Challenge Wanaka: Race info, tips and training advice

Challenge Wanaka may be one of the most beautiful races in the world, but it's no walk in the park. Here's our guide to this iconic race in New Zealand...

Triathlete exits the swim at Challenge Wanaka

Challenge Wanaka is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful triathlons in the world


It’s also one of the most iconic. But just what does it have in store for triathletes? And how can you beat the course and make it to the finish line? Let’s take a look…

When is Challenge Wanaka?

In 2023 the series of events linked to Challenge Wanaka begin on Sunday 12 February. The Challenge Wanaka Half triathlon will be taking place on 18 February.

Where is Challenge Wanaka?

Challenge Wanaka takes place in a town called Wanaka, which is found on New Zealand’s South Island.

It’s roughly an hour’s drive north from Queenstown and the race unfolds against the backdrop of Mount Aspiring National Park, complete with towering mountains and gorgeous lakes.

How long is Challenge Wanaka?

Up until 2018, Challenge Wanaka featured both a full and a half-distance event, but since then the organisers have decided to focus on the latter. This means there is currently no long-distance triathlon at Challenge Wanaka anymore.

Challenge Wanaka Half consists of a 1.9km swim, 90km bike and 21.1km run.

Tips for racing Challenge Wanaka

Credit: Neil Kerr/Getty Images

Team CP coach Richard Greer explains how to conquer the Challenge Wanaka Half…

Lake Wanaka is an amazing place to swim, with the clarity of the water you can see the bottom for much of the swim. But the lake can cut up really rough, so it’s critical that in your prep you do plenty of open-water swimming in all conditions.

Pre-race, it’s also important to pick out key landmarks to sight as the early-morning sunrise can make it very difficult to spot the course marker buoys. Use training session 1 (see below) to help you prep.

The bike has a few hills and you have to earn every kilometre that you ride. The road surface is also rough so consider tyre pressures pre-race to ensure a smooth ride.

Challenge Wanaka rewards those who are strong on the bike, so try training session 2 in your weekly schedule to build up vital bike strength.

Use the hills to your advantage on the bike by getting out of the saddle, standing on your pedals and really giving your big muscle groups, such as your glutes, a big workout.

Efficiency is the name of the game so aim to take the pressure off your quads so you can enjoy the run more. Session 3 will help you practise this.

There’s a nice downhill just prior to T2 so get your speed up then give your legs a nice break. Also finish any leftover nutrition. Session 4 is a great bike-to-run workout.

The run is undulating, with most of it off-road. You may be hurting by this time but try and get your head up so you can soak up the amazing scenery.

This will also improve your posture and help you to run better. See the technique session 5.

Challenge Wanaka training sessions

Credit: Neil Kerr/Getty Images

Team CP coach Richard Greer shares his top training sessions for the Challenge Wanaka Half…

Session one

Practise bilateral breathing and sighting in rough water. Keep yourself safe while swimming, using an inflatable bag/ tow float.

Session two

60min interval as: 30mins high intensity/30mins hold the intensity but choose a slightly harder gear.

Session three

Ride out of the saddle for 1-2mins during your weekly long ride. This is longer than you’ll be out in the race, but it’ll teach you how to use your bodyweight to climb. By doing this well, you’ll be able to climb at a lower intensity.

Session four

Following every long ride, complete a 20min run. Aim for good posture and cadence to ensure that running off the bike feels normal.

Session five

Complete a hill run and then do the last 15mins on the flat back home – think posture and cadence to finish. session 2 in your weekly schedule to build up vital bike strength.


Top image credit: Neil Kerr/Getty Images