Ironman Not Extreme Enough? Try These Alternatives

"I am not here for recognition. I am here for the experience itself. No spectators, no brand name—just me and the road, or lake, or mountain.”

If an Ironman isn’t audacious enough, sign up for one of these non-standard triathlons.

For many triathletes, completing an iron-distance race is the pinnacle of their journey, an accomplishment universally revered by athletes and non-athletes alike.

Yet a sub-culture of athletes exists who seek an even more extreme, non-traditional option. Borrowing from the legacy of their European forerunners (such as Norseman and Celtman), extreme triathlons tend to have some commonalities—they feature point-to-point courses, provide no aid stations and limit the athlete fields to keep them small.

But what makes an athlete veer from the traditional race to venture into the realm of the extreme? For most, it’s the novelty and adventure of the challenge.

The Sea to Summit 2.0 (S2S), billed as “the original ultimate adventure race,” consists of a 1.5-mile swim, 95-plus-mile bike, and 5.5-mile scramble up Mount Washington—the highest peak in the northeast and considered one of the deadliest due to its extreme weather. The swim starts near the Maine coastline, the unmarked bike route traverses two states and climbs 6,000 feet, and the entire race is unsupported, requiring athletes to bring their own Sherpa to carry food, water and gear.

Extreme triathlons offer few amenities and infrastructure. In S2S, the 1.5-mile swim had one buoy. Athletes tend to like this bare-bones approach. As Danielle Keaney, college athlete-turned-triathlete, explained, “I got tired of the commercialization of the races I was doing. I enjoy a more grassroots approach, not a lot of hoopla—just get out there and race.”

But the real driving factor seems to be the experience itself. As seasoned competitors, racers were looking for not only a unique challenge but also a more personal experience. “I am not here for recognition,” Keaney says. “I am here for the experience itself. No spectators, no brand name—just me and the road, or lake, or mountain.”

Perhaps Tim Tapply, a former pro triathlete, summed it up best when he said, “Crossing the finish line at Ironman, with Mike Reilly screaming my name, was unforgettable. But, reaching the summit of Mount Washington, having started swimming in the ocean, riding across multiple states and running up that beast of a mountain, was life-altering.”

Adventure Hungry?

One of these events will satisfy your appetite.

In the U.S.
Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon
Seward, Ala.

Sea to Summit 2.0
South Berwick, Maine

106 West Triathlon
Dillon, Colo.

Casco Bay Islands SwimRun
Portland, Maine

Wilderman Offroad Triathlon
Walhalla, N.D.

Norseman Xtreme Triathlon

Celtman Extreme Scottish Triathlon

Swissman Xtreme Triathlon

Inferno Triathlon

Austria eXtreme Triathlon