Don't know the difference between aquathlon and swimrun? Chances are you've heard of triathlon, but these days multi sport is way more than just the typical swim - bike - run format. We explore some of the newer multi sports as well as the classics that are enjoying a revival.

Breca Swimrun multi sport race swimming running

Triathlon

Let's start with the most popular multi-sport du jour. The Brownlee brothers' performance at the 2012 London Olympics has been followed by a rise in popularity of triathletes like Lucy Charles who are supported by global brands such as Red Bull and are growing a notable fan-base thanks to Instagram. This has led to triathlon becoming more popular than ever and the trend shows no signs of stopping just yet.

triathlon triathlete multi sport swim bike run

Sports involved

Swimming, cycling, running

Distances

Distance Swim Bike Run
Super Sprint 400 m
(0.25 mi)
10 km
(6.2 mi)
2.5 km
(1.6 mi)
Sprint 750 m
(0.47 mi)
20 km
(12 mi)
5 km
(3.1 mi)
Olympic (Standard) 1.5 km
(0.93 mi)
40 km
(25 mi)
10 km
(6.2 mi)
Ironman 70.3 (Half Ironman) 1.9 km
(1.2 mi)
90 km
(56 mi)
21.1 km
(13.1 mi)
ITU-Middle Distance 3.0 km
(1.9 mi)
80 km
(50 mi)
20 km
(12 mi)
Ironman 140.6 (Full Ironman) 3.9 km
(2.4 mi)
181 km
(112 mi)
42.2 km
(26.2 mi)
ITU-Long Distance 4.0 km
(2.5 mi)
120 km
(75 mi)
30 km
(19 mi)

 

How it works

Triathlon follows a simple swim - bike - run format with transition areas between each discipline. As a triathlete, you will start with the swim which can either be indoors in a swimming pool or outdoors in open water. Open water swims are more popular for most triathlons although some races aimed at beginners will feature a shorter pool swim. 

Once you've completed your swim, you run to a transition area where you take off your wetsuit (if you wore one) and change into your bike shoes. You then head off out on your bike for the bike section. 

Once finished on the bike, you come back to transition to rack your bike, put on your running shoes, and head off out for the run. 

Different triathlon races offer a variety of different course types, from open roads to closed circuits and open water swims in the sea, ocean, rivers, or lakes. If you're really into this sport, you may end up investing in a specialist triathlon bike and all sorts of other specialist kit. For more detailed information about triathlon racing, read our triathlon guide.

As all triathlon races are governed by the ITU (International Triathlon Union), all triathlon races will be fairly uniform and as a racer you will have to stick to rigid guidelines and rules. You will also find the distances always stick closely to those outlined, although some races may have slightly longer or shorter distances due to course design; it will always be within 10% of the prescribed limit though.  

Cross Triathlon

For those looking for something a little more rugged, cross triathlon takes triathlon off-road and into the wilderness.

Xterra cross triathlon off road cross country

Sports involved

Open water swimming, mountain biking, trail running

Distances

Typically a 1km swim, 20-30km mountain bike, and 6-10km trail run but distances can vary from race to race.

How it works

Cross triathlon follows the same format as traditional triathlon but it is all done 'off-road'. The swim is always does in open water such as in a lake or in the ocean, the bike is done on a mountain bike, and the run is a trail run. The idea first started in Hawaii, the spiritual home of triathlon, and has since established itself as a major multi sport with the Xterra Championships being the Holy Grail for cross triathletes.

The courses tend to be much more technical and rugged than that of traditional triathlon and the cycle stage requires more care and skill rather than pure speed. Due to the fact that the bike stage could involve severe hills and navigating trees, rocks and other hazards, comparing times between different races can be tricky and unreliable.

Duathlon

Duathlon is triathlon's close relative, simply eliminating the swim from the popular multi sport racing format. Perfect for those who can't or don't want to swim but also popular among triathletes in the winter season, duathlon can be a very competitive and fast sport.

duathlon racing running cycling

Sports involved

Running, cycling

Distances

Super sprint distance - 2.5km run, 10km bike, 2.5km run

Sprint distance - 5km run, 20km bike, 2.5km run

Standard (Olympic) distance - 10km run, 40km bike, 5km run

Middle distance - 10km run, 60km bike, 10km run

Long distance - 10km run, 150km bike, 30km run 

How it works

A duathlon follows a run - bike - run format, eliminating the swim from standard triathlon format. Due to the fact most athletes' strongest disciplines are the bike and run sections, duathlon can be extremely competitive and fast. 

Duathlon follows the same format as triathlon in that there is a transition between each discipline. You will start with your first run before heading to the transition area to grab your bike and helmet and head out on the bike section. Once that's done, you head back to transition to change into your running shoes and sprint off for your final run. 

Duathlon is a very popular sport among triathletes during the winter season when swimming – especially in open water – is impractical. Many triathletes will stay fit and keep their racing strategy strong by competing in autumn and winter duathlon races. Duathlon is also perfect for anyone interested in doing multi sport but who can't or doesn't want to swim. Also, for people looking to dip their toe into multi sport (metaphorically speaking) but who aren't ready to commit to swimming lessons, wetsuits, and the complexities of triathlon just yet.  

Aquathlon

Aquathlon is another of triathlon's close relatives, this time eliminating the bike section from the popular multi sport format. Less equipment to worry about and perfect for those who don't like cycling, aquathlon is rising in popularity as of late.

Total Motion Aquathlon Tooting Bec Lido London 

Sports involved

Swimming, running

Distances

ITU Distances

Warm water aquathlon (water temperature above 22 degrees Celsius)

2.5km run - 1km swim - 2.5km run

Cold water aquathlon (water temperature below 22 degrees Celsius)

1km swim - 5km run

Long Course aquathlon

2km swim - 10km run

Each country, federation, and even individual race may have its own distance regulation as water temperature can vary so drastically from country to country.

How it works

Transporting a bike to a race, especially abroad, can be logistically difficult. As can organising a race with a bike section, especially if it has to be done on roads open to traffic. Eliminating the bike section of a triathlon – creating the aquathlon – became popular a few decades ago after race organisers and athletes alike realised how much simpler it would be just to have the run and swim portions of the race. Not only this, some people simply don't get on with cycling but still want to enjoy multi sport, so for them aquathlon is the perfect race.

In an aquathlon, it can be either a run - swim - run format or just a swim followed by a run. In general, aquathlon follows the longer distances while modern biathlon is shorter distances. Biathle, which is also swimming and running, is just for training purposes for those who compete in pentathlon. 

Swimrun

For those who enjoy swimming and running but want more of a challenge or outdoor adventure, swimrun is the perfect choice. Put simply, swimrun is like aquathlon on steroids.

Breca Swimrun multi sport

Sports involved

Open water swimming, trail running

Distances

Swimrun has no set distance standard and each race distance varies

How it works

There are several differences between swimrun and its close relative aquathlon. Where aquathlon is like triathlon in that there is a transition area, swimrun differs as there is no stopping in between stages; participants swim in their running shoes and run in their wetsuit.

In triathlon and aquathlon you're not allowed buoyancy aids but in swimrun you're allowed hand paddles and pull buoys because of the drag created by swimming in shoes.

Another difference is that aquathlon is just one swim and one run whereas swimrun could involve several stages, with a minimum of 2 swims and 2 runs. For example, the Breca Swimrun Buttermere is 17 alternating runs and swims.

The final difference is that an aquathlon often takes place in a pool whereas swimrun is always outdoors in open water and on rugged trails. Swimrun is usually done in pairs for safety reasons and for many is considered more of an adventure than purely a race. 

Biathle (Modern Biathlon)

Biathle or Modern biathlon is a sub-sport of modern pentathlon invented to create opportunities for training the run and swim parts of pentathlon in real race conditions. It is a sport in its own right. It bears close resemblance to aquathlon which also contains swimming and running but which comes from triathlon sport.

biathle modern biathlon multi sport

Sports involved

Swimming, running

Distances

Usually 200m and 3km run but distances can vary from race to race.

How it works

The race always features a mass start run which then goes into a transition area, much like duathlon. Participants must take off their shoes and socks (unlike in swimrun) and then move onto the swim. For the swim, athletes are allowed to use any stroke (unlike triathlon which forbids backstroke in pool swims). Then comes another transition back to running and then to the finish line. 

This sport is not to be confused with biathlon which is cross country skiing and rifle shooting and is a winter Olympic sport.

Aquabike

Aquabike is a less popular multi sport that eliminates the run from the swim - bike - run triathlon format. Races are usually undertaken as part of a full triathlon with the participants omitting the run section of the race and just receiving a result for their swim and bike.

aquabike triathlon multi sport swim bike 

Sports involved

Swimming, cycling

Distances

Super sprint     400m swim, 10k bike

Sprint               750m swim, 20k bike

Standard         1500m swim, 40k bike

Middle             1.9km swim, 90km bike

Full                  3.9km swim, 191km bike

Distances vary but usually follow the same distances as a triathlon with the run omitted.

How it works

Aquabike is competed in the same way as a triathlon, simply with the run eliminated. Aquabike is perfect for triathletes who may be injured and therefore cannot run or simply for anyone who likes the idea of multi sport but doesn't like running.

Quadrathlon

Quadrathlon is for those who want a little more from their multi sport experience. It is the same as triathlon but with the addition of a kayaking section.

quadrathlon swim bike run kayaking

Sports involved

Swimming, cycling, kayaking, running

Distances

Sprint Distance Middle Distance Long Distance
Swim 750 m 1.5 km 4 km
Cycle 20 km 40 km 100 km
Kayak 4 km 8 km 20 km
Run 5 km 10 km 21 km

 

How it works

For a quadrathlon race, the individual disciplines can be done in any order however it usually follows a swim - bike - kayak - run format. Quadrathlon generally follows the same rules and format of a triathlon but with the addition of a kayaking element.

Other Multi Sport Races

Sundried is a triathlon specialist and so our passion is for multi sport races related to triathlon. Of course, there are many other types of multi sport such as pentathlon, heptathlon etc but those are track and field sports rather than related to our speciality.