No aid stations – surviving Xtreme triathlons

Since the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon was conceived in 2003, it has captured the imagination of many triathletes looking for something special – more climbing, tougher terrain and unpredictable weather. In 2018 over 4000 people applied for one of the coveted 250 lottery start slots; there are now also eight other Xtreme triathlons around the world, with three more in the pipeline. Covering the typical Ironman distance (sometimes with a few extra kilometres for good measure), these point-to-point races often involve numerous mountain pass crossings, and require you to have a dedicated support crew to keep you fed and moving on your way. So what does it take to complete an Xtreme triathlon? We take you through the key points to ensure a successful day at one of these epic events.

Don’t pack too light

Xtreme triathlons can involve some pretty harsh weather conditions, and unlike many big events, there won’t usually be a race expo to buy forgotten things the day before. So think carefully about every eventuality; how cold will the water be? Will you have to descend on the bike in the rain? You should put all your different bits of kit into clearly labelled bags that your crew can grab from the car as soon as you need it. You will also often need to carry some specific things (waterproofs, rescue blankets, a head torch etc) with you for part of the race, and if anything is missing, you won’t be allowed to carry on – read the race manual in advance to check what you need!

Get comfortable swimming solo

Many Xtreme triathlons involve a point-to-point swim, often with only a giant light (or fire!) on shore for navigation. The small start field quickly stretches out over 3.8 kilometres, so be ready to swim on your own, and prepare mentally for how long the distance can feel without buoys to mark your progress. Try doing some long unbroken swims in the pool to get a good comfortable rhythm.

What about the bike?

While the hills in many Xtreme Triathlons prompt people to consider road bikes for these races, it’s often worth considering that a TT bike can save you a lot of time and energy on flatter, windier sections. Mounting TT bars on a road bike is certainly worthwhile, but if you are used to a TT bike, stick to it! Check the specific gradients of the major climbs to make sure your cassette is up to it, and remember that you need to mount lights on your bike for at least some parts of the course – in bad weather these can be required at all times, so if you don’t think your batteries can survive 6 hours or more, mount two sets.

Plan where your crew will meet you

There are no aid stations in the majority of Xtreme races, which means you need a car with at least one supporter supplying you along the way. As you can’t take anything from a moving car, your crew must drive ahead of you, stop, pass you what you need (you can stop or ride slowly, but your crew must take any litter you drop!), then get in the car and drive to the next stop. A crew car cannot drive behind or in front of you for more than a few seconds, and in reality, they won’t get a chance to, as they will always be leapfrogging you looking for the next stopping place. Most race guides recommend the best locations (and expressly forbid others), so you can look at this and decide which places work with your nutrition needs. Usually, you should be fine seeing your crew every 30 kilometres on the bike.

Know what you can stomach

While the distance is the same, the climbing involved in Xtreme triathlons means that you will be out there for a lot longer than an Ironman – at least two extra hours, and potentially quite a bit more. Nutrition plays a huge role in keeping you going until the end, so first, make sure that you take the longer race times into account and calculate your calories based on hours rather than kilometres. However, you can also see this as an opportunity to incorporate some food that might not work in a flat fast race – long mountain passes are a great opportunity to eat a sandwich or piece of banana bread. If you have no problem digesting these, you might feel significantly better on the run than if you had spent the last 8 hours existing on gels. Test your nutrition strategy in the weeks leading up to the race, but don’t be afraid of some solid food on the bike course.

Don’t neglect your crew

If you do an Xtreme Triathlon, you are one of a few lucky people on earth. This is because you have at least one friend who is willing to get up at 2 AM, follow you around all day while you demand food and a drink, but not THAT drink, and finally, many hours later cross the finish line by your side. Take care of this person (or people)! Make sure there is lots of food for them in the car, that they also have changes of clothes ready, and that they are fit enough to accompany you on the run course (if this is allowed). Ideally, your crew will also be fairly comfortable driving on roads near cyclists. This is a day to share, and it wouldn’t be possible without them, so plan with this in mind!

Have a Plan B

You are about to embark on a long day, ending up almost 230 kilometres away from where you started. Things can easily go wrong, and if they do, you cannot stop at an aid station, loop back to transition, or wait for a neutral support car – depending on the race, your crew might not even be allowed to help you with minor mechanicals. This is not the time to be saving weight by ditching your flat repair kit, or ending your race early because your support car has mechanical problems. Luckily, it’s part of the ethos of Xtreme Triathlons that all competitors help each other out, and past races have seen people come up with extra food, shoes and even bikes to make sure athletes make it to the finish line.

Xtreme triathlon racing is booming, and this format makes for a unique and beautiful way to test your limits. Expect the best, be ready for a few things to go wrong, and you will be signing up for the next one before you know it. Good luck in the lottery

Written by Flora Colledge