Sprint Distance Splits

Once again, I’m doing a little research to see which discipline in triathlon effects overall finish the most.  In other words,  where do I want to put the effort in a triathlon to reap the most rewards.

First up is the sprint distance.  There are no standard distances for sprint triathlons.  I going to use the Wet Dog Triathlon as a sprint tri example.  The Wet Dog Tri is approx a 400m swim ( I est closer to 450y), 15k (9.3mi) bike, and a 5K run.  One problem with using the 2010 Wet Dog results is that there was not a separate T1 and T2 time.  The total swim time includes the open water swim (time-trial start) and a run up to transition from the beach exit (161meters?).  The total bike split includes the rest of T1 +full T2.  For the sake of this discussion, I won’t try to estimate T1 and T2 times.  This sadly hides the true speed of the swim and bike legs.  I’ll be able to run the numbers again this spring after one of our local sprints.

Here are some of the numbers.  Sorry it’s not easy to read, but I haven’t figured out how to input a table.  Here are my conclusions from reviewing this.


  • The Fish are very fast.  I gave up almost 2 mins to the fastest swimmers.  However, in most triathlons, the fastest swimmers are usually past competitive high school/collegiate swimmers.  For example, in this race the fastest swim was by an Emory Univ alum.  My time was in the top 10% overall.  This is usually where I aim for local/regional races. Be aware that as I noted above, these swim times include part of T1–so the top swimmers are probably going about 1:15/100y.  I was swimming at about 1:38/100.
  • With an improved stroke, I can expect to gain a few seconds per 100y given the right fitness. I’ll be looking at swimming closer to 1:33-1:35/100y at the next 400m open water split.  That may pull back 20+secs if I’m lucky on the swim. Therefore, one can immediately see that this would advance me only 3-4 overall places in this race provided I biked and swam at the same rate.  There are definitely diminishing returns from trying to hammer this swim..20-30sec saved may hurt.  I suspect your T1 time would suffer coming into transition anaerobically…body likes it’s oxygen.
  • Most people are slower in open water. This is usually due to sighting issues, swimming less than straight tangents, and perhaps trying to use a pool stroke instead of one adapted for open water.
  • In summary: At least for sprint distances, winning the swim will not win you the race.  The guy who had the second-fastest swim time actually finished middle of his age-group due to lower than average bike and run times.


  • Generally, I believe the bike sets up the run.  A solid bike may give you a cushion from the faster runners.  A smart bike split can also set your legs up to unleash a wicked  fast split.
  • In this particular race, my bike split was tied 6th overall.   Would my run suffer if  I push the pace 2 mins faster?  That likely would require 40-60 more watts avg  power.  Don’t know the answer to that question.  Doesn’t seem that 2mph added to your average would require that much but it does.  You’re adding a lot of power to overcome wind resistance…That wind resistance is even higher going 25mph than 23 mph.  Only answer to this is getting stronger on bike and raising your FTP.  I’ve found it personally difficult to do in testing.  I’m always faster on race day however…Gotta take those adrenaline surges when north of 40 years old.
  • The best swim and run times reliably came from the top finishers.  In contrast, there was more diversity in the bike times.  The fastest splits tend toward the pointy end, but there were a few in the middle of age-group ranks.
  • In a sprint race, the distances on the bike are just not long enough, (and even shorter at Wet Dog),  to bank much time against the field.  I think this may apply less as the triathlon distances increase.


  • The running “cream of the crop” definitely comes to the surface at the end of the sprint triathlon.   The fastest run times came from the eventual race winner and age-group winners.  The 2nd and 3rd place overall athletes just had top 15 run times but were so fast across all disciplines that they podiumed.
  • The fastest run times for each age-group do sadly decline as age advances.  So, the silver lining is that I may not have to run an 18min 5k to place in my age-group locally.  This is not true for regional and national races…Everyone is superfast at the top of the age-groups.  There you’re racing USAT All-Americans.  Those guys/gals win they’re local races.
  • I lost the most time in the overall standings during the run split.  I recall being passed by 2 runners who I passed on the bike.  These things stick in my memory.  Those 2 guys went sub 18mins on the 5k run.  A goal this year is to improve my triathlon run splits from the past.  For a 5k split, I’d like to go sub 21min (6:45/mi).   Some experts suggest that the best triathlon runners typically run 5–6 percent slower over a given distance in a triathlon than they do in an open race, same distance.  That would be approx 1 min in a 5k for me…so…goal time for run split will be 20:30-20:45  based on recent open 5k races.
  • No big surprise.  The fastest runners can make up for an average swim and average bike split at this distance.  Want to do well at sprint distance triathlon?  You better be able to swim ok, but efficiently, bike better than average, and then be able to lay down a fast run split.  You already run a 16min 5K?  Ok, you’re good, if you don’t drown or flat on the bike.

I placed 15th in this race.  I swam 42th fastest, biked 6th fastest, ran 29th fastest out of 460+ racers.   Good enough for first in my age-group.  We’ll see if I can improve this year.

Next up Olympic/International Distance.. Does the run still hold up?

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