What is the Order of a Triathlon?

“What is the order of a triathlon” is one of the most common questions asked by new or aspiring triathletes and also by those who’re simply curious about this multi-faceted race event. In this blog post, we’ll look into the order of a triathlon and help you understand why the event is planned in that particular order.

So, without further ado, let’s begin.

What Is A Triathlon?

A triathlon is an endurance-based multi-faceted race, including three sports categories: swimming, cycling, and running. People from all over the globe compete in all three segments and sufficiently train their bodies to resiliently pass through every leg of the demanding event. Every category is independent with distinctive distances and a set of rules. There are primarily five types of triathlon races, ensuring the endurance sport is accessible to people of all gender, ages, and preparatory levels. The five distance-based types are:

What Is the Order of a Triathlon
Triathlon Type Swim






Super Sprint 0.31 1.55 6.2
Sprint 0.5 3.1 12.4
Standard/Olympic 0.93 6.2 24.8
Half Ironman Marathon 1.2 13.1 56
Full Ironman Marathon 2.4 26.2 112

What Is the Order of a Triathlon?

With the basics out of the way, we can now move to the main topic: the order of a triathlon.

Regardless of the different triathlon types and distances, the order of a triathlon remains the same. The order of a triathlon goes like this: swimming first, followed by cycling, and lastly, a run. In addition to this, transitions (T1) between swimming and bike riding and then between bike riding and running (T2) help participants restock on nutrition and change equipment. So, in a nutshell, the order of a triathlon is:


  • Swimming
  • T1 (swimming to bike riding transition)
  • Bike Riding
  • T2 (bike riding to running transition)
  • Running

Why Is the Order of a Triathlon “Swim > Bike > Run”?

There’s no official reason for the triathlons’ particular order of events; however, we can find clues by looking at its history. Although triathlons gained popularity in the 1980s – thanks to the Ironman triathlon race – the first triathlon was held in France during the 1920s and involved cycling, running, and canoeing.

In 1974, the first contemporary triathlon was held in San Diego, California, and entailed a “running-cycling-swimming” race. On the other hand, in 1978, the first modern Ironman triathlon took place in Hawaii with a new order format (swimming first followed by bike riding and running) that’s currently being used worldwide in all triathlons.

You can see that the order of events in a triathlon isn’t fixed. However, the specific, prevalent order is used by considering the consequences of this format. Below are some of the leading reasons why triathlons follow a “swim > bike > run” order:

Swimming Safety

From a safety perspective, swimming is indeed the most dangerous and risky of the three triathlon sports. Most fatalities in triathlons take place during this segment for quite apparent reasons: if a participant stops swimming, they drown. Triathlons are a mass sport with hundreds and thousands of athletes contesting in a single-day event with a comprehensive variety of skills. Therefore, it’s best to prevent the risk of drowning from exhaustion and tiredness. This is one of the reasons why putting the swim leg first makes sense.

Biking Safety

If you’ve ever witnessed the Tour de France, you’d know that accidents can take place. In a triathlon, the final sprint has one of the greatest risks. As participants get exhausted and push to one final run towards the finish line, it’s common to witness crashes in the final miles of the race. To prevent this, triathlons are not ended with bike riding.

Convenience & Speed

Open water swims are typically done in a wetsuit, and it’s significantly easier to take off a wetsuit than wearing one on. The entire concept of a triathlon is accomplishing three rounds in the shortest time. Therefore, it makes sense to avoid wearing a wetsuit after intense bike riding or running.

Drafting Aversion

If the order of a triathlon initiated with bike riding, it would be almost impossible to avoid drafting. However, a bike-riding start wouldn’t make sense for any non-drafting triathlon for an Ironman, for example, and would eliminate any spectacle from drafting competitions like ITU.

Traffic Regulating & Control

All types of triathlons need at the very least some sort of traffic regulation and control. It may even demand roads to be fully closed in order to prevent road accidents between motorbikes and cars. Usually, triathlons are held in the early hours of the morning on festive days. Keeping the bike towards the start of the event allows triathlons to be held with during minimum traffic with open roads and causes the least amount of disruption to other drivers.

Logistics Management

Triathlons require a massive amount of logistics due to the huge number of equipment and athletes involved in the event. A sports tournament beginning with a bike race would necessitate a commencing area capable of accommodating hundreds and thousands of participants on their bikes.

Similarly, a tournament ending with bike riding would need a finish line with a widespread road and a braking area to accommodate participants running to the finish line. Moreover, it would also demand additional parking spots along with numerous logistic hurdles to distribute post-race nutrition.

Our Final Thoughts

We hope you’ve received sufficient reasons as to why triathlons follow a “swim > bike > run” order. There may be more to it and you’re more than welcome to share any other reasons you may be aware of. To learn more about triathlons, be sure to check the rest of our blog!

About The Author

Scroll to Top