A Beginner’s Guide to Triathlon Race Management


The grueling combination of swimming, biking, and running make triathlons an exciting challenge for both athletes and race directors alike. And with the 38th Annual Ironman World Championship coming up and nearly 3,000 triathlons in the United States alone, it’s no surprise that triathlons are the talk of the town.

If you’re a traditional road race director looking to move into the exciting world of triathlons, look no further! We’ve got your introduction to triathlon race management.

The Triathlon Tribe

triathlon-race-management_1Before you start thinking about planning a triathlon, you need to understand who it is that competes in these races. Triathletes tend to be older and well-educated: the average competitor is 44 years old; 90% have attended college and 55% have a household income of $100,000+ (which is unsurprising when you consider the costs of competition – travel, wetsuits, bike gear – it adds up fast)!

Though many triathletes are new to the sport, they’re rarely new to fitness. 77% have a gym membership and many are already runners, cyclists, or swimmers looking to challenge themselves by mastering another sport.

Types of Triathlons

Here’s an overview of each triathlon type:

• Sprint: This most popular distance will take athletes 1-2 hours to complete and includes a 0.5-0.75km swim, 20-22km bike ride, and 5k run. There are even “super sprints” with a 0.4km swim, 10km bike ride, and 2.5km run.

Olympic: That’s right, even the Olympics have a shorter race than the Ironman! The Olympic distance includes a 1.5km swim, 40km bike ride, and 10km run.

• Half Ironman: Also known as Ironman 70.3, this race can take 4-6 hours to complete and includes a 1.9km swim, 90km bike ride, and 21km run.

• Ironman: This is the big kahuna! The original Ironman was created by combining the three toughest races in Hawaii, resulting in a 3.8km swim, 180km bike ride, and 42km run. It can take athletes anywhere from 8-17 hours to complete the race!

Race directors new to triathlon race management may want to start by planning an indoor triathlon (using pools and treadmills) or a two-sport event like a duathlon (running and biking only).

Logistical Differences

triathlon-race-management_2Many aspects of planning a triathlon – like budgeting and acquiring permits – are similar to traditional road race management. Others, however, require special considerations. For starters, your medical and emergency needs change when swimming is involved. Consult with your country’s triathlon association and local authorities for rules on water quality and temperature. Space out your turns and stagger the start to reduce congestion. Give athletes brightly colored swim caps and strategically place both motorized and un-motorized boats nearby for emergencies. You’ll also want to give ample space for athletes to transition between legs.

Promotional Differences

triathlon-race-management_3Once again, many of your promotional tactics will stay the same for triathlons. But keep in mind the typical triathlete and their motivations for participating. Amplify the sense of accomplishment with braggadocious swag and share triathlon-specific tips like what t
o look for in a bicycle or how to compete on a budget. Offer sunscreen and lubricant on-site for forgetful first-timers.

In addition, we recommend providing opportunities for families and friends to get involved, too! 43% of triathletes travel with their families so do your best to provide spectator spots along the course. Or, better yet, encourage them to double as volunteers! You can also build revenue by selling swag just for supporters. Imagine how cute a “MY DAD’S A TRIATHLETE” onesie would be!

Just like it is for athletes, completing a triathlon can seem daunting at first. But it’s not impossible! Do your research, talk with other race directors, and maybe even compete in one yourself! If you’ve successfully organized a triathlon, we’d love to hear your tips on triathlon race management in the comments below.

And for all race directors, don’t forget to tune into the Ironman World Championships on NBC this Saturday for some killer inspiration!

For all your other race management needs, contact us!