The distance of a triathlon is not necessarily the only factor in determining its toughness. The environment often plays a more important role. An ultradistance triathlon, of which the Ironman is the most recognized brand, includes a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run, which can all feel longer and tougher depending on the terrain, climate and weather conditions. Combined, they can make their case for toughest triathlon.
The SavageMan Triathlon has consistently been hailed as one of the toughest races year after year. Bjoern Andersson, 2008 and 2009 SavageMan champion, called the triathlon "a very brutal course," while Olympic athlete and 2008 and 2009 SavageMan champion Susan Williams said it was "by far the hardest Half Ironman course" she had ever done. SavageMan includes 70-mile (1.2-mile swim, 55.7-mile bike and 13.1-mile run) and 30-mile triathlon distances. The triathlon is held in Deep Creek Lake State Park, Maryland, and is marketed as the world's most savage triathlon.
The Norseman is so tough that race organizers allow only 200 people to participate every year. The race is marketed as the world's toughest Ironman-distance triathlon. It starts with an ice-cold swim in a fjord, which is followed by a mountainous bike ride, and finishes with an equally challenging run, of which more than 12 consecutive miles are uphill. The Norseman takes place in Eidfjord, Norway.
Ironman World Championship
Qualifying for the Ford Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, alone is an accomplishment, but finishing the race is an even greater one. While you enjoy the immense beauty of the Pacific Ocean and coastline, you have to contend with the heat and humidity when biking and running on the lava-covered terrain.
The Altriman triathlon in Les Angles, France, incorporates the region's rough and bumpy terrain. The triathlon is held near the Andorran and Spanish border in the southeast of the country. The Pyrenees mountain range along the French-Spanish border forms the triathlon's treacherous route, which features many significant inclines.
The Silverman in Henderson, Nevada, pits racers against the Mojave Desert -- a formidable foe that challenges you with steep inclines and scorching temperatures. The triathlon is marketed as "the toughest course in North America" and features a biking route with more than 9,700 feet of climbing.
More than 1,500 triathletes compete in Spain's Ironman Lanzarote. The race takes place on the island of Puerto del Carmen, which is notorious for strong winds and challenging mountain climbs. The Lanzarote is an official qualifier for the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.
Ironman St. George
The Ironman St. George in Utah features a swim in the Sand Hollow Reservoir, while the bike and run stretch out across the rough terrain in and around St. George. Highlights include Snow Canyon and the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, regions that are known for dramatic weather changes in a matter of minutes.
One of Norway's, and perhaps Europe's, toughest triathlon courses lies in Aurland, home to the Aurlandsfjellet Xtremem Triathlon. A cold swim in a fjord kicks off the race, followed by a demanding bike ride with more than 10,000 feet of elevation changes.
France's premier Ironman takes place in and around Nice. The picturesque route takes racers through 17 different villages and features a nearly 2,000-yard uphill bike climb. The triathlon is an official qualifying race for the championship in Hawaii and offers 50 slots.
Even though the swim for the Tristar Triathlon in Monaco is only 0.62 miles, the bike ride and run take you through the heart of this hilly city, as well as into the bordering villages that provide their own challenging terrain. Your endurance is tested all the way to the finish line, with an uphill run on the Avenue de Monte Carlo.