It can be very helpful and motivating to have a target swim time in mind when training for a triathlon.
For beginner triathletes, however, it can be very difficult to find exactly what a good triathlon beginner swim time is as it depends on so many factors, from the length of the race to the water conditions.
I have gone through the race results for popular sprint triathlons in the UK to help establish what is a good swim time benchmark to have in mind as a beginner triathlete, cross-referencing my data with general guidance and online swim time calculators.
As a general rule, a good triathlon beginner swim time for a sprint triathlon with a 750m swim is between 14 minutes and 20 minutes. Your age and the water conditions will greatly affect your swim speeds, so these times are a general guide only.
For beginner triathletes, it is more important to focus on finishing a race instead of speed, but knowing how you compare and where you stand can help motivate you to swim faster, track your progress, or train harder.
In this article I will look at:
- How long is a swim in a triathlon?
- Is a sprint triathlon for beginners?
- What is a good triathlon beginner swim time?
- How can I compare my swim times to other swimmers?
- How does a pool swim time compare to triathlon?
How Long Is A Swim In A Triathlon?
The length of the swim section of a triathlon will depend on the type of the triathlon.
There are many types of triathlon, but the following list includes the most popular types of triathlon around the world, with the corresponding swim distance detailed.
|Types Of Triathlon||Swim Distance|
Is A Sprint Triathlon For Beginners?
If you are a beginner swimmer in the world of triathlon or just new to the sport, a great place to start is the super sprint or sprint triathlon.
These triathlons have a shorter distance overall and therefore are a great way to experience a triathlon without committing to a 1500m swim on your first go.
A sprint triathlon is not just for beginners. It is an unbelievable challenge for experienced triathletes, as they can push their endurance and speed.
Although a super sprint or sprint triathlon is the best place to start for beginners, expect to see pros leading the pack in these races.
What Is A Good Triathlon Beginner Swim Time?
So many swimmers (myself included) are obsessed with swim times and swim speeds.
When starting out as a beginner triathlete, it is nice to know how you compare, but it can be really hard to find a benchmark.
So many factors influence triathlon swim times, including:
- Triathlon type
- Fitness level
- Water conditions
Often you will find generic swim times for triathlete swimmers, and these are often based on advanced swimmers or experienced triathletes.
To get a better swim time benchmark for triathlon beginners, I have trawled through the results of races in the UK, cross-referencing with what the experts say and what the data from the well regarded Omni Calculator recommends for average triathlon finish times.
As expected, the benchmark range is a lot wider than expected and age has a big impact. We can see further this down the page, where I break times up into age ranges.
Below, I summarise my findings:
|Triathlon Type||Swim Distance||Gender||Fastest Group Beginner Swim Time||Slowest Group Beginner Swim Time|
|Sprint||750m||Female||14 Minutes||20+ Minutes|
|Sprint||750m||Male||14 Minutes||20+ Minutes|
As mentioned, age and water conditions have a big part to play in triathlon swim times. Gender seems to be less influential for the average swimmer.
Unfortunately, I cannot account for water conditions as the data does not exist, but I have broken down the times based on age range.
Overall, the younger the swim age group, the faster the swim times which is expected.
The data I have shared below is based on the data provided by this calculator, which is compiled from tens of thousands of triathlon finish times from 2016 to 2021, with data supplied by Sports Stats.
I have then cross-referenced the Sports Stats data with real-world data gathered by Results Base and results from a variety of UK sprint triathlons to get my own average that should be more realistic for the beginner triathlon swimmer.
Male Swimmers – Average Swim Times Based on Age
|Triathlon Type||Swim Distance||Gender||Age Range||Average Finish Times|
Female Swimmers – Average Swim Times Based on Age
|Triathlon Type||Swim Distance||Gender||Age Range||Average Finish Times|
Average Triathlon Finish Times Calculator
The data I have shown previously is compiled from a sprint triathlon, focusing on beginner times.
If you are looking for a more generic time, for all skill types over lots of triathlon types, then the following calculator may be able to help.
Just select your age, gender and triathlon type from the drop-down list and see the average finish times, including the swim below.
How Can I Compare My Swim Times To Other Swimmers?
The above swimming times vary greatly so if you are still not happy with how you compare, one of the best ways to compare yourself to other swimmers is to find the specific triathlon race website that you are planning to take part in and look at previous results.
Many of the best triathlon events publish the results of past triathlon times including, the swim time.
By looking at the results of previous triathlon events, you will know what to expect from the swimming leg of the race.
A quick glance at the previous results of the race will tell you if you are swimming fast enough to finish in a reasonable time.
How Does A Pool Swim Time Compare to Open Water?
Many triathletes must train in a pool, however, the experience of swimming in a pool is very different from swimming in open water.
If you are training in a swimming pool, but your triathlon race will be in open water, there are certain things that are worth keeping in mind to help you prepare.
Just because you can swim fast in a pool, this does not always translate to an open water swim, as the following factors will affect your time.
1. No Wall
When lane swimming, we all typically push off the wall to give ourselves momentum.
Of course, there is no wall to push off in open water, so remember you will lose this rest break and extra momentum.
If you are training for an open water event in the pool, try not to kick off the wall or at least reduce this as much as possible, as this extra help won’t be there on race day.
2. Water Conditions
Swimming pool water is carefully climate controlled, with little chop, no wind or rain and a constant temperature.
Open water, on the other hand, depends completely on the weather. If it is a windy day, the water could be choppy, which can make swimming much harder.
All these unforeseen environmental conditions in open water will slow you down.
Most triathlons require swimmers to wear a wetsuit.
The great thing about wetsuits is that they offer some extra buoyancy. This can actually improve your swimming and swim speeds.
Swimming in a wetsuit can feel a little restrictive at first, particularly if you are new to the sport, so ensure you get some practice time in while wearing your wetsuit before race day.
If you are wondering about how to train in a wetsuit, I dug deeper into the pros, cons, and etiquette of wearing a wetsuit in a public pool in my blog here.
4. Learn To Sight (Also known as spotting)
When swimming in a pool, it’s easy to know where you are. Many of us just follow the black line on the floor of the pool without ever lifting our heads.
In swimming pools, the water is clear, and it’s easy to navigate and swim in a straight line.
With open water swimming, it is important to lift your head every 10 strokes or so, to check you are swimming in the right direction and not into danger. This is called sighting or spotting.
Lifting your head will also have a slight impact on your swim speeds, but swimming off course or not swimming straight will really kill your swim times.
5. Pack Swimming
The start of nearly all open water swim races starts with a pack swim. Everyone runs to the water, and it is a terrifying white water mess of bodies.
This will affect your swim times as it is more important to get out of the water safely and navigate this pack than worrying about overtaking as a beginner.
If you are human, you will be nervous as a beginner triathlete.
Nerves can either speed swimmers up by giving them extra adrenalin, or slow them down as they become more rigid in the water.
This is hard to predict but will affect swim speeds.
In summary, if you are trying to get a benchmark swim in the pool to work out how you might perform in an open water swim, here are some things you can do in the pool to help:
- Don’t kick off the wall
- Lift your head to practice spotting
- Try to swim in a busy pool to learn to navigate with other swimmers
It is nearly impossible to compare a pool swim to an open water swim accurately, but considering these factors will help you get a more realistic swim.
It is very difficult to give a definitive answer on what is a good beginner swim time for triathlon as it depends on so many factors, from age to water conditions.
However, looking at a range of existing data, if you are swimming a sprint triathlon that has a swim distance of 750m between 14 and 20 minutes, you are on track.
Many swimmers train for their first open water triathlon in a swimming pool, which is a very different experience to open water swimming. Ensure you get some open water practise before the race to have the best experience.
Focus on finishing, not speed. As a beginner triathlete, it is more important that you finish your race and have fun instead of swimming fast. However; it is nice to know where we stand, how fast we are swimming and hopefully, get some motivation to improve by tracking our swimming speed and times.