Triathlons, Iron Man and Ultra Events

There has been a recent trend that whenever man sets himself new goals there is someone else who wants to extend them. This is exactly the case with stamina based sports with new distances being achieved and even new sports being created. In terms of new distances being created there is not a better example than the marathon. There are many races in the world today that are titled marathon, yet the distance has gone way beyond the marathon events and they are known as ultra-marathons.

Endurancelife. The image says it all.

In South Africa the biggest race is the Comrades Marathon which is 56 miles long. The race involves running from Pietermaritzburg to Durban and each year the direction is alternated between the two cities. There is a strict cut off time and for many of the runners just to complete the course in the allocated time is the goal.

The current desire for ultra-events is shown in the UK with the creation of the Coastal Series runs organised by the aptly named Endurancelife Company. They have selected 13 of the most scenic locations around the UK to hold races ranging from the 10km to the half marathon, to the marathon, to the ultra, which is usually around 34 miles long.

These races would be tough enough on flat roads, but they usually involve tackling steep cliffs, slippery tracks plus wet and windy climatic conditions. The aim of the races is simply to test all of their entrants to the limit and one of their favourite slogans is “never give up”.

The Ironman race was the idea of Naval Officer John Collins who was based in Hawaii. One evening he had a conversation with fellow swimmers arguing who were the fittest athletes out of swimmers, cyclists or runners. On February 18th, 1978 he and 15 other competitors decided to put the three most gruelling races in each sport together to produce the Ironman event. This involves a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and finished off with a 26.2-mile run.

The Brownlee brothers exhausted at Conzumel in 2016

A shorter form of this event the triathlon had been operating since 1974 and had been pioneered by Don Shanahan and Jack Johnstone. It has been competed in the Olympic Games since Sydney 2000 and involves a 1500m swim, a 40km bike ride and a 10km run. The beauty of this event is that although it is over a long distance the athletes are pressing themselves through the whole event with their endurance levels being tested to the full. There is no time for a rest and even the transition zones, where they change from one event to another, are a race to get through them as quickly as possible.

The Brownlee brothers from Great Britain are two of the current world stars in the event. Alistair has won the gold medal at the last two Olympic Games. However, the brothers’ greatest claim to fame occurred in Cozumel, Mexico in the last race of the 2016 World Championship series. Jonny the younger brother, needed to win the race to win the world championship and had started the race in aggressive style. He was leading but paid for his earlier tactics when in the later stages of the road race, with barely yards to go, he could barely walk weaving across the road. His brother Alistair, who was in 3rd stopped to virtually carried him to the line, pushing Jonny across it ahead of him. Sadly, it was not enough to claim the championship, but it just shows how far these finely trained athletes will push themselves in search of victory.

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