For many in the world of triathlon, an Ironman is thought of as the pinnacle. The longest, most gruelling test of will the sport has to offer.

Photo: Rick Kent.

And while that is the case for many (it is essentially the longest single-day race out there), there are several other events that make a full-distance race look small.

One of those is an Ultraman. Here are five things you need to know about the event:

1. How long is it?

Many have the conception that an Ultraman is simply a ‘double Ironman’. While the event closely resembles the length of two full-distance events, the swim and bike are a bit longer.

Split up over three days, the race totals 515 km: 10 km of swimming, 421 km of cycling, and 84 km of running. Why three days? Well, going any further than the standard full-distance (3.8 km swim, 180 km bike, 42.2 km run) all at once is both silly and dangerous.

The three days go as follows:

  • Day one: 10 km swim, 145 km bike
  • Day two: 276 km bike
  • Day three: 84 km run

2. Are there any time cut-offs?

Yes, each day’s required distance must be completed within 12 hours, and the swim portion has to be done within five and a half. If one of the time standards is missed, the athlete is officially disqualified, but they are still encouraged to continue racing each day as participants.

3. Are the athletes out there alone?

No. Unlike a standard full-distance event, each competitor must have a support team of at least two adults alongside them in a vehicle at all times during the bike and run. This crew can act as a perpetual aid station, technical support and a nice source of motivation.

For the swim, each athlete must have one escort on a non-motorized boat – a canoe, kayak, etc.

Ultraman
Tara Norton crosses the line with her daughter at the 2018 Ultraman World Championship. Photo: Bob Babbitt.

4. When did the Ultraman start?

Ultraman’s origin history is actually very similar to Ironman’s.

The first-ever Ironman took place in 1978 on the Hawaiian island of Oahu before moving to the Big Island in 1981. The inaugural Ultraman followed two years later in 1983, also in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island, with the event focused around on the guiding principles of Hawaiian culture: aloha (love), ohana (family), and Kokua (help).

Previously the athletes would race around the island over the course of the three days, but a course change in 2001 now has the athletes starting and finishing in Kailua-Kona.

5. How many are there?

Currently, there are four different Ultraman events contested around the world. Ultraman Canada was the second race to launch after the original in 1993, acting as a qualifier for the Hawaii race which eventually became the World Championships. The event, held in Penticton, B.C., was run up until 2014, and then started up again this year.

There is also Ultraman Florida which began in 2014, and, starting in 2020, there will be an Ultraman Arizona. There has also previously been the Ultraman United Kingdom in Wales (2011-13) and Ultraman Australia (2015-17) in Noosa.

The 2019 Ultraman World Championships will start on Nov.29 and run through Dec.1.

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