Knowing what a good triathlon time for a beginner looks like can help shape your expectations as you jump into this exciting new world. While it’s not always good practice to answer a question with a question, there’s no way to actually answer this particular question without first asking a few, such as:
- How old are you?
- What distance are you racing?
- Is the swim in a pool, a lake, a river with a current, or an open ocean?
- Is the bike course flat or hilly or on gravel or dirt?
- How about the run course—is it flat or hilly or on gravel or dirt?
- Is the weather expected to be hot, windy, or wet?
- How would you define “good”? Top 25%, top 10% or on the podium?
I’d also argue that what’s more important than defining a generically applicable “good” time is figuring out what a good time is for a specific beginner triathlete (you) based on your specific athletic background, availability to train, and equipment. The potential finish time for a beginner triathlete who ran in college and is able to train 10 to 12 hours a week and rides a new carbon-frame tri bike will look very different than that of a beginner triathlete who wasn’t a varsity athlete, only has four to six hours to train a week, and rides a steel-frame road bike.
A good time for any specific triathlete—beginner or otherwise—is made up of the strongest swim and bike times that still allow the triathlete to run to their potential. For sprint- and Olympic-distance races (which is where all beginner triathletes should start!), that run potential is typically about 30 seconds slower per mile than the triathlete’s 5K or 10K pace from a recent stand-alone running race.
But for those who are looking for more of an “absolute” answer versus a relative answer, here’s what I would suggest are good times for a beginner triathlete at the sprint and Olympic distances in the context of a calm, open-water swim, flat to gently rolling roads for bike and run, and good weather conditions:
Dear Coach: What is a Good Triathlon Time for a Beginner?
Sprint Distance (750m swim/12.4-mile bike /5K run)
Swim: 13-14 minutes
Bike: 35-40 minutes
Run: 24-27 minutes
Olympic-Distance Race (1500m swim / 24.9 mile bike / 10k run)
Swim: 27-30 minutes
Bike: 75-85 minutes
Run: 50-55 minutes
For a beginner triathlete, a good time out on the course would include hitting two of the three splits noted above (because it’s hard to be strong in all three disciplines). A very good day on the course would have the beginner triathlete hitting all three of the splits above. Adding in around five minutes for both transitions, that would total about 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 25 minutes for a sprint or about 2 hours 35 minutes to 2 hours 45 minutes for an Olympic-distance race. A great day for a beginner triathlete would include meeting the splits above in some disciplines and exceeding them the others. Ultimately, the best way to measure your performance is always against your individual potential.
Alison Freeman is a co-founder of NYX Endurance, a female-owned coaching group based in Boulder, Colorado, and San Diego, California. She is also a USAT Level II-certified and Ironman University-certified coach as well as a multiple iron-distance finisher.