34 must-do triathlon experiences

From standing on the Solarberg to doing a sprint relay and coaching a friend, triathlon is loaded with incredible experiences, whether you’re racing or not. Here we pick 34 of the most memorable multisport moments you’ll ever create…


01. Race your first-ever tri

First days at school and crushes (thank you Michaela Strachan)… there are some things you never forget. Also thrown into that mix is your inaugural triathlon event. And there are many 220 readers yet to experience that debut tri day, where months of worry hopefully evaporate once you cross the start line and begin that first step to becoming a true triathlete. And it’s an event you’ll look back on with pride and learn from in the years to come, even if you put your wetsuit on back-to-front and exit T2 with your helmet still on…

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02. Stand on the Solarberg

The distant roar builds and builds, cascading up the stretch of tarmac lined five-deep with the most raucous spectators in multisport. The bodies part just in time as the athletes ascend skywards. It’s 8:30am and Bavaria is in full voice, the beer is flowing and the smell of pretzel lingers heavy in the air. Of all the sights at Challenge Roth, it’s the iconic Solarberg climb that’s the highlight, an experience akin to the Tour de France’s most celebrated passages, and where many of the race’s 250,000 spectators pitch for the morning until decamping to the spectacular finish-line experience.

03. Tackle a swimrun

As offbeat multisport activities go, swimrun is up there with the best. Where else would you run around all day in a strange wetsuit, tie yourself to a partner with a bungee cord, or aspire to qualify for the ÖtillÖ World Champs, a brutal 75km sufferfest that you can’t even pronounce? Once you try one, though, you’ll be hooked. Races are usually in breathtaking scenery and the dynamic of racing with a partner makes the experience something extra special. Plus, if you prefer swimming to cycling, you’re onto a winner! Helen Webster, Editor

What is Swimrun? 

Image credit: ÖTILLÖ/ Jakob Edholm

04. Marshall at a race

Marshals are the lifeblood of tri, and being one for a day not only gives you a warm glow from helping others, but also presents plenty of opportunities for fun, including laughing and waving at impatient motorists, and holding up rude, handwritten signs to your mates who are racing. Martyn Brunt, columnist

05. Coach a friend

One of my most rewarding tri moments of 2017 was the text message from 220’s digital editor Debbie saying she’d completed her first tri. After months of imparting my back-of-the-pack wisdom, she’d battled through all the worries of open-water swimming and riding a road bike to become a bonafide triathlete. And then she only went and beat me at the North Bristol Tri a couple of months later. Friends, eh?

06. Do an Ironman… over 3 days

Okay, you can’t call yourself an Ironman just yet, but July’s Long Course Weekend in Tenby – with a 3.8km swim on the Friday, 180km bike on the Saturday and a marathon on the Sunday – will provide perfect prep and hopefully a surge of confidence for attempting your first iron-distance race, especially if that one happens to be Tenby’s Ironman Wales in September.

07. Race for a charity

Racing for a chosen charity can be a life-changing and potentially life-saving experience. Not only that, but picking a charity close to your heart can also provide all the encouragement you’ll ever need to get out and train when things start to get tough!

08. Share a course with the elites

Imagine sharing a pitch with Lionel Messi, a court with Rafa Nadal or a wicket with Joe Root? Unlikely! But triathlon is unique in that you can race on a course at the same time as the world’s greatest athletes. From Kona to Cannes and the Challenge Champs, there are ample worldwide opportunities to do this, with the ITU World Series leg in Leeds the UK’s best opportunity to compare your splits with a Brownlee or Duffy.

09. Take on the Slateman

If multi-lap city centre courses ain’t your thing, then there are few race experiences we’d recommend more than the Slateman. Set among the epic Snowdonia mountains, the race begins in the bracing Llyn Padarn before a bike course boasting relentless ascents, hair-raising descents and eye-popping scenery. But it’s the bonkers run that’s the race high, with comically steep climbs into the Dinorwig Slate Quarry and singletrack runs through the Coed Dinorwig woodland providing a final discipline unlike any other.

10. Watch Ironman Wales

Like Roth (see no. 2) in Germany, Tenby in Pembrokeshire has become a town that truly embraces and buys into the triathlon experience, and where the community come out from dawn to darkness to provide raucous motivational support from the first athlete to the last. Who said a 17hr race couldn’t be a spectator sport?!

11. Attempt the Escape from Alcatraz swim

I’m waiting among the towering American triathletes – they stand erect, hand on heart as The Star-Spangled Banner echoes from the San Francisco Belle. There are 2,000 competitors but I feel alone; some push and leap forward, others approach the jump with trepidation. My race instinct kicks in, I cross the timing mat, my competitive urge overcomes my fear and I jump! I’m falling, going much deeper than I thought I ever could. The icy cold water is suffocating. I swim and fight the swell and strength of the current. I check and double check my direction, I remember to look back… Alcatraz Island is behind and the Golden Gate bridge on my right-hand side. There are few experiences like it. Mark Kleanthous, tri coach

12. Battle Box Hill

Run and bike up and down Box Hill five times? Big deal, right? Or so I thought two thirds into 2014’s Ballbuster Duathlon. And then the long first run, continual climbing and cold, cold driving rain finally hit me. I was physically spent with 90mins to go and a runner had just overtaken me… while I was riding. For a mental and physical (yet oddly rewarding) examination, there are few tougher than this classic duathlon, invariably taking place in inclement weather for the past three decades and pushing me closer to tears than any other race.

13. Race a relay

Triathlon can be a head-down solo pursuit at times, but it doesn’t always need to be. If you’ve got a friend or partner that wants to get involved, but isn’t ready for the full event, then a relay is the perfect way to share the fun. One of my most memorable race experiences was at Ironman 70.3 Weymouth. My friend recently had a baby and was only bike-fit, so I got to do a beautiful sunrise swim, soaked up the atmosphere while she did the bike, then took over again for the half-marathon. We cheered each other on and had a blast! Helen Webster

14. Drink beer with 200,000 Germans

Beer festivals, football World Cups… the Germans know how to put on an event. The same applies to tri, with the annual event in Hamburg the highlight of the ITU World Series calendar and the one race that all the athletes love. Where some WTS events can lack atmosphere, Hamburg has it all. A huge city embracing tri, thousands of spectators and the Mixed Relay Worlds providing the icing on the cake.

15. See Ali Brownlee in the flesh

Whether he’s racing for Olympic gold or championing his home town at the World Tri Series race in Leeds, being able to watch Ali Brownlee race live is not only a unique privilege as a tri fan but also a visual treat of sporting excellence. Arguably the best Olympic-distance athlete of all time, Ali races with class, true grit and an admirable self-assuredness. You also know he’ll have left everything out on that course. Liz Barrett

16. Crew for an ultra athlete

In terms of bonding, there can be few experiences to rival crewing for an ultra triathlete in their bid for double, triple, quintuple or deca glory. You’ll share every high and low as they move up and down the field, battle blisters and face stomach woes, and forge a camaraderie between the other crews. I did this for Brit ultra triathlete Steve Harvey at a double ultra in Germany and we still share stories of the furious 3am Pot Noodle-making. You’ll also become a dab hand at making peanut butter sandwiches at top speed…

17. Stand on Ali’i Drive

Line the most famous street in triathlon and watch the greatest celebration of human endeavour ever – the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. Get there early to watch the athletes arrive in transition, pick your spot to see the swim start and then settle in for the day with several cups of joe at Lava Java followed by a plate of poke or mahi mahi at Huggo’s. The party then really gets going mid-afternoon when the world’s greatest Ironman athletes start running through for ultimate legend status. Stay until after midnight and you’ll bear witness to the incredible power of the human body and mind as the last athletes cross the finish line. Liz Barrett

18. Hit YouTube!

Struggling for tri inspiration this off-season? Then YouTube is awash with enthralling, history-of-tri moments, from the Julie Moss Ironman Hawaii crawl in 1982 to the sport’s Olympic Games showdowns. Our personal favourites include Bevan Docherty’s superhuman sprint victory over Kris Gemmell at the 2005 ITU World Cup in New Plymouth, and Simon Whitfield staying strong to win the Hy-Vee race (and $200,000) ahead of Jan Frodeno in 2009. Which also led to one of the sport’s greatest-ever images from Delly Carr.

19. Buy your kids a tri-suit

Yep, no one likes a pushy parent, but seeing your kids wear a tri-suit for the first time will be heartwarming and very, very cute. You’ll also gain a new swim, bike and run buddy, unless they begin criticising your running gait and start showing you a clean pair of heels, of course…

20. Race the world’s oldest tri

If Mission Bay became the first modern-day triathlon in 1974, the snappily-titled Optimists Club of Coronado Sports Fiesta Triathlon is now the world’s oldest continuously held triathlon. Its 40th edition takes place later in 2018 at Newport Beach in Southern California, which sounds like a good enough excuse
to cross the Atlantic to us.

21. Test ride a superbike

Okay, it’ll be tough going back to your standard bike after doing so, but if you ever get a chance to ride a Cervélo P5X, then take it! As riding this purpose-built triathlon superbike – with the best components that money can buy – is a thrilling experience. Everything is catered for, with more storage options than you can shake a bento box at, and the ease of adjustment makes for a fantastically comfortable ride with absolutely
no compromises. Jack Sexty, reviewer

22. Take on Xterra

Xterra brings adventure and tri together in a chilled-out way. With Xterra, what you get is what you don’t normally see. It’s off the beaten track, it follows the path least travelled and takes you to incredible places, often mountainous regions and areas where the wildlife outnumbers the humans. These are no-stress, lower-cost challenges that everyone should try. Plus there’s also the opportunity to qualify for that bucket-list race on paradise island, known as Maui, Hawaii. Jon Heasman, age-grouper

23. Watch the kids race at Hever castle

There are few more inspiring sights than watching the countless kids races at the Hever Castle Tri in September. And seeing them emerge grinning from the lake will make you feel buoyant about the future of the sport.

24. Guide a para triathlete

Taking responsibility for a visually impaired athlete might seem daunting, but guiding can be one of the most rewarding tasks you’ll undertake. And it’s really not that hard. Start with a gentle training jog on grass, practise on quiets roads on a tandem, and hone swim technique in the local pool. Will your efforts be appreciated? Seize the tether – and judge from the reaction of the spectators. Tim Heming, columnist

25. Go on a tri training camp

Had enough of riding in the pouring rain, running in the freezing cold and are fast developing a vitamin D deficiency. Whatever your reasons, it makes sense to take a week of active holiday in the middle of the UK winter. Not only does the body need variation in training, but so does the mind. If you really want to benefit from a training camp, ensure that the volume in each discipline is balanced and that the week is tailored to your needs. Nick Busca, tri coach

26. Tackle the Isoman

Are you a strong swimmer fed up with being overtaken by bike monsters? Do you harbour a grudge that your swimming prowess isn’t adequately rewarded by the usual tri distances? Then the Isoman is for you, because with a seven-mile swim at the start you’ll be well into the marathon before the decent triathletes catch you. Martyn Brunt

27. Take on the run at the Windsor Tri

Since 1991, the Windsor Triathlon has played a key role in the rise of swim, bike and run in the UK. After a notoriously early swim in the River Thames and the Great Park bike route, it’s the run course that lingers long in the memory. Athletes are tasked with negotiating a circuit that takes them into Eton’s High Street before returning to face the short, sharp hill on the approach to the castle. Like the climb, the Barry Avenue finish has become an iconic rite of passage for triathletes ever since that day in June 1991 when the Windsor adventure began.

28. Tackle the world’s toughest tri

Edging ultra competition from Deca UK, Kona Five, Ultraman and the Arch to Arc, the Uberman is 220’s toughest triathlon in the world. Most of the course is off the grid with no phone reception, internet or GPS. There are no official support or aid stations. The first leg is a 33.7km swim in the Pacific Ocean, from Catalina Island to the shores of Palos Verdes, itself considered one of the world’s most gruelling tests for endurance athletes, due to strong currents, ocean freighters and cruise ships, plus the chances of sharks and jellyfish. The 644km bike ride has 5,000m of climbing with technical descents. The 217km run is the Badwater course (arguably the toughest foot race on earth) and starts at 60m below sea level in Death Valley. The loneliness and emptiness are soul crushing, and the course ends at the Mount Whitney trailhead, which is often covered in snow.
Dan Bercu, race organiser

29. Go to the Olympics

Granted this one might be more feasible in 2024 when the Games rock up in Paris, but whenever the opportunity arises, take it! I was lucky enough to spend a week in London during the home Games, and a week in Rio for the Paralympics – both uniquely different experiences, locations and, ultimately, events. But being in a host city really allows you to see it, and its people, at its very best. As for the actual races, few things warm the heart like seeing an athlete realise their ultimate life’s dream – magic! Liz Barrett, Dep Ed

30. Race in Africa

There are plenty of ‘iconic’ races out there that are polished, well-attended and, frankly, a little dull! So I started venturing a little further afield to find a truly inspiring bucket-list race that captures the early days of tri. I now look at the African Triathlon Union website to get inspired by their races – from Namibia to Ghana and Rwanda – where our sport is new and athletes emerge with more energy than you can imagine. Tarek Mouganie, race organiser

31. Stand at the 17hr Ironman finish

The stars are out. The temperature has dropped. The burger vans have left. But the camaraderie of a long-distance race reaches its peak as that 17hr deadline gets closer, and there’s nothing quite like being there to celebrate with the hardiest of the hardcore as their iron dreams come true. Matt Kurton, athlete

32. Ride a draft-legal event

Draft-legal racing is a thrilling experience that improves your bike handling, sprinting and ability to work in a group. At age-group level it doesn’t always work as seamlessly, but if you find yourself in a big pack with everyone taking turns off the front, you’ll feel like a pro! Jack Sexty

 33. Cycle the Westernport Wall

The Toothpick, Big Savage Mountain and Killer Miller. In just over a decade, the ultra-tough middle SavageMan in Maryland, USA, has entered tri folklore for its satanic ascents and hair-raising descents. But the Westernport Wall is the star of the show. At just four blocks long, it’s far from the longest climb in tri but it’s reportedly the steepest, with an average gradient of 25% building up to a max of 31% – a stretch deemed so steep it’s long been closed to cars. If the climb isn’t diabolical enough, the road surface is decidedly dicey with potholes galore while the organisers throw in a posse of pitchfork-wielding devils and giant apes. Yet anyone who does conquer the climb – without putting their foot down – receives a brick engraved with their name laid into the Wall itself.

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34. Race the French classics

Clean air, Alpine climbs and panoramic views. And more climbing. There are few triathlons as beautiful or with more multisporting history than the French classics of Ironman France, Embrunman and the Alpe D’Huez Triathlon. The latter, held in August, boasts a swim in a mountain reservoir that’s open once a year, a bike course that’s played a central role in the Tour de France, the world’s highest transition area and a run that takes place at 2,000m above sea level. Time to start brushing up on your Gallic language skills….