic stamina and endurance to participate with the hope of finishing, let alone winning.

While some hope to be competitive in these races overall, even hoping to win, there are many whose only true competition is themselves.

Anyone who believes they are up to this challenge needs to consider, “triathlon vs. marathon: what’s the difference?”

Triathlon vs Marathon

The Simple Differences Between a Triathlon and a Marathon

The most obvious difference between a triathlon and a marathon is that a marathon is a running only race of just over 26 miles.

The word is borrowed from Greek mythology about Pheidippides, who ran from Marathon to Athens, which was approximately 26 miles.

A triathlon involves three different races that are put together for a single event. A triathlon involves swimming and cycling in addition to running.

Distances for a Triathlon

Many people think of a triathlon only as its most challenging type of race, the Ironman triathlon which is comprised of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike race, and a 26.2-mile foot race.

While an Ironman triathlon obviously takes more athleticism to prepare for, considering it includes a full marathon on top of swimming and biking, it is not the only option for those who want to participate in a triathlon.

The types of triathlons include:

  • Sprint Marathon – includes .5 miles of swimming, 12.4 miles of cycling, and a 3.1-mile run
  • Olympic Marathon – includes 0.93 miles of swimming, 24.8 miles of cycling, and a 6.2-mile run
  • ITU Long Course Triathlon – includes 1.86 miles of swimming, 49.6 miles of cycling, and a 12.4 run
  • Half Ironman – includes 1.2 miles of swimming, 56 miles of cycling, and a 13.1-mile run
  • Ironman – includes 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling, and a 26.2 mile run.

Choosing the Right Race to Meet Fitness Goals

When someone decides they want to participate in a major athletic race such as a marathon or triathlon, they need to consider what their fitness goals are, along with their current fitness level and skills in all three sports.

Someone who is a seasoned runner but has never learned to swim may want to hold off on a triathlon, or at least choose a sprint triathlon, to begin with. Running a marathon, or even a half marathon is certainly a worthwhile goal.

Those who do want to take on a triathlon need to choose what type of race they will take on first.  Some people decide to tackle a triathlon after several marathon completions because it seems like the next step for their fitness and in competition overall.

Depending on how often they are used to swimming and cycling, they might start with a sprint triathlon as part of their marathon training program.

In addition to distances, it is also important to consider the landscape and the venue where the triathlon is being held. Participating in the various events inside a local gym will likely be easier than outside, where the weather may be unpredictable.

Finding out the elevation levels of the course may be helpful because these can be programmed into treadmills and stationary bicycles when outside training is not an option. Triathlon participants should be strong swimmers who are accustomed to handling varying wind and currents.

Anyone who wants to expand their fitness also has the option of training for a cycling event in addition to a marathon in order to increase their fitness versatility. Adding cycling to your training can help build the type of endurance needed for a longer triathlon.

Training for a Race

Those who train for a race may want to train with another person of similar ability or with a professional trainer. It is also important that they see their physician before committing to a major race to make sure they are healthy enough to participate.

They may also train alone, but it often helps to hold themselves accountable to someone else. Those who choose to stick with marathon running only need to continue to run on varying types of terrain and elevations.

Those training for a triathlon will need to incorporate more cycling and swimming into their fitness routine.

In a triathlon, the cycling distance is roughly four times the running distance, so training should reflect whether you are planning a sprint race, an ironman, or any of the races in between. You may also need to put in more time training, but in many cases it is less rigorous to train for a triathlon than a marathon.

Runners than become triathletes may discover that they lose some of the quality of their runs as they diversify their training.

They must remember that by the time they get to the running portion of the race their muscles have tired and they may shuffle more as they run. This is okay. As long as they keep moving toward the finish line they are doing fine.

Health and Hydration for Marathon or Triathlon

When doing any extended exercise a lot of moisture gets released from the body and it is important to stay hydrated for the event in order to prevent illness or injury.

Even a slight level of hydration can cause excess fatigue at a time when it is needed the most. Dehydration can also contribute to muscle cramps.

Those racing in warmer weather will need even more fluids than those who have a cooler race day.

As part of the training process athletes should increase their liquid intake both by drinking more beverages and eating water-containing foods, such as fruits and vegetables.

It is important to be careful about drinking alcohol, soda, or coffee as it may cause the body to lose more water rather than retain it.

It’s recommended that those who plan to participate in a triathlon drink one ounce of fluid for each ten pounds of body weight beginning four hours before the event. It is important to stick with beverages that are familiar so that no unforeseen reactions occur during the race.

Sports drinks are a popular choice for hydration because they contain electrolytes and carbohydrates as well as replenishing fluids. both a marathon and a triathlon are ambitious events, and anyone who participates should be proud of their accomplishment.

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