An Ironman Triathlon is one of the most physically and mentally challenging races in the world. Consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run, it’s a total of 140.6 miles. This is sometimes referred to as a “full Ironman” or “full distance triathlon” because shorter events exist that are roughly half this length and are referred to as “half-Ironman” races.
If you’re up for the challenge, a triathlon consisting of these Ironman distances can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Many regard it as the “ultimate test” for any triathlete similar to how a Marathon runner has a bucket list for ultramarathon races.
The Ironman Distance Triathlon
Just to be precise – Ironman is a trademarked brand owned by the World Triathlon Corporation. However, other triathlon brands have races of the same (or very close) “Ironman distances”.
In this article, we refer to Ironman more as a triathlon distance than a brand.
Hope that doesn’t confuse anyone.
The Ironman Distance and Where It Fits In
Triathlons are sorted into triathlon distance categories. There are races that use different triathlon distances, but these are the main categories most race organizers follow. Ironman triathlons are considered the ultimate test for most triathletes.
|Sprint Distance Triathlon
|Olympic Distance Triathlon
|Half Ironman Distance Triathlon
|Ironman Distance Triathlon
Many athletes don’t stop after they’ve raced a single Ironman triathlon. Their need to push themselves farther and farther makes them continue to search for the next test. This article was written for that special group of people.
If you plan on racing multiple Ironman distances, recovery from each race is critical. Using a portable cold plunge is becoming quite a popular recovery method. We’ve outlined a lot of cold plunge varieties here.
The Ironman Distances Bucket List
To help you plan your next Ironman distance triathlon, we’ve put together a list of some of the most popular and scenic races from around the world. We’ve also thrown in some of the most brutal races for Ironman distances as well. So whether you’re looking for a challenging course or a beautiful setting, there’s an Ironman race on this list for you.
These races are the most epic and respected of all Ironman distance triathlons. Some are known for their beautiful surroundings and some for their raw brutality. Some are known for both.
Note – many of these courses can be pre-ridden in the list of the best indoor cycling apps. Check ’em out.
While the Kona Ironman gets the majority of the attention outside of the triathlon world, Challenge Roth seems to equal its popularity within the triathlon community. In Europe especially, “Roth” is the big race.
Held in the picturesque Bavarian town of Roth, this event is widely regarded as one of the fastest full Ironman triathlon races in the world. The bike course is particularly flat and fast, making it a great choice for those looking to set a personal best time. With stunning views of the German countryside, Roth is also a great option for those who want to take in the sights while they race!
As one of Europe’s most popular Ironman races, athletes from all over the world enter the race with its fast course and friendly atmosphere. The race has over 3500 individual participants along with 650 relay teams. That’s a big race.
The bike course gets the attention of most people, as over 200,000 spectators crowd around Solar Hill and cheer on the athletes. Athletes will hear the crowd before they turn the corner and see them lining Solar Hill which they’ll soon climb. It’s the closest feeling to climbing Alpe D’huez in the Tour de France that you can get.
The Challenge Roth run course is flat and very fast. It is mostly a gravel trail that is very easy on the knees. You’ll love it along with the awesome crowd support.
If you’re looking for a European adventure with memories that will last a lifetime, this is definitely the race for you.
Ironman Lake Placid
Lake Placid, NY USA
Set in the stunning Adirondack Mountains of New York state, Ironman Lake Placid is one of the most scenic races in the world. With its breathtaking views and challenging course, the Lake Placid Ironman triathlon is a must-do for any serious triathlete.
When you think of the world’s greatest, most sought-after triathlons, a very short list of events from around the world comes to mind. The best of the best-triathlon royalty. IRONMAN Lake Placid is an iconic race, an icon of the sport that draws in triathletes from all over the world to test themselves on this legendary course.
Lake Placid has been the venue for two Winter Olympics and holds a special place in history.
The swim in Mirror Lake is a swimmer’s dream course. There is a cable under the water that allows you to swim without lifting your head up to sight. Athletes have an opportunity to post a swim PR and the lake water is extremely clear.
The bike portion is brutal, and one of the hilliest of any Ironman-branded race. Over 8,000 feet of elevation gain will zap your legs. However, the immense crowd support and gorgeous scenery keep you going.
The run is equally punishing with numerous large hills. The crowds are abundant and will cheer you on.
Finally, you finish on the actual Olympic Oval that the speed skaters sped to victory on! It’s a truly special moment for everyone.
This is the most beautiful race I’ve participated in and would recommend it to any athlete that wants to experience a special race venue.
Xtreme O3 OlympusMan Triathlon
Cyprus, Paralia, Greece
Xtreme 03 OlympusMan is a unique triathlon in Cyprus and one of those events every hardcore triathlete must have on his/her “bucket list”! It has over 19,600 feet of elevation gain during the race.
At the beginning of November, the climate of Cyprus offers excellent conditions for such an endeavor! The Mediterranean Sea water is at a perfect 21°C temperature and crystal clear. The air temperature most likely will be at around 22-25°C on the lower sections with an expected 13-14°C on Olympus peak.
The course runs point-to-point, from the Paphos coast, through the beautiful Diarizos valley, the vineyards region, and thick coniferous forests to Olympus Peak before continuing onwards to the finish.
The race starts at 4am in the Pafos Municipal Baths. You’ll do 4 laps of roughly 1000 meters each lap.
On the bike, you’ll go from sea level to over 6000 feet on the bike alone. There are over 16,000 feet of climbing in 111 miles. Toward the end, you descend to 1725 meters to start the run.
The run course is a 26.8-mile trail race that includes you climbing Olympus peak before continuing down finishing in the down of Troodos Square. The total elevation gain on the run is over 3000 feet, and the average altitude is above 5000 feet. Your lungs will be searing.
For those that don’t wish to do a full Ironman distance race, there is a shorter, half-Ironman distance you can do as well.
Kona Ironman World Championship
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, USA
Held on the Big Island of Hawaii, the Hawaii Ironman World Championship is undoubtedly the most well-known Ironman triathlon race in existence. It is also one of the most brutal races due to the oppressive heat and humidity of Kailua-Kona. The event is extremely competitive and competitors often underestimate the conditions until it’s too late.
You have to qualify to race in Kona, and it’s your chance to line up against the best professional triathletes in the world. The Ironman World Championship is now split into two days in two separate locations. For 2024, men will race in Kona while women will race their World Championships in Nice, France.
The swim portion is an ocean swim in beautiful Kailua Bay with its crystal clear waters. However, the swells can be large, and the salt content of the water is brutal on your mouth and throat. You’ll be feeling it by the time you exit the ocean.
The bike course takes athletes through lava fields and up plenty of hills. While the elevation changes are not noteworthy, the howling winds can be extreme. Lighter riders have been blown off their bikes during the race and there is very little opportunity to coast. You will be pedaling the entire race simply to remain upright.
The run is the real challenge. It’s scorching hot and there is no shade anywhere. You are slowly cooked until you are well done, and then you’re cooked a bit more. Many elite athletes have crumbled during the run portion and have been unable to finish.
If you’re one of the lucky ones who compete in the Ironman World Championship, heat acclimatization is critical.
Norseman Xtreme Triathlon
This is the one. Arguably the most difficult full Ironman distance race that exists. Known simply as “Norseman”.
The Norseman Xtreme Triathlon is an ultra-endurance event that takes place in Norway. It is widely considered to be one of the most difficult full ironman triathlons in the world, due to its extreme weather conditions and challenging terrain. It is a point-to-point race.
Entrance to the event is held by lottery each year unless you are a professional athlete or race sponsor. This year they had 8860 tickets in the lottery for 215 spots. The race is “unsupported”, so the triathletes must have their own support crew that follows them to provide food and drink.
Due to its difficulty, the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon has become something of a bucket-list event for many triathletes. It is seen as a true test of human endurance, and those who complete it are considered to be among the elite in the sport.
The race begins with a mass start swim in the frigid waters of Hardangerfjord. Athletes start the race by jumping from a barge into the fjord, which has a maximum depth of 1200 feet – yikes!. The water temperature is typically around 10-12 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit), which makes swimming even harder (see our list of the best triathlon wetsuits to speed up your swim).
After completing the swim, athletes transition to their bikes and begin the grueling long bike ride of 180km. The bike course is on paved roads and takes them through some of Norway’s most stunning scenery, including the snow-capped mountains of Jotunheimen National Park. Temperature is often about 35 degrees Fahrenheit and wet and windy conditions.
The final leg of the race is a 42km marathon run, which includes “Zombie Hill”. It’s a true torture test that tests even the strongest athletes.
Athletes must complete the race within a 17-hour time limit in order to get a coveted black shirt at the finish line. Athletes that finish outside the 17-hour limit are awarded a white shirt.
The Norseman Xtreme Triathlon is an incredibly challenging event, but it is also one of the most rewarding. Those who complete it are rewarded with the satisfaction of knowing that they have accomplished something truly extraordinary.
Ultra X Triathlon
Waterhead, Ambleside, UK
The Ultra X Triathlon is held in North England, fairly close to Scotland. It is a true test for its competitors.
Northern England is not known for its warm, inviting weather. You should expect colder temperatures and, of course, misty rain.
The race starts by swimming in Lake Windermere, which just sounds cold. It’s the largest natural lake in England and has a maximum depth of 219 feet. There’s probably giant fish there waiting to snack on you. The swim portion is probably the most typical part of this race.
The bike route is the standard distance of 112 miles and consists of two loops. However, the total elevation gain for the bike alone is a whopping 13,300 feet! The good news is that T1 and T2 are in the same place.
The run route is really the most challenging, but also incredibly beautiful. It is 26 miles long, with an elevation gain of 6,059 feet!
The overall elevation gain for this race is 19,291 feet. You’ll feel this the day after the race.
There are some good things about this race though. The views are spectacular and the entry fees are only £195.00 (approximately $230 USD).
They only allow 150 participants for this race so hurry up if you want to prove your toughness.
Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK
Ironman Wales is one of the toughest Ironman-branded triathlons and is held in Pembrokeshire, Wales. It is widely considered one of the most challenging Ironman events in the world due to its hilly terrain and unpredictable weather conditions.
An interesting fact about Wales is that it has more castles (over 400) than any other European country. You’ll see plenty of them during the race.
The bike portion has you passing by some of the castles used in the Harry Potter movies. The run portion of the race consists of four loops through areas with medieval town walls and a picturesque beachfront.
If you’re looking for a true test of your endurance and resolve, Ironman Wales is the race for you.
PATAGONMAN – Patagonia Xtreme Triathlon
Patagonia, Cochrane, Aysen, Chile
PATAGONMAN was created in the form of Norseman triathlon. Similar to Norseman, this race requires you to show up with a support team and vehicle. There are no aid stations that provide food and drink during the race. Mountain peaks will still have snow, while the valleys are green and the lakes are blue. Remember this is more about the journey than about the time it takes you to complete the race.
Ironman Champion Tim Don called this the hardest triathlon he has ever done. “PatagonMan is brutal”!
The PATAGONMAN course runs point-to-point or fjord to lake. It starts before sunrise in the Aysen Fjord, where the athletes must jump from a ferryboat into the ice-cold water (40 degrees F), to swim 3.8 kilometers toward Puerto Chacabuco where they can exit the water and find their bikes in the first transition area (T1).
From there, they ride 180 kilometers into the windy, winding, and the hilly road of the famous Carretera Austral to Cerro Castillo, one of the most scenic postcards of Patagonia where they can leave their bikes in the second transition area (T2).
From there, they run 42.2 kilometers of dirt trail and rubble road following the Ibanez River through the forest, next to beautiful lakes and waterfalls all the way to the General Carrera Lake, another landmark of the region.
Along the course, you may expect to see: sea otters, sea lions, whales, dolphins, seals, foxes, all types of cattle animals, condors, eagles, the very rare South Andean deer, and even puma. This is the place where documentaries are filmed, so be sure to look around and forget about your aero position every once in a while.
PATAGONMAN is an unforgettable journey through one of the most amazing natural settings in the world. The weather is 100% unpredictable but the price at the finish line is absolutely worth it. When crossing the finish line the athletes will receive not only a medal but also the greatest sense of accomplishment that a triathlete can feel.
Entrance into PATAGONMAN is by lottery, which opens in January. The total number of participants is limited to 300 spots each year.
This is a triathlon for the ones who have found their real love for the sport, for those who have endured in “full iron” or at least “half iron” distance triathlons. This is not an event for rookies, newcomers, or freshmen in the sport.
Lanzarote, Canarias, Spain
Ironman Lanzarote is a grueling triathlon that takes place every year in the Canary Islands. The course winds its way through some of the most beautiful scenery on the island, including volcanic landscapes and picturesque villages.
The race attracts some of the best athletes in the world and is considered one of the most challenging Ironman races. Lanzarote is known for its tough conditions, with strong winds and hot temperatures.
The environment is similar to Kona – Lots of lava rock, lots of heat, and lots of wind. Add that up, and you get one epic race.
The race starts with a mass swim start in Puerto del Carmen. The water temperature is usually around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, which can feel warm for an open-water swim.
The bike course is extremely hilly, and the heat can be brutal. The marathon run is also hilly, and the heat and humidity can make it feel much longer than 26.2 miles.
Ironman Lanzarote is a true test of endurance, and only the strongest athletes will be able to finish the race. If you’re looking for a challenge in an Ironman-branded event, this is the race for you.
HIMALAYANXTRI Triathlon Nepal
HimalayanXtri is a new extreme long-distance triathlon to come to Nepal in South Asia and the first in the region as part of the XTRI World Tour. XTRI is the same group that brings you the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon, and this race is part of the XTRI World Tour.
Similar to Norseman, the field size is small – only 200 spots available.
Overall you’ll have over 21,300 feet of elevation gain, with the highest point during the race over 13,000 feet.
The swim starts at 4am in Lake Phewa, Pokhara, and will be almost entirely in the dark. Water temperature will require wetsuits as it will be about 20 degrees Celsius.
The bike is on the road, with mostly smooth surfaces but some rough patches. Overall elevation gain is 3,800m (11,400 feet). The highest point is 1,740m (5,700 feet), which happens to be the start of the run.
The 43km run is entirely off-road. Race organizers mention that road running shoes are NOT suitable and trail shoes with great running insoles are mandatory. Some short sections of the course are not runnable. The highest point is 4,000m (13,123 feet), before a descent to the finish and overnight at a remote homestay village at 1,400m (4,600 feet).
Your lungs will hate you, but you’ll always have the memories.
No matter what your goals are, there’s an Ironman triathlon race on this list for you.
Remember that racing many of these Ironman distance events is not a 6-month process. You need to train year-round, which means participating in winter endurance events as well. Stay motivated by watching some of our favorite running movies.
If you think there are other races that should be added to this list, please drop us a line and let us know!
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