Ratio of disciplines in Triathlon competitions

Ratio of disciplines to the total time in Triathlon competitions

Trigger warning: be advised that these detail features cropped (or truncated) axes to better visualize the optimum strategy.
See the unedited version for comparison.

One-sentence Synopsis:

Best overall results in Triathlon competitions correlate with a well-balanced performance of corresponding disciplines.

Research questions:

  • How well balanced is this competition format?
  • Are all disciplines equally important?
  • Do some athletes have an advantage over others?


“A triathlon is a multiple-stage competition involving the completion of three continuous and sequential endurance disciplines. […] The first modern swim/bike/run event to be called a ‘triathlon’ was held at Mission Bay, San Diego, California on September 25, 1974.” (from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, s.v.)

To answer the questions formulated above I have collected and aggregated data from the “Triathlon Hamburg Everyman Olympic Men” from 2009 to 2015. The Triathlon Olympic Distance consists of 1.5 km swimming, 40 km biking and 10 km running. The ITU World Triathlon Hamburg claims to be known as the “The World’s Biggest Tri” with more than 10,000 participants. So-called “everyman” (“Jedermann” in German) competitors can sign up for the sprint distance (0,5km/22km/5km), the olympic distance (1,5km/40km/10km) or the relay together with friends, family or work colleagues.

For simplicity times spent in transition from one discipline to the next have been neglected.

Relevant keyfigures (z-scores) have been computed with Calc. The basic ternary plot was created with R using the plotrix package. The exported image was then edited with GIMP. Subgroups of competitors have been coloured by individual forte, and consolidated by merging semi-transparent layers.

Data source:

Timekeeping & Result Service has been provided by mika:timing using reusable transponders and multiple measuring/check points.


Comparative performance in biking has the highest correlation with overall performance, followed by running and swimming. This result conforms to the time (and distance) of each discipline. The predicatory value of these variables however has to be taken with a grain of salt: a hard ride on the bike might lead to a weak and slow run, an under-average performance in swimming might cost time that can not be made up subsequently.

It’s the most consistent challenge in all long-distance triathlons: how hard to ride the bike, while still leaving enough in the tank to have a great run. (Raymond Britt: Correlation Between Bike and Run Splits)

Comparable to a Venn diagram the overlap of the disciplines marks the optimum strategy. By dividing the sample into subgroups according to overall performance it can be shown that the best-performing competitors show a common tendency: a smaller ratio of time spent swimming, but a larger ratio of time spent biking, which is due to the different relative increment in speed for the different disciplines:

Triathlon subgroups by overall performance

See also:

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