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How Non-Standard Triathlon Events Work

Ultraman Triathlons
Triathlons are tough, but some triathlons are tougher than others.
Triathlons are tough, but some triathlons are tougher than others.
Mark Wieland/Getty Images

Triathlons are relentless by nature. That triple threat of endurance sports is designed to push the body to its limits. In the past, the ultimate example of hardcore competitive triathlons was the Ironman. The first Ironman was held in Hawaii in 1978, when a pair of California triathletes convinced some friends to participate in a race that combined the 2.4-mile (3.86-kilometer) Waikiki Roughwater Swim, the 112-mile (180-kilometer) Round Oahu bike course and the full 26.2-mile (42.1-kilometer) Honolulu Marathon [source:]. The Ironman format, once believed to be the most grueling endurance race imaginable, has since been replicated around the world.

As if the Ironman somehow wasn't challenging enough, enter the Ultraman. This three-day, 515-kilometer (320-mile) endurance challenge --limited to an invitation-only field of 35 participants -- consists of the following extreme stages:

  • Stage One: A 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) open-water swim, followed by a 145-kilometer (90.1-mile) mountain bike ride climbing a total of 2.3 kilometers (1.4 miles).
  • Stage Two: A 276-kilometer (171-mile) bike ride climbing a total of 2.6 kilometers (1.6 miles).
  • Stage Three: An 84-kilometer (52.1-mile) double (yes, double!) marathon

[source: Ultraman Live]

The goal of the Ultraman isn't to come in first, but simply to finish. Each stage of the race must be completed in 12 hours or less, or else the racer is disqualified. To ensure the safety of all participants, each racer must be accompanied by a two-member support team at all times.