No doubt you have heard of “Ironman” either because you are in the world of endurance athletics or because you saw a movie with Robert Downey Junior that was kind of exciting. In endurance sports, the Ironman is seen as the pinnacle of athletic achievement. People who have the Ironman tattoo or the “140.6” sticker on their car earn an immediate level of respect among their peers. In essence, the creators of Ironman took three endurance events thought to be a significant challenge to do in one day, and challenged participants to do them in sequence with a time limit of 17 hours.
The event is divided similar to traditional length triathlons. Swim first, bike in the middle, run at the end. The difference between normal triathlons and Ironman are the distances and the challenging course.
- 2.4 mile roughwater swim starting from a water tread
- 112 mile bike ride on a windy, hot, and hilly course
- A standard marathon
Over the years the Ironman grew out of it’s Hawaii roots and spread across the United States and the world. The event grew to include “half ironmans”, now known as Ironman 70.3, which is a triathlon at exactly half the length of the regular Ironman.
The International Triathlon, also known as “Olympic distance” or the “short course” was developed by the International Triathlon as a standard distance to be introduced as an Olympic sport. Debuting in Sydney, the course is a 1500 meter swim, 40 kilometer bike, and a 10 kilometer run. Even though it earned the nickname “short course”, for any newcomer these distances can be just as daunting as a full ironman is to a seasoned athlete. Imagine hammering out a 6.2 mile run after a swim and a bike session.
The sprint triathlon is a shorter version of the Olympic distance triathlon. Even though the term “sprint” is used, the distances are far from sprinting distances. The swim is 750 meters, the bike is 20 kilometers, and the run is 5 kilometers. Distances that new multi sport athletes can train and compete in a shorter amount of time than the longer courses.
The Leadman Series
Less well known than Ironman, the Leadman Triathlon is a series of ultra triathlons put on by Lifetime Fitness. Similar in rigor to the Ironman, the creators of Leadman saw a difference in challenge between the events, notably the difference in difficulty between the relatively short (for a swimmer) swim compared to the challenge presented by a marathon to a runner.
- 3.1 mile swim
- 138 mile bike
- 13 mile run
The Leadman has shorter events similar to how the Ironman is set up. I have no idea which is more challenging between the two, it is probably up to personal preference.