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What’s The Difference Between A Marathon & Triathlon?

What’s The Difference Between A Marathon & Triathlon?

A marathon is just running but a triathlon requires much, much more.

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With the Olympics season upon us (and after the Syed Saddiq triathlon debacle), it’s a good time as any to get familiar with marathons and triathlons.

The most common question is the difference between a marathon and a triathlon. Does triathlon mean you run thrice as long? Not really.

A marathon is pretty straightforward. It’s a long run; participants will usually run the full 42.2 km (26.2 miles), and it takes about 4 to 5 hours on average to complete. Of course, the super runners can complete it in a shorter time.

READ MORE: Malaysian Runners Shine In The Gold Coast Marathon 2024: A World-Class Display Of Endurance

If you’ve scrolled the marathon registration section before, you’ll realize there are shorter runs such as the half marathon (21 km) and the 10 km run.

There are also the Fun Runs that are either 5 km or 3 km, with the fun part highly dependent on the individual. Some marathons include a shorter run for children measuring about 1 to 2 km.

Budding athletes in the Junior Dash category at the Gold Coast Marathon (GCM) 2024. Image: Fernando Fong/TRP

As for the triathlon, it’s a monster on its own. As the name suggests, it has three activities: running, cycling, and swimming.

It usually takes around 3 hours to complete the race, depending on the athlete’s fitness level.

There are four types of triathlons: the sprint, half triathlon, Olympic triathlon, and the full triathlon.

The sprint triathlon is the shortest of the four. The race starts with a 750m swim, followed by a 20 km bike ride, and ends with a 5km run. Phew!

The Olympic triathlon is also known as the standard triathlon. In this, the race starts with a 1.5km swim, then a 40km bike ride, and a 10km run. No thanks, not for me.

The half-triathlon is also known as the half-Ironman triathlon. This starts with a 1.9km swim, a 90km bike ride, and ends with a 21.1km run.

The full triathlon aka the Ironman is daunting. The full triathlon begins with a 3.8km swim, a 180.2km bike ride, and finishes with a 42.2km run! Yes, that’s a full marathon at the end.

Now you can see why the triathlon is defined as the hardest discipline in the world.

Who was the mad person who came up with the marathon or triathlon?

The name “Marathon” came from the legend of Pheidippides, the Greek messenger. The legend tells the story of Pheidippides taking part in the Battle of Marathon and he witnessed a Persian vessel changing its course towards Athens as the battle was near a victorious end for the Greek army.

He thought it was an attempt by the defeated Persians to raid or claim false victory over Greek land.

Pheidippides ran the entire distance to Athens without stopping, discarding his clothes and weapons to lighten the load. He burst into the assembly claiming they have won before collapsing and dying.

When the modern Olympics began in 1896, the initiators and organizers needed a great event to draw spectators and recall the glory of ancient Greece.

Michel Breal, a French philologist, came up with the idea of a marathon where participants will run from the city of Marathon to Athens.

His idea was supported by Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, and the Greeks. The first Olympic marathon measuring approximately 40km was held on 22 March 1896.

The first Breal’s Silver Cup was awarded to a Greek named Spyridon Louis, the Marathon winner at the first modern Olympic Games held in Athens in 1896.

The marathons were men-only events for years. The women’s marathon was only introduced at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, US.

As for the triathlon, Scott Tinley, a triathlon historian and author, said the earliest record found about a sport similar to triathlon took place in early twentieth-century France. The multisport event featured different event compositions and was called by different names.

This means the first triathlons comprised different activities and not the standard swim-bike-run event we know today.

In 1901, the event called The Three Sports was advertised as the event for “the sportsmen of the time.” It consisted of a run, a bicycle, and a canoe segment.

On 19 June 1921, the canoeing section was replaced with a swim, resembling the early days of a standard triathlon.

At the time, the race consisted of a 3km run, a 12km bike ride, and crossing the river Marne.

The first modern swim-bike-run event was developed in the late 1970s in Southern California by people in sports clubs. They didn’t have social media to take up all their time then. 😀

Two San Diego Track Club members, Jack Johnstone and Don Shanahan, conceived the idea of the race: a 4.8km run loop, 8km bike ride around Fiesta Island, and a swim to the mainland.

After that, participants would have to run bare feet and swim along the bay and up to the entrance of Fiesta Island and end with a final crawl up a steep dirt bank to finish.

The triathlon didn’t make it big until two notable entrants of Jack and Don’s triathlon, Judy and John Collins, founded the Hawaii Ironman in 1975 after moving from California. The event brought international attention and the rest they say is history.


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