What is Aquathlon? A beginner’s guide

John Levison guides you through Aquathlon, and details why it might be for you.

Chief Correspondent
Last updated -

If you are new to triathlon then it’s likely you are also considering Aquathlon – and the good news is we are here to give you the full lowdown with a guide for the beginner.

There are not only a ton of different distances for triathlon, there are also a number of different formats. One of the most popular event options is Aquathlon.

How is it different to triathlon?

Triathlon of course is made up of a swim, a bike and run, while the most common format of Aquathlon racing is a swim followed by a run, also sometimes referred to as a ‘splash and dash’.

Some Aquathlon events, which typically require a minimum water temperature for safety, will be held over a run-swim-run format.

Aquathlon distances

So, how long is an Aquathlon? There is no simple answer to that question.

As with triathlon racing, there are no restrictions on the distances which Aquathlon races can be held over. That said, the vast majority of Aquathlon events are relatively short in terms of distances.

World Triathlon, the governing body, holds an Aquathlon World Championship event every year, which includes 2.5km run / 1km swim / 2.5km run (where water is 22°C or above), or 1km swim / 5km run with lower water temperatures.

In the UK, it would be more common to see a 750m swim / 5km run.

The relatively short distances of most Aquathlon races means preparation time and recovery from events is significantly less. Combined with lower costs and simplicity, that adds further to the opportunity to race in Aquathlon events frequently.

Aquathlon kit guide: What you need to wear

Here are the key elements of kit you we would suggest for taking part in an Aquathlon, along with a few additional tips:

  • Swim hat:. Often provided by the race organiser – and usually compulsory for safety reasons, e.g. ease of sight in an open-water situation. Tip – if the water is cold, you may choose to wear an additional swim hat under the official race one provided.
  • Swimming goggles: Not compulsory, but the overwhelming majority of people will find swimming with goggles more comfortable than without. Finding a goggle that fits you is far more important than looking at price and thinking ‘expensive must be better’! If you are swimming in open water – lake / sea / river – then the slightly larger mask-style goggles (such as the Aqua Sphere Vista range), are preferred by some athletes, as they typically give a wider range of vision as well as providing a little more protection. Personal preference is key.
  • Wetsuit: Not required (or typically even allowed) in a pool-based Aquathlon, a wetsuit will often be used in outdoor races. Water temperatures will determine whether they are not allowed (if the water is too warm), compulsory (colder waters) or optional (in between). The decision will be made based on pre-race water temperature checks by the race organisers, and referencing the rule book applicable. In a ‘wetsuit optional’ scenario, the suit will provide both insulation and buoyancy. For that reason, most athletes will elect to use them as the speed gained is typically greater than the time ‘cost’ of having to remove it before starting the run! Note, wetsuits designed for swimming/triathlon are quite different to those used in, of example, surfing. Similar to our comments on swimming goggle, the right wetsuit for you is the most important thing with fit being really important.
  • Trisuit: A trisuit is a one-piece outfit which you would wear for the swim (under your wetsuit, if applicable) AND the run section. You can wear shorts/trunks/swimsuit and a vest/T-shirt, but bear in mind that trying to put a top on when wet is very difficult and time consuming! A trisuit solves the problem of having one item of clothing which you can wear for the whole event and would certainly be our recommended option.
  • Running shoes: Don’t wear new ones for the first time on race day! As most Aquathlon races are relatively short, you may choose not to wear socks – though don’t feel pressured or obliged to do so when you are first starting out – to save transition time. Whether you use socks or not, putting some talcum powder into your shoes prior to the event will make wet feet slip into your shoes more easily. Another time-saving tip is to use elastic laces or lace-lock systems such as Greepers laces. When you are tired, and perhaps a little disorientated after the swim, this can avoid any issues – and time – in trying to tie standard laces! That’s why the Elite athletes you see at the Olympic Games are seemingly so quick at changing their shoes…
  • Race belt: Most events will require you to display a paper-style number, usually on your front, during the run leg. Trisuits are generally tight-fitting and technical garments which are not designed to have safety pins put through them. A simple race belt typically costs well under £10 and you can pin your race number to that and slip/clip it around your waist in transition before your start the run leg. We can tell you from experience that is far more preferable than putting holes into potentially expensive racing kit! A race belt will typically last years too and is a great addition to any multisport athlete’s kit bag.
  • Hat/Visor/Glasses: All optional, but on a sunny/hot day, one or more of these may make your run more comfortable – personal preference!

What are the benefits?

Because of the absence of the cycle leg, Aquathlon has several attractive characteristics:

  • Without the logistics and related costs of a bike course, Aquathlon races are typically far simpler to organise and take less time.
  • As a result, Aquathlon events are typically cheaper to enter for competitors than triathlon races.
  • For newcomers to the multisport world, a bike and the related equipment is typically the greatest initial cost. Aquathlon events are thus a great entry point.
  • For athletes – beginners or experienced – the relative simplicity in terms of kit and typically low costs, can make them a very attractive option to race frequently, even as a training events towards other triathlon goals.

Talent spotting!

An interesting note is that swim and run performance is often used by governing bodies when trying to identify talent for triathlon, with cycling ability (initially at least), a secondary consideration.

The technical nature of swimming and a natural aptitude for running fast are considered crucial to Elite level senior success in triathlon. If an athlete has those strengths, developing their cycling skills from a low(er) base has consistently proven to be a more successful path than, for example, taking a great cyclist and trying to make them a fast swimmer.

John Levison
Written by
John Levison
TRI247's Chief Correspondent, John has been involved in triathlon for well over 30 years, 15 of those writing on these pages, whilst he can also be found commentating for events across the UK.
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