Are these the 7 hardest triathlons in the world?
Conquered standard triathlons and looking for a challenge that’ll test you like never before? Buckle up, we’ve crunched the numbers and are here to present you with some of the toughest events on the planet…
What is ‘type 2 fun’? There’s a handful of different definitions around, but one of our favourites goes like this: ‘Miserable while it’s happening, but fun in retrospect’.
How do you know if you’ve experienced type 2 fun? Well, if you’ve been gasping for oxygen on a tough climb, swearing loudly while getting battered by a headwind or gritting your teeth in agony as your legs cramp up, and you still signed up for another race afterward, then you’ve probably experienced it.
The very fact you keep signing up to challenges despite the pain and discomfort you’ve battled through shows you relish such fun. And boy do we have some cracking ideas that’ll enable you to push yourself to new heights.
In this article, we’ve curated a list of sporting challenges that’ll test your mind and body.
Sleep deprivation, unholy elevation profiles and brutal conditions all feature heavily but the sense of pride and achievement when you (hopefully) cross the finish line will be unrivalled. Go on, show us what you’re made of…
The hardest triathlons in the world
Swimrunman Ultra Gorges du Verdon
Location: Verdon Natural Park, France
Distance: 11.85km of swimming, 54.15km of running
Set in and around the largest canyon in Europe, the Verdon Gorge, this is a swimrun event that packs beauty and pain in equal measure. There are various distances on offer but the Ultra, with its 17 swims and 18 runs, is the toughest.
The water temperature is typically 15°C, the runs are predominantly on trails, including technical terrain, and there’s 2,218m of elevation gain.
Less than 50% of competitors tend to finish, but those who do are rewarded with dramatic views and a magical 1,400m swim in the turquoise waters of the Verdon Gorge as limestone cliffs tower overhead.
As it’s an ÖtillÖ Merit race, you can also earn points for the latter’s ranking system.
Also consider: ÖTILLÖ World Championship, One Water Race
Triathlon X Ultra X
Location: Lake District, England
Distance: 3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42km run
We’ve listed Triathlon X as one of the world’s toughest triathlons on these pages before but new for 2023 comes the Ultra X, part of the Triathlon X Ultra Festival Weekend.
Here, you’re faced with a bike route that’s the hilly granddaddy of all classic bike rides. It takes in the iconic passes of the Lake District, including Wrynose, Hardknott (33% gradient) and ‘The Struggle’ at Kirkstone Pass, familiar to anyone who’s done Helvellyn Tri.
That’s a grand total of 4,054m of ascent after a 3.8km swim in Lake Windermere.
The run is no amble either, with two loops of the classic Fairfield Horseshoe that includes 1,847m of ascent.
Also consider: The Roc England, Helvellyn Triathlon
Arch to Arc Triathlon
Location: London to Paris
Distance: 140km run, 34km swim, 291km bike
It’s not often that a single triathlon takes place over two countries, but then there aren’t many races like the Arch to Arc, which takes willing subjects from Marble Arch, London, to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
The crux of the challenge is the 34km swim across the Channel, but you’ll have to cover 140km on foot before you can even get in the water.
When you do dive in, you’ll have often choppy conditions, sea sickness and busy shipping lanes to contend with. If you make it through, a 291km bike awaits with 2,500m of ascent.
An average DNF rate of 40% shows just how tough this event is, with finishers taking an average of 70 hours to get it done.
Also consider: Monster Triathlon
Location: Llanberis, Snowdonia
Distance: 11.6km swim, 541km bike, 105km run
The sheer numbers involved here are staggering, with roughly 657km needing to be covered by the 64hr cutoff time.
And the way the distance is broken down is – well – brutal, too, with the repetitive nature a mental challenge of its own.
First up are 12 laps of the lake (in often 14-16°C waters), then 12 laps of the bike, followed by an ascent and descent of Snowdon and 13 laps of the lake by foot.
Total elevation on the bike is 9,000m, while on the run, which is a mix of mountain paths, slate trails and road, it’s 2,700m.
Challenging weather conditions and sleep deprivation don’t make things any easier, which is probably why the DNF rate hovers between 40-50%.
Also consider: The Snowman, Jurassicman
Location: Pokhara, Nepal
Distance: 3.8km swim, 175km bike, 43km run
Enter a race that’s located in the Himalayas and you know you’re in for a tough time… and not just because of a dodgy stomach!
Competing in the shadows of the world’s highest mountains, you’ll be tackling a lake swim under darkness at 4am before the real fun begins.
The bike takes place on road, but you’ll have rough patches and 5,360m of elevation gain to contend with. That’s followed by the run, which unfolds on mountain trails and steps, and tops out at a lung-busting 4,000m after 3,540m of ascent.
Temperatures average between 10-30°C, the median amount of time it takes to finish is 20 hours and around 30% of entrants DNF. But with views like this, the pain is worth it, right?
Also consider: Xtri ICON, Norseman
The Bearman Project 8848
Location: Vallespir, France
Distance: 3.8km swim, approx. 185km bike, 43km run
If you’re one of those masochistic triathletes that like going uphill, you’ll love the Bearman Project 8848.
Why 8848? Well that’s the height of Everest in metres, of course, which, unsurprisingly, is also the total elevation gain waiting for you at this race in the French Pyrenees.
But even getting to the start line is a challenge, as you first need to have completed the Bearman XXL (same distance, less elevation) and apply for entry.
If you make the cut, you’ll be faced with a lake swim followed by a bike and trail run over multiple laps designed to break you down both physically and mentally.
In 2022 28 people lined up and only three finished within the 22hr cut-off.
Also consider: Alpe d’Huez Triathlon, Embrunman
Distance: 3.8km swim, 180km bike, 43.4km run
The swim might often be a balmy 22°C and the run may be half on road, but don’t let that lure you into a false sense of security. Xtri Formosa has a DNF rate of 60%.
Why? Well that could have something to do with the choppy swim conditions, or the fact that from the moment you get on your bike the route just keeps going up.
Total bike elevation is a whopping 4,696m and that’s followed up by 2,144m of ascent on the run. This means you’ll top out at an altitude of 3,416m, which is high enough for things to start feeling even harder due to less oxygen being available.
For those that do cross the finish line atop Mount HeHuan, the median time is 19 hours, while temperatures can swing from 2-29°C.
Also consider: Israman, Patagonman
Top image credit: Thomas Frowein