What is the Order of Events in a Triathlon?

One of the most recurring questions newbie triathletes ask is “what is the order of events in a triathlon? Many people know that all triathlons follow the same three-leg sequence (an open-water swim, followed by biking and ending in a run. However, there’s more to this sequence than meets the eye.

In this post, we’ll talk about the order of events in a triathlon, describing each stage of the race in detail, and help you understand the “swim-bike-run” order.

Let’s get started!

What is the Order of Events in a Triathlon?

A standard triathlon event involves a continuous timed race combining three different sports: swimming, cycling and running. The level of the event depends on a few factors including the distance, terrain, and swimming conditions. The standard order of events in a triathlon is swim-bike-run over the following possible conditions:


  • Sprint Triathlon: Swim 0.5 miles (750m), Bike 12.4 miles (20km), Run 3.1 miles (5km)
  • Olympic Triathlon: Swim 0.93 miles (1.5km), Bike 24.8 miles (40km), Run 6.2 miles (10km)
  • Half Iron Man Triathlon: Swim 1.2 miles (1.9km), Bike 56 miles  (90km), Run 13.1 miles (21.09km)
  • Iron Man Triathlon: Swim 2.4 miles (3.8km), Bike 112 miles (180km), Run 26.2 miles (42.195km)


Triathlons are also distinguished in terms of terrain for the cycling and running stages. The following are the 4 types of terrain:

  • Cycling path
  • Road
  • Trails
  • Off-trails

Swimming Conditions

Swimming conditions depend on the type of water the race takes starts in. This could be:

  • An indoor or outdoor pool
  • Lake
  • River
  • Ocean

Let’s take a look at the order of events in a triathlon in details:

1. Swim

All standard triathlon events start with the swim, which can take place in a swimming pool or open water. If you’re participating in an open water event, you’ll need a wetsuit due to low wind and water temperatures. Secondly, open water swimming will be in waves, so you’ll be doing a lot of front crawls and breaststrokes, depending on your preference.

2. T1 (Swim-Bike Transition)

T1 consists of bike racks that mark your spot in the transition area. It’s where you triathletes park their bike along with their swim-to-bike transition gear. During the first transition, they remove their swim gear (wetsuit, cap, and goggles) and change into their biking gear (shoes and helmet). In the transition area, you will also have officials to check for violations and guide you regarding the rules and bike route.

3. Bike

Once you’re done changing, it’s time for the biking stage. Make sure to put on your helmets since they’re compulsory for all races. More importantly, most races are on roads open to other traffic, so practicing with a proper triathlon bike is crucial for building confidence.

4. T2 (Bike-Run Transition)

During T2, triathletes will rack their bike again in the designated location marked by their race number. Before this race, athletes leave their run gear, snacks, and anything else they want to take on the run with them to this location.

5. Run

Running is the last event in a triathlon. It’s usually held on paved roads or groomed trails in a city or town. On race day, the officials block traffic off to provide triathletes with a safe venue without dodging vehicles on the road. Running after biking is difficult and your shoes are the most important part of your running equipment. So, make sure they fit perfectly and are comfortable.

Why is the Order of Events in Triathlon “Swim-Bike-Run”?

Now that you can easily answer, “what is the order of events in a triathlon?”, it’s time to move on to the “why?” part.  There’s no official reason for the order of events. It’s just the order the pioneers of the sport chose. However, if you consider the different distance rations, terrain types, and swimming conditions, you can understand why they chose this order.

Triathlons are more hazardous for competitors than marathons, so the main purpose of the swim-bike-run order is to minimize injury risk and make the event as safe as possible. Here are the 5 main reasons:

1. Swim Safety

Swimming is the most dangerous of the three sports from a safety perspective. The reason? If you stop swimming, you drown. With potentially hundreds of triathletes competing in a single event, it’s best to avoid the risk of drowning from exhaustion. This is why putting the swim leg first makes a lot of sense.

2. Bike Safety

If you’ve ever watched the Tour de France, you know that accidents can happen, particularly during the final sprint. As triathletes push towards the finish line at pace, it’s not unusual to see crashes in the final miles of the race. With biking as the second leg, triathletes know they still have another leg to go, so they won’t take unnecessary risks. After all, you won’t win by finishing first during the first two stages.

3. Speed

Triathletes wear wetsuits in open water swims and it’s much easier to take one-off than putting it on. Another reason for this order of events in a triathlon is to transition as quickly as possible. So, not having to wear a wetsuit after an intense cycle or run makes perfect sense.

4. Traffic Control

Triathlons require some traffic control depending on the location to prevent accidents. Since the event usually begins early in the morning, it makes sense to have the biking stage second with minimum traffic and disruption to drivers due to closed roads.

5. Logistics

Hosting and managing a triathlon event requires an immense amount of logistics, not only because of the high number of triathletes, but also the equipment involved and transition activities.

Our Final Thoughts

What is the order of events in a triathlon, and why? Now you know!

For newcomers to the sport, understanding the basics means you’re not just training physically for a triathlon. Following the order of events is also crucial during triathlon training to mentally simulate the race day during every session.

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