Before the 1980s, triathlon was known as a grueling endurance sport that only "Ironmen" were fit enough to attempt. Then, in the early 1980s, advocates formed the organization known as USA Triathlon and worked to standardize competition rules. The group also popularized the Olympic distance triathlon [source: USAtriathlon.org].
Consisting of a 1.5-kilometer swim, 40-kilometer bike ride and 10-kilometer run, the Olympic triathlon is the distance at which Olympic triathletes race. It takes mere mortals an average of three hours or more to complete an Olympic triathlon, making it a reasonable challenge for marathoners and other athletes looking to push the limits of their endurance [source: Mora].
If you're in shape for a sprint triathlon, or if you already have a good grounding in at least one of the three triathlon disciplines, then you should be able to complete training for an Olympic triathlon in eight to 12 weeks. If you haven't gotten off the couch since college and can barely jog a 5K, you should plan 16 weeks for training and follow a sprint training program for the first eight weeks. Some things to keep in mind about Olympic distance run training are:
- Just like with sprint triathlon training, Olympic training increases distance gradually each week. Plan to train six days per week -- two run days, two swim days and two bike days, with a day off for rest.
- One time per week maintenance runs should start at 20 minutes (or 2 to 2.5 miles) and increase weekly to a maximum of 60 minutes (or 6 miles) before tapering back down to 20 minutes in the two weeks prior to the race. More experienced athletes can alternate easy midweek runs with tempo runs or interval run training.
- One time per week long runs should start at 30 minutes (or 3 miles) and increase to 60 minutes (or 6 miles) by week 5. Include a bike/run brick in week 6 and a taper in the two weeks before your race.
Olympic distance should pose plenty of challenge for the average athlete, but for those of you who like the idea of pushing your endurance to extremes, triathlon's Half-Ironman might be the distance for you. We discuss run training for that in the next section.