What is a Long Course Triathlon?

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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 31 December 2019
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A triathlon is a sports event in which athletes compete in three sports: swimming, cycling, and running, in that order. Each event has a designated distance, and there are timed periods, called “transitions,” between events. There are a variety of standard course distances for triathlons, and the long course triathlon is one of the standards. The long course triathlon is also known by the names “half triathlon,” “70.3” from the distance in miles, “middle distance”, or “half Ironman.”

The long course triathlon includes a swim of 1.2 miles (about 1.93 km), a bicycle ride of 56 miles (about 90.1 km), and a run that is 13.1 miles long (about 21.1 km). These figures are exactly half the distances used in the full triathlon, also called the long distance triathlon or Ironman Triathlon™. By contrast, the Olympic triathlon, also called the standard course, the international distance, or the short course, is a little less than half as long as the long course triathlon. The distances for the Olympic triathlon are about 0.93 miles (1.5 km) for the swim, about 24.85 miles (40 km) for the bike ride, and a run of about 6.2 miles (10 km).

The long course triathlon is held around the world. For example, a series called “Ironman 70.3™” is held to qualify for world championships. This series currently features races across the United States, as well as in Chile, Australia, China, Singapore, Austria, Switzerland, Malaysia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Brazil, Thailand, and South Africa.


Ironman™ is a registered trademark. World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) owns the names Ironman™ and Ironman Triathlon™. They own the Ironman™ races, and the 70.3 races, as well. In 2009, they purchased the Boulder Triathlon Series, which has three components: the Sprint; the Peak; and the 5430 Long Course Triathlons.

Rules for triathlons include several specifications by the local or international governing body. The governing organization in the United States is USA Triathlon, while the international governing body is the International Triathlon Union (ITU).

USA Triathlons provides the rules, regulations, and guidelines for triathlons in the US, including the long course triathlon. For example, they are the source of the listing of approved wetsuits, and rules for the temperatures above which the wearing of such suits may disqualify a participant for a prize, as well as the temperature above which they are prohibited. They also set rules related to other equipment such as bicycles and helmets, conduct before and during the race, penalties, and what steps one may take in the event of an untoward incident, such as one that renders a bicycle inoperable.


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