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Hardcore Triathlons



On July 15, Zurich’s Ironman Triathlon kicks off. Competitors complete a 3.8km swim, followed by a scenic 180km bike ride and then a 42.2k run. Sound like your kind of race?

If we’ve stoked your appetite, here are five more extreme triathlons to consider. Just know you need to be in superb physical condition if you want to even get close to crossing the finish line.

Once you do, however, you can brag for the rest of your life.

Norseman Triathlon 

Aptly set in the part of the world that spawned the Vikings, Norway, the Norseman Triathlon is widely ranked as the world’s toughest. It is also, however, full of character. While the initial swimming stretch takes place inside a murky fjord, the biking and running legs unfold amid breathtaking scenery in the mountains.

Two-time Ironman world champion Tim DeBoom won the 2011 Norseman Xtreme Triathlon in 11 hours 18 minutes 47 seconds.

“Norseman is like going back to the roots of triathlon,” DeBoom said on YouTube.

The race is different and harder than any rival long-distance race, he added. It demands more of you, because, among other things, you need your own support network to finish.

The triathlon starts in a fjord and ends atop mighty Gaustatoppen mountain, 1,850 meters above sea level. The total ascent is 5,000 meters. The water temperature hovers at about 15.5 degrees Celsius. The air temperature plunges as low as 6 Celsius.

Now that’s crisp.

London Triathlon 

The Virgin Active London Triathlon, as it’s fully known, claims to be the world’s biggest triathlon. It lures over 13,000 participants of all abilities to Docklands, London.

Some are top-tier athletes keen to shave crucial seconds off their personal bests. Others are greenhorns who have signed up as their yearly challenge. Half of all entrants are first-timers.

The London Triathlon breaks down into four distances: “super sprint,” “sprint,” “Olympic” and “Olympic plus.” You can take your pick and compete solo or in a team.

The world’s biggest mass-participation triathlon starts with a swim in the East London docks. The route you then take along the closed roads of London is very scenic. You will see the O2 arena on the Greenwich peninsula and several other London landmarks: Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye.

Europe’s biggest triathlon publication, German Triathlon Magazine, voted London’s one of 2010’s “must-do” triathlons.

Hawaii Ironman

The Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon is the original modern long-distance triathlon event. The race was launched in 1977 when San Diegan seadog John Collins dreamed up the idea of mixing Hawaii’s three most punishing endurance races: the 2.4-mile Waikiki Roughwater Swim, the 112-mile Around-O’ahu Bike Race and the 26.2-mile Honolulu Marathon. Its purpose: to test athletes who had succeeded at local swim/run biathlons.

In February 1978, 15 people duly converged on Waikiki to to compete in Collins’ triathlon. Each entrant was given three sheets of paper describing the rules, the course and the Hawaii Ironman formula:

“Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life!”

In 1981, the prestigious race was shunted from Waikiki’s sleepy shores to the hardcore lava fields of Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island. As athletes travel along black lava rock-carpeted Kona Coast, they have to deal with “ho’omumuku” 45-mph crosswinds. Besides, there is the searing sun. Still, in October, some 2,000 athletes will embark on the 141-mile journey touted as “the ultimate test of body, mind and spirit.”

The race slogan is: “Anything is possible.” Double amputee Scott Rigsby  proved that by completing the Hawaii Ironman in 2007.

New York City Triathlon 

The New York City Triathlon is an Olympic Distance race involving a 1500m swim, a 40k bike ride and a 10k run. Annually, over 3,000 athletes sign up for the extreme urban event.

The race starts on Manhattan’s West side at 99th Street and the Hudson River. The point-to-point swim along the Hudson is threaded alongside the seawall to curb the current’s impact. Still, the Hudson stint is apparently the world’s fastest Olympic swim stretch because the tide drives contestants along. All entrants must do an open-water swim of at least a half mile within 18 months of the event so they are prepared for the human and tidal tumult they will encounter when they dive in.

Once they emerge drenched from the Hudson, they must bike along the West Side highway and then slip into their sneakers for a jaunt through Central Park. The finish line lies on a street called Dead Road.

Escape From Alcatraz 

No other event in the triathlon calendar has more mystique than Escape From Alcatraz. Just like want-to-be fugitives from the old prison, entrants swim 1.5 miles from Alcatraz Island to the mainland. Wetsuits and hoods are recommended for the 7:30 am plunge into choppy, icy water.

Next: an 18-mile bike ride and an eight-mile run across San Francisco’s Golden Gate Recreation Area. Contestants face the obstacles of beach sand and the towering Equinox Sand Ladder, which takes them 400 steps up a cliff. The grueling vertical trek turns all but elite athletes’ legs to jelly.

“The stairs are to the run what the currents and waves are to the swim,” the course info says. At the top of Equinox Sand Ladder, runners hang a left then slog along the Coast Trail and back to the finish via Lincoln Boulevard.

“Escaping from Alcatraz is a lot more fun if you’re greeted onshore with cold beer and cheering crowds instead of a manhunt,” the San Francisco Chronicle observes.

The Escape From Alcatraz triathlon was ranked as the #1 triathlon by Inside Triathlon Magazine for 2006.

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