Just How Fast Are Pro Triathletes?

After having watched more hours of triathlon online this weekend than I care to admit, I was taken aback by just how wickedly fast professionals are.  It’s one thing to watch coverage of a race on TV or online and think, “Well, they look pretty fast.”  It’s even plausible to think that a given professional isn’t that fast at all when you are watching a race on TV.  It’s not that they aren’t fast.  You just don’t have anything to compare them to gain a true reflection of their speed.

The same concept holds true when you’re sitting in a jet airliner looking down at the ground.  It’s hard to tell that you’re moving hundreds of miles an hour because you don’t have context.

I marveled at the splits turned in by Pete Jacobs in Kona, Andrew Starykowicz and Nicole Kelleher at Rev3 South Carolina.  Jacobs ran a 2:48 marathon in Kona.  Starykowicz finished the Half Rev (70.3 miles) in 3:49:10. 

But just how fast are they?  Again, it’s tough to really get it without some context.

And so, I’ve decided to add a little context.  I pulled Starky’s and Kelleher’s splits and plotted them out against my splits from the 2011 version of Rev3 South Carolina. 

Let’s just assume for hypothetical reasons that my 2011 race and their 2012 races were all in one magical all-together race, and that we all started at the same exact second (that doesn’t happen as the pros typically go off in different waves from age groupers). 

As you’d suspect, I would be well behind these two pros from the get-go. By the time we’d start to pull our water-logged bodies out of the lake, I’d already be down 13 minutes to Nicole and 17 minutes to Andrew.  Because I have a pretty slow transition – when I finally mount my QR and clip in, Andrew would be motoring on 8.5 miles down the road.  Nicole would be about 5.5 miles ahead of me.  And what’s worse?  They would both be pulling away as if I were in reverse.  Andrew averaged 26.5 miles per hour over the course of the 56 mile bike.  AVERAGED!  That means there were times where he was going far faster than that to offset the instances where he was a little slower.  Meanwhile – my maximum speed was 44 mph – and my average was just under 18 mph.  Nicole’s bike average was no slouch, either, at just under 22 mph.

Of course, a highlight of my race would be that as I was out on my run, I’d get to see the eventual winners pass me on their way back to the finish.  Well….not exactly.

You see, Starykowicz was long finished before I even stopped pedaling my bike.  He finished his entire race 21 minutes before I got off the bike and a full two hours and forty-eight minutes before I finished my race.  In this hypothetical race, if he could have maintained his run pace, he could have run an extra full marathon and still beat me by more than 10 minutes.  Nicole could have done just about the same thing!

Now, truth be told – I would have crossed paths with Kelleher as she was headed back in.  I’d be just starting mile 3 of my run. 

I knew that professional triathletes operated at a much higher level than I do – I’m a slow 40-something guy who does triathlon as a hobby – but I never thought about it like I’ve laid it out here.  Sort of shocking…..but then again, perhaps not.  I do know one thing, though.  If I want to see the men’s leader heading back into the finish line, I’ve got to cycle a whole lot faster!

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One thought on “Just How Fast Are Pro Triathletes?

  1. WOW… Great graph comparison and a little context sure puts the pro/elites into perspective. I think I’ll just be happy thinking they don’t look all that much faster while watching on TV or next event.

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