There was a time where you could just enter Norseman, pay your money then turn up and race. Believe it or not, that used to be true of Kona, too. Norseman then turned into a limited number of entries and now it has become a lottery. As its popularity grew, a wider family of extreme triathlon, the equivalent of ultras to the marathon world, have sprung up around it. In the UK alone, you can take on the Brutal, Wasdale X, Celtman and several others.
Having completed an ultra-distance triathlon and crewed for Kona legend Scott “The Terminator” Molina at Celtman last month, I fell to thinking about why the standard 226.2 km isn’t enough for some. What makes people enter an event so stupidly tough, when just completing the iron distance is already unfathomable to most people?
One thing that draws people is the challenge. Whilst no one is knocking completing an iron distance triathlon, the mystery and awe of completing a standard Ironman or Challenge event has gone. With so many people doing a “one and done” and with Ironman being the new marathon for charity fundraising endurance events, most people know someone who’s completed an Ironman – especially with the man on the street not knowing the difference between Ironman70.3 and Ironman. So whether it’s for the challenge or the ego, there’s something about going that little bit further or harder than everyone else that is drawing people to the extreme. In days gone by, it was a trip to Lanzarote in May.
Next up are the locations. With so much vertical gain, it’s likely the event will be in some stunning location away from the bright lights that may attract a Challenge or Ironman event. The Celtman is set in the stunning Wester Ross, which takes longer to get to than most European events but is certainly worth the trip.
Being so remote also adds another attractions: the camaraderie. With everyone in such close proximity, you can’t help but mingle, before and after the event, with your fellow competitors and their support crew. This goes beyond the usual cursory nod to those sporting the same backpack or checking out everyone else’s finisher t-shirts at the airport; here you’re more likely to stop and have a chat, find out where each other are from and what brought you to enter this event. Here the colour of the finisher’s t-shirt can also take on even more significance, giving the event another draw. For some just finishing will be enough but for others there’s another race, the one against the cut-off for the exclusive black (or blue at Celtman) shirt.
As most of these events necessitate you bring your own crew, there’s a further bonus of seeing a friendly face every hour and being able to choose what you want and when you want it throughout the event. It all adds up to a small scale, old-school feel at the event and instead of a transition filled with hundreds of near-identical Cervelo P5s fitted out with Zipp Wheels and Speedfill BTA bottles, you get the most eclectic mix of bikes from top of the range TT down to 10 year old road bikes. Because there’s less show at these events. There’s no expo to brand everything in your house from flip flops to blenders and no-one is running up and down the street doing 1km repeats 2 days before the race. You’re more likely to find the competitors in the nearest bar sharing a beer, again drawing parallels with the ultra-running scene.
So how much tougher are these Extreme triathlons? Well, Scott Molina took over 15 hours to complete Celtman. That’s 2.5 hours longer than his previous race at Kona when he was forced to walk 22km due to a knee injury. As the great man said himself “Well, for most triathletes I think it’s fair to say there’s not another course like it”. Big words from the winner of Embrunman and “The World’s Toughest Triathlon”.
Maybe if the razzmatazz of the big corporate triathlon is losing its lustre and if you have enough backpacks to supply a family of 4 for life, then it’s time to set your sights on a different target – maybe something a bit more Extreme!
Read what its like to support the Celtman here