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Challenge St. Pölten – PRO tips for taking on Europe’s oldest middle distance triathlon

Get ready to have your best middle distance triathlon performance yet at Challenge St. Pölten, with these top tips from the reigning 2023 champion – who’ll be back on the start line this year to defend the title.

Writer & Long Course Triathlete
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Challenge St. Pölten is one of the oldest – and most stunning – middle distance triathlons in Europe. Set against the backdrop of UNESCO World Heritage-listed Austrian countryside, you’ll struggle to find a race that offers more on the spectacular views front.

But it’s not just the scenery that attracts athletes to this race year after year. A unique swim course that will see you take a dip in not one, but two different lakes. And a rolling bike course with some tough climbs make this race a great early season race to really push your limits and start tri season strong.

If you’re thinking about racing Challenge St. Pölten and you’re wondering what you might need to do to prepare. Or if you’ve already got it circled in your race calendar and you’re looking for some race day tips. PRO triathlete and 2023 champion Tom Hug, who will be back on the start line to defend his title this year, shares some top tips for training and racing.

Swim: how to prepare for cold water temperatures on race day

While most of us are probably more worried about our race suddenly being a non-wetsuit swim because of warm water temperatures, the potential impact of cold water at early season races shouldn’t be overlooked. With Challenge St. Pölten taking place in May, the average water temperature tends to sit at around 16 degrees Celsius. If you’ve spent most of winter and early spring training indoors in a heated pool, that’s going to feel pretty cold.  

Triathletes at the start of Challenge St Polten swim
Being prepared for the cooler water temperatures will make the swim far more enjoyable.

Before summer kicks in, it can be tempting to avoid training in open water until the temperatures rise. But if you’re planning to race an early season event you might need to get the wetsuit out a little earlier. “Consider acclimating to colder temperatures by doing some open water sessions beforehand in a cold lake,” says Tom Hug. “If possible, try to do a practice swim on the race course the days before the race.”

On race day, Tom recommends wearing a second swim cap underneath the official race cap. This can help to reduce the dreaded ‘ice cream headache’ you might experience when swimming in cold water.

Bike: training tips to prepare for the hilly bike course

The bike course at Challenge St. Pölten is incredibly scenic, but it shouldn’t be underestimated. Over the course of 90km you’ll take on 1000m/3300ft of elevation gain with three particularly tough hills. That means working on your climbing – and your descending – in training.

“Incorporate hill training into your bike rides to prepare for the challenging climbs,” says Tom. “Familiarize yourself with the technical sections of the course – especially the downhills. If riding the course beforehand isn’t feasible, thoroughly examine the course map and elevation profile.”

“Have a look at where the aid stations will be located. Additionally, consider watching videos of some technical sections of the course on platforms like YouTube to gain insight into the terrain.”

It’s worth knowing that you can also ride the course on Rouvy to get a feel for what the course is going to be like on race day.

Pacing and nutrition for the bike section

Pacing is always a key factor in any long distance triathlon. But with a hilly course it becomes even more important, particularly at a race like Challenge St. Pölten where the first 20km or so are fast and flat so it’s easy to get overexcited and burn too many matches early on in the race. Tom recommends pacing wisely, and saving energy for the longest climb which starts at around the 64km mark.

PRO triathlete and Challenge St Polten champion Tom Hug on the bike course
Save energy for the longest climb later on in the bike by pacing well and taking on plenty of fuel.

Maintaining those energy levels for the climbs means taking a proactive approach to your nutrition. “Fuel and hydrate consistently throughout the whole bike leg, aiming for at least 60-90g of carbs per hour to maintain energy levels for the run,” Tom recommends. “If possible start this as soon as you are in a comfortable position on your bike.”

It’s important to practice your nutrition strategy in training to train your gut and make sure you can tolerate your planned race fuel without encountering any GI issues later in the race. “Train your gut by incorporating at least 3 – 4 race specific training sessions during which you try to consume the same amount and type of carbs as you plan to do on race day.”

Run: Ease into your pace and take energy from the atmosphere

Unlike the bike course, the run at Challenge St. Pölten is nice and flat. A welcome reprieve after the hills on the bike, but with all that climbing in your legs expect the 21km run to the finish line to still feel like a challenge. Incorporating plenty of running straight after a bike ride in training will help you to prepare. But what about on race day itself? It mainly comes down to pacing, says Tom.

“21km can be a long way if you go out too fast. Relax at the start, find your rhythm, focus on yourself and not your competitors. You can always increase the speed if you feel good towards the end.  It is way more fun to overtake the competitors that have started too quick once you get closer to the finish line.”

Tom Hug wins Challenge St Polten 2023
Visualise the finish line when things get tough on the run says 2023 Challenge St. Pölten champion, Tom Hug.

Make sure you continue fuelling, especially if it’s warm. It’s easy to prioritise hydration and forget to take on food or energy gels. And if things start to feel tough, try to focus on that finish line feeling – rather than how hard the effort feels right now. “Enjoy the atmosphere and visualise the finish line. Trust me, it’s magic. You will get a first taste of it when completing the first lap. Take pride in your accomplishments and draw energy from the support of spectators along the course.”


Read our Challenge St. Pölten race guide for more insider tips on how to get ready for this scenic middle distance triathlon. From more details about the course, to the top pre-race training spots and the best things to see and do once you’re enjoying a bit of post-race vacation time.

Jenny Lucas-Hill
Written by
Jenny Lucas-Hill
Jenny Lucas-Hill is a writer, content creator and communications professional. A long-distance triathlon enthusiast, she has three full Iron-distance finishes to date & also loves watching the sport.

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