I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that the majority of triathletes start out in the sport by doing either a sprint triathlon or as part of a relay team. Once the hook has been set, most continue to add distance and time to their training, moving up to longer and even longer distance races, leaving the sprint distance behind for the beginners, those returning from injuries, and dare I say, the older triathletes. I have to admit that in hindsight, once I got serious about racing triathlons, I didn’t do a sprint race for a dozen years or so, but now, as an “older” triathlete, having to work around a change to my life’s schedule, having recently raced a couple of local sprint triathlons, I see that I have been missing out on racing for fun, because I can.
The virtues of sprint or short course racing compared to even Olympic distance and especially half and full Ironman distance racing are many:
- Given a regular training schedule, you can compete in a sprint distance triathlon without weeks and months of specific training
- That dreaded feeling during a long distance triathlon, when you can’t wait for a particular leg to be over, or wondering why you signed up to do this race, goes away very quickly, as the next segment is just a few minutes away
- The pain you feel during the race is not that of extreme muscular fatigue but that of going a little harder than you should, easily corrected by just slowing down
- When you’re done you’re not so exhausted that you can’t enjoy the rest of the day, and there is plenty of it still left
- Your recovery time from the race is days not weeks
- The cost is much less, although still not cheap
Of course there are a few drawbacks to just racing short course:
- If you’re not really a fast twitch type of person, maybe going short and hard isn’t your thing, and you prefer a longer race where you can get into a rhythm and enjoy the longer races
- You really want to be an “endurance” athlete, and races that most people finish in 1-1.5 hours, 10-15 miles in total distance, don’t fit the bill
- There’s no well-known tattoo that you can put on your calf to tell the world how cool you are. No wait, maybe that’s a virtue? 😉
But seriously, I believe that there is a stigma attached to sprint triathlon athletes that they aren’t “real” triathletes. The races are seen as being too easy and not worth the time to go and do. If you think that and you haven’t done a sprint triathlon in a while, I think 1) you’re doing a disservice to the people who show up and swim, bike, and run to the best of their abilities that day, regardless of distance, 2) you’ve never done a sprint triathlon and really tried to go all out, because they are hard!, 3) you’re missing out on the fun.
I say fun because if you’re not in this sport for some fun and fitness, and have taken it AND yourself way too seriously (we are ALL guilty of that at some point in our triathlon careers!), then I’m suggesting that you take a step back and rethink your priorities about the sport.
The athletes you see at a sprint triathlon are different from those you see at longer distance races yes, I will give you that. There are way more mountain, hybrid, and road bikes, most without aerobars, race wheels, and fancy drink systems, but each person is still preparing themselves for a swim in some body of water, transitioning into a cyclist for a short(er) ride, and then transitioning once again to finish with a run. Sounds like a triathlon to me, and therefore these people are all triathletes, and they’re all just as happy as you and me to be done when it’s over.
The truth is most of these people, the newbies, those returning from injuries looking for some practice time, and yes, the “older” athletes:
- Maybe don’t have the time to train and race longer distance tris
- Are tired of the string of injuries they have endured from the longer distance training and racing
- Or quite frankly have raced long and hard for many years and are now enjoying shorter training sessions and shorter races to go with them
With that in mind, I suggest the next time you’re feeling tired from all your training, questioning your desire to continue in the sport, or just not looking forward to your next long race, find a local sprint triathlon you can jump into and go do it for the fun of it. I think you’ll find out that at the end of the morning when you’re done, hanging with all the other finishers, you’ll see that it’s not that different from all those long distance triathlons you’ve been doing. Enjoy that feeling, go out and have breakfast, then go and enjoy the rest of the day.