What better way to dream about zipping up your wetsuit and heading for the water than reading about our favourite and most gruelling events.

When first venturing into the world of triathlon, it’s normal to start with those shorter sprint distances than Olympic distances. You might move onto half IRONMAN distances, and after that – if you’re really into the sport – the full IRONMAN distance, which is the pinnacle in terms of length of race.

That’s the general rule of progression that most triathletes follow if they find themselves sticking to the sport for a good few years. As seasoned triathletes age, they might find themselves down-grading almost into those shorter distance events. In the world of triathlon, going back to those ‘beginner’ sprint distances again is regarded as a sort of final curtain call to their triathlon endeavours and careers.

So, what do we mean when we say “most challenging” triathlon events?

  1. Typically, this would be a triathlon that is way beyond your current comfort zone. You can take on some of the less challenging events in a flash. Just a few weeks of training and you can easily find yourself getting across that first finish line. Your first triathlons don’t have to be fast; they just have to be finished. A ‘challenging’ triathlon? Not so much. These races are way out of your current comfort zone.
  2. You’re going to need to have already experienced a lot of wear and tear before you take on one of these. When a race organiser warns you that you might experience sickness, injury or danger during the event – you need to know that you’re ready for it. You’ll only really be ready for it if you’ve experienced it before in training and other events. You need to have years of experience under different conditions and in different situations before being ready to take on one of these challenges.
  3. You must be strong-minded. And by strong-minded, we usually mean a little bit crazy in triathlon regards. You have to be so focused on your own ability that you’re willing to take on a challenge that not a lot of people are prepared to do. You have to have the utmost faith in yourself.
  4. You’ll need a lot of spare time on your hands and a good preparation plan in place. Some of these challenges might take years of planning before you’re ready, depending on your current level of proficiency. Before you even think about getting to the starting line, you need to be fully prepared.
  5. You’ll need to have money available. These events, unfortunately, don’t come cheap and can often bring additional costs that you wouldn’t experience at your normal weekend get-away race. Think along the lines of entry-fees, flights and equipment.

Now that you’re aware of what these challenges take, here are some examples of those most challenging events.

1.The Swiss ULTRA DECA Continuous

With a 38km (23.6miles) swim, a 1800km (1118miles) bike ride and a 422km (262miles) run, all within 14 days – we rate this is as the most challenging triathlon event of all time.

Only the most dedicated and hardened athletes take on this challenge and that’s only if they have not only the oodles of time needed to compete for 2 weeks but also the mindset to do so. These competitors are on a different level of mental and physical fitness. They’re the definition of dedicated.

Taking part in August, we don’t think there’s a bigger or tougher challenge than this one. There are time limits placed on the swim, bike and run portions and you need to have a serious amount of race experience under your (race) belt before even thinking of competing. Just the thought of a 38km swim is enough to put anyone with a sane mind off, let alone the bike and run discipline. We think this challenge really is only for the most insane, brave and travelled triathlete. But we think the bragging rights afterwards might just be worth it.

2. The Australian ULTRAMAN 

You can imagine this as being a baby triathlon compared to the Swiss Ultra DECA Tri. This event is still staggering but a little bit gentler, with a 10km (6.2miles) swim, a 421.1km (261.7miles) bike ride and an 84.3km (52.38miles) run. Although it’s a lot shorter than the DECA event, this event is still going to be a massive challenge for even the most hardened triathletes out there. Although doable, it’s still a long one.

This event is challenging due to the 10km swim and the 140km cycle being done on Day 1. Then the following 281.1km cycle on Day 2. Then the whole 84.3km run on Day 3.

Just reading through the guidelines is enough for a little fright. A race distance that totals over 500km would certainly be classed as ‘most challenging’. This is definitely a curtain-raiser to the DECA.

3. The Patagonman

The Patagonman event takes place in Chile in December, with a 3.8km (2.3miles) swim, an 180km (111miles) bike ride and a 42km (26.09miles) run. Sounds easy? Maybe not.

The average water temperature for this event is around 12degrees. The longer it takes you to swim, the colder you’ll find you are. The cycle route runs itself into the Andes Mountain Range whilst the run is completely off-road. The website proudly mentions icefields, glaciers and rugged mountains, so as to not make you think this is an easy event. There’s no sugar coating with this one. If the organisers say it's going to be tough – you know it's going to be tough.

Now, this sounds like it might appeal to those more adventurous athletes. You have to be up to the task in more ways than one, but its’ completely achievable. From what we’ve seen from the event press, the scenery you’ll see during the event is definitely worth the hardship.

Last, but certainly not least, is the

4. Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon

This has been staged in San Francisco since the ’80s and you cannot get a more ‘bucket-list’ type appeal than this one. Apart from its iconic status, the challenge of diving off a ferry into ice-cold waters and then having to contend with exceptionally strong currents will make this “short” distance triathlon a real challenge for most. The vast majority of triathletes tend to battle with the swim so for starters, a swim of this nature will put the fear into the weaker swimmer before they have even started the race. The swim is 1.5 miles in length, which is around 2.4km if you swim straight and judge the current correctly. The cold water will be a huge challenge as there is no warm-up. You’re off the ferry, into the water you need to start swimming hard and fast. The bike is 18 miles in length (less than 30km) but the short, sharp steep hills will be enough to work the quads over in a big way. Make sure your bike is prepped and serviced with the brakes working 100%. This might be THE race where the all-new rage of using a disc-brake bike becomes advisable. The run is relatively short at 8 miles long (just short of 13km) but it includes the infamous “sand ladder” near the end of the run which is a 400 “stair” climb from the beach back onto the top road as triathletes make their way to the finish chute.

An iconic, bucket-list race that is totally doable in terms of the distances but is, in no way, easy at all, makes this a most challenging triathlon event that we should all aspire to do someday.

Can I achieve a finish as these challenging triathlon events?

Of course. Why not?

You might be a total newcomer to the sport, but you can always aspire to achieve a finish at every one of the above-listed events. If they weren’t doable – they wouldn’t exist.

Firstly, you’ll need to build up to the challenge. Start with the short distances then work your way up to the longer, more challenging ones. Throwing yourself in the deep end will only put you off and result in a non-finish and potentially some injuries.

You’ll obviously need to be physically fit (this goes without saying) but you’ll also need to be mentally fit in order to compete well in these respective events. This, as with all things mind related, takes time to develop and only once you’ve completed a good few races will you be able to start building up the necessary mental strength it takes to run those longer races.

You’ll probably need to save up, too. Unfortunately, no sport comes cheap. Triathlon entry fees these days can be on the higher end and you’ll have to incorporate travel costs, food and entertainment costs too. The planning of the travelling and the travelling itself will take some time. If the desire and the will is strong enough, however, you’ll find this part easier. In some ways, saving up is the biggest hurdle before the race.

You’ll also need to plan well in advance. You’ll need to set up travel plans, followed very closely by training plans. The challenges we’ve mentioned take literally years to train for. When you click that ‘submit’ button – make sure you have the necessary short term and long-term plans at hand.

Above all, you’ll need to be adventurous and willing to try something new. Most of your friends and training buddies will generally tend to stick with what they know and are comfortable with. A race challenge of this variety will require you to step outside your comfort zone and you’ll probably have to go it alone. Unless you have some really good, willing friends.

Lastly, and the part where Zone3 can really help you is by making sure you're kitted up appropriately to achieve your potential in these events. Start by zipping up your favourite wetsuit, over your trisuit, then making sure all your accessories are easily accessible in transition by keeping them in our transition bag

If you seriously consider doing challenges like these, you’re already on the right track. The rewards at the end of these events will be that little bit sweeter if you’re willing to commit when no one else will.