Categorized | Primary, Ultra Running Races


Posted on 08 June 2012

“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” – Steve Prefontaine

Maybe you’ve done an Ironman Triathlon and perhaps you did exceptionally well or even won. You’re ready to advance to a longer distance event; but at the same time, maybe you don’t know what is that next level or you have only vaguely heard terms such as Ultraman or Double Ultra Triath­lons — and you have little or no information about the events. You’ve possibly talked to a friend or two who has participated in one or two around the globe. Maybe they only shared their personal reflec­tions about the race, but that is not enough for you. You want to get more information and try to attempt one of these longer distance races.

You may be highly interested and motivated to find out more, learn the best approaches to a training plan, and participate in an Ultra-Distance Triathlon. So, read on as I introduce Ultra-Distance Triathlons and a bit of history on the origin of these races.

From Triathlon to Ultra-Distance Triathlons

How exactly did these triathlons get started and why? What are these kinds of races designed to do in terms of challenge your strength and endurance and create unique tests for you as an athlete?

Early triathlons started with runners and endurance junkies seeking new ways to challenge themselves. Of course, the triathlon combined swimming, biking and running to create a unique challenge of running on tired legs. The first triathlons were held in 1974 at San Diego Mission Bay. Over time, triathlons evolved into what is now known as “Ironman Triathlon,” which encompasses the aforementioned Ironman Triathlon and the annual Ironman World Championship that is famously held in Hawaii since 1978.

Yet Ironman athletes were not satisfied with the challenge of 2.4-miles swimming, 112-mile biking, and 26.2-mile-marathon competitions. So the early Ironman race design became the foundation or springboard if you will for the Ultra-Distance Triathlon races that emerged straight from the imaginations, dreams and goals of the athletes who were determined to find greater and greater challenges to test boundaries of their own physical and mental capabilities. These multi-sport events have actually developed from original Ironman Triathlon competitions into the Double Ultra Triathlon (since the Ironman is now a trademarked name, the races cannot be named Double Ironman and are normally titled Double Ultra Triathlon).

The very first Double Ultra Triathlon took place in 1984 in Huntsville, Alabama and consisted of 4.8-miles swimming, 224-miles biking, and 52.4-miles running, which is still considered today’s standard for a Double Ultra Triathlon. Athletes from all over the world attended the first race that was scheduled over Labor Day of that year. Ray and Nancy Shephard directed that race and took over for a friend who bowed out. Since then, the race has grown and changed and become increasingly competitive, grueling and difficult to complete, and it attracts an estimated 20 to 30 athletes each year. The original race is now held in Virginia (Virginia hosts two races — a Double and Triple Ultra Triathlon).

The Governing Body and Races

The Double Ultra Triathlon spurred on the creation of ever-increasing challenges and eventually longer distance Ultra Triathlons, which is the focus of this book. The World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) organizes the large Ironman triathlons, which “is a for-profit corporation that organizes, promotes and licenses the Ironman Triathlon series of triathlon races. WTC is also the owner of numerous ‘Ironman’ and related trademarks used both in connection with the Ironman race series and in conjunction with various goods and services.”

Standards and practices were required to create consistency and guidelines for Ultra-Distance Triathlons. Thus, a governing body now exists for Ultra-Distance Triathlons, called the International Ultra Triathlon Association ( The IUTA is the official governing body of the Ultra-Distance Triathlon, which is devoted to creating interest in the sport; developing the sport through increased athlete participation; and promoting sanctioned venues worldwide. The goal of the IUTA is to take the Ultra-Distance Triathlon to greater heights.

The IUTA’s website contains updates and information about the races in the World Cup series. The World Cup races continue to expand each year.

As the sanctioning body of the races, the IUTA has responsibility and authority to promote the following race formats, which are also the most popular international IUTA race distance and include the following:

• Double Triathlon – 4.8-miles (7.6KM) swim, 224-mile (360KM) bike, 52.4-mile (84.4KM) run

• Triple Triathlon – 7.2-mile (11.4KM) swim, 336-mile (540KM) bike, 78.6-mile (126.6KM) run

These additional races are designed to push the thresholds of stamina and endurance to the extreme. Only an elite group of athletes participate in these races, which include the following series of races held annually in Mexico (November) (the Deca Triathlon would be considered the “Hawaii Ironman” of ultra-distance races):

• Quadruple Triathlon – 9.6-mile (15.2KM) swim, 448-mile (720KM) bike, 104-mile (168.8KM) run

• Quintuple Triathlon – 12-mile (19KM) swim, 560-mile (900KM) bike, 131-mile (211KM) run

• Deca Triathlon – 24-mile (38KM) swim, 1,120-mile (1,800KM) bike, 262-mile (422KM) run*

• Double Deca Triathlon – 48-mile (76KM) swim, 2,240-mile (3,600KM) bike, 524-mile (844KM) run

The races held in Mexico change the format each year from a continuous race to an “Ironman-distance-per-day” format. For example, the 2008 Deca Triathlon was continuous, thus 24 miles of swimming followed by 1,120 miles of biking and finishing with an “easy” 262 miles of running. The 2009 race was in the “one-Ironman-per-day-for-10-days format.” Each race has its own difficulties with sleep deprivation for the continuous versus the recovery needed each day after sleeping in the per-day format.

Unique Experiences and Challenges

The original concept for the event has also attracted worldwide interest, with the format being primarily adopted in Europe and a Double/Triple Triathlon held in the United States in the state of Virginia (an additional Double Triathlon will be held in Tampa). Other Double Triathlon competitions have been held in Hungary, France, Slovenia, Austria and Mexico (as mentioned earlier) and many other locations.

As you look at Ultra-Distance Triathlons locations that range from Europe to Mexico, you realize that not all courses or races are created the same. Very similar to ultra-running, the Ultra-Distance Triathlon is evolving and gaining popularity. New competitors will be offered unique experiences and challenges dependent upon location, course and terrain, which all can impact the athlete’s performance. One thing to recognize about this group of endurance athletes: They are devoted to the idea of the ability to finish not necessarily to win — although winning is great and certainly the goal as well, but not the sole intention. I am personally passionate about the ability to strengthen, endure and bring the challenge to its completion regardless of where I fall into the final line up — be it first or second or even last; it doesn’t matter as long as I confront and defy the challenge in its entirety. Today, Ironman triathletes ready to take it to the next level are joining the growing ranks of those athletes who have accepted the Ultra-Distance.

Triathlon challenge and continue to pursue their dreams. Preparing to take on an Ultra-Distance Triathlon requires commitment, determination and intense training to get your mind, body and spirit prepared for the adventure.

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