Racing the Brutal Triathlon

Race Tips: Brutal Extreme Triathlons

Doing the Brutal this weekend? Two veterans of the tough ultra-long race share their wisdom for this epic race in Snowdonia

One of the UK triathlon season's toughest races is taking place this weekend – the Brutal, covering half, full and double-iron distances.

We ask last year's winners, Bonnie van Wilgenburg and Chris Hornung, for their advice...

Bonnie's tips


Take your time, at various points and for various reasons. This is not a typical long distance triathlon. It is a ‘brutal’ one, in a beautiful location, so take your time to enjoy the race and the scenery. I personally think that the more I enjoy an event and the surroundings, the better I perform.


Take your time to take care of yourself.  You’re going to be out for longer compared to the average long-distance triathlon. Keep warm during the swim, bike and run. Take your time in transition to change into and/or carry the right kit. 

The water may be cold in Llanberis. I myself wasn’t cold because I wore an extra thick hat, two layers of gloves and thick booties. I know there were quite a few people who got too cold during the swim, which will likely affect your performance for the rest of the race. You may want to think of tactics for keeping warm, not only wearing more layers, but also maybe adjusting your swim technique/tactics. I believe the organisers provide hot drinks for you to consume between your swim laps.

Luckily there is a short run to transition, so you can warm up if you do get cold. You are recommended to keep some trainers by the water. I chose not to as I was wearing my booties anyway. Obviously only do this if you are happy running in your booties.


Adapt to the weather. The weather was beautiful and sunny in Llanberis, but dark and rainy on the other side of the mountain during the bike ride. I found it frustrating at the time to have to stop so frequently, but I was happy I chose to take on/off my rain jacket twice during each lap. In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t take a lot of time.


Eat regularly and eat well. Although it may not be wise to change your nutrition strategy too drastically, make sure you do have a food plan and consider including ‘proper’ food. I had a flexible plan and extra food in transition. You may find you have an unexpected low (especially on a hard course like this) and pasta or a nice sandwich can save your day. Do take your time to make sure you eat and drink enough. It may be tempting to race past the feed station, but you may suffer later on if you forget to eat/drink.


Enjoy yourself. Enjoy the crowd during the run and find yourself a nice running partner. As you’re doing laps around the lake for the first part of the run, you get to pass transition various times. I found I got quite a lot of energy from seeing all the people following the race. Also, for safety reasons, you have to have a support runner on the mountain leg. Running with a nice, fresh, jolly person can really lift your spirits and performance. 

Chris Hornung's tips

Athletes enter the water for the Brutal


It's a cold swim. Despite the good weather at the moment the lake swim will be cold. For those doing the full (and double) I'd consider wearing a neoprene hat under the race cap.  Additionally, make sure you warm up fully to help prepare you for the cold.


Take your time in transition. The Brutal is a long race, winning times are usually between 12:45 and 13:00 hours, so an extra minute or two in transition isn't going to impact your race. I was very cold after the swim so put on some extra clothing to make sure I warmed up on the bike.


The weather can be very different on either side of Snowdon. It might be sunny in Llanberis, but this doesn't mean it will be sunny on the other side of Snowdon. Again, think about what you're going to wear on the bike. I had a thin sleeveless layer for the bike on top of my usual race gear and this made a big difference


Don't be fooled by the lake leg of the run course. The first three laps of the run might be round the lake, but the second half of the lap is hilly. Take this into account when pacing the first half of the run.


Break the run into two. Picking up your support running is a huge mental plus, so make sure you use it. For me the run was about getting to this point, I then looked to work as hard as I could on the way up Snowdon, but using my support running (in the nicest possible way) to help me mentally through this section of the race. Then remember to enjoy the run back down!

Are you racing the Brutal this weekend? Looking forward to it? Let us know in the comments below!


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