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World’s toughest middle distance triathlons – The ultimate half distance races to conquer

Looking for a tough middle distance triathlon to test your limits? Check out our pick of some of the toughest middle distance races from around the world. How many have you ticked off?

Writer & Long Course Triathlete
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Comprised of a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and a 13.1 mile run – completing any middle distance (or half distance/70.3) triathlon is certainly worthy of a few bragging rights. But if you want to really rake in the kudos and win every game of triathlon top trumps going. We’ve pulled together a list of some of the toughest middle distance triathlon events from around the world.

From quad-busting hills to tough conditions that have us breaking a sweat just thinking about it. Conquer these challenging middle distance races and there’ll be no doubt that you’ve well and truly earned your triathlon stripes.


Challenge Kaiserwinkl-Walchsee

Challenge Family Kaiserwinkle-Walchsee triathlon bike
Challenge Kaiserwinkl-Walchsee bike course [Photo: Challenge Family]
AG Finish Time AV.
5h
24m
Swim
Lake
bike Course elevation
1200m
AV. AIR TEMPerature
25°C / 77°F


With around 1200m (just shy of 4000ft) of elevation gain to tackle on the bike over a series of near-constant rolling hills. Challenge Kaiserwinkl-Walchsee is a race that really makes you work for the stunning scenery you’ll get to experience out on the course. Nestled at the foot of the famous Wilder Kaiser mountain range, the bike course takes you on tour of some of the very best views Austria’s Tirol region has to offer. But it’s not just the bike that makes this race tough – heading out on to the run you’ll encounter a few more hills to tackle before you get to cross the finish line. A firm favourite with PROs including Fred Funk, who grew up just 15km away from the race and speaking to Challenge ahead of the 2023 event described the course as “really demanding but makes you fit as hell”. Racing in Kaiserwinkl is a sure fire way to test your limits – with an amazing backdrop and atmosphere to push you all the way to the finish.

RELATED: Challenge Kaiserwinkl-Walchsee race guide

Challenge Family
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IRONMAN 70.3 Nice

[Photo credit: Donald Miralle for IRONMAN]
AG Finish Time AV.
6h
22m
Swim
Sea
bike Course elevation
1227m
AV. AIR TEMPerature
24°C / 75°F


Host of the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in 2019 and of course, these days the scene of one of two full IRONMAN World Championships each year. The course at Nice isn’t here to play nice.

The azure blue waters of the mediterranean are soon traded for the winding roads of the mountains, as you make your way up the challenging ascent of the Col de Vence. In fact, you’ll spend pretty much the entire first 40km on the bike going up. The reward is of course, a lengthy downhill on the way back to T2 – but this is a tough, technical course that will favour those with strong bike handling skills, as well as powerful quad muscles.

Slateman Legend 70.3

SportPursuit Slateman Triathlon
Photo: SportPicturesCymru
AG Finish Time AV.
6h
59m
Swim
Lake
bike Course elevation
1309m
AV. AIR TEMPerature
18°C / 75°F


The Slateman triathlon takes place in North Wales. Expect incredible natural landscapes – and probably more than your fair share of wind and rain. Summer in Wales is no guarantee of sunshine! Starting your day with a swim in the shadow of Snowdon, the bike course will see you scale mountain pass after mountain pass, through the Carneddau mountain range.

After over 1300 metres of ascent on the bike, the type 2 fun doesn’t stop on the run. The two lap course means negotiating a 2km scramble up the infamous zig zags through the slate quarry and a final steep kicker at the end of the lap, twice. Throw in the fact that the run course is 23km rather than your usual 21km. And this is a seriously tough race, deserving of it’s ‘Legend’ title.

Starman Portugal

AG Finish Time AV.
6h
13m
Swim
Lake
bike Course elevation
1000m
AV. AIR TEMPerature
19°C / 75°F


Afraid of the dark? Then Starman Portugal middle distance triathlon might be one way to face your fear. If a regular middle distance race isn’t tough enough for your liking, why not add a healthy measure of darkness and sleep deprivation into the mix? Starting at midnight, you’ll swim, bike and run through Portugal’s Alentejo countryside. The Alqueva Dark Sky Reserve, is the world’s first certified starlight tourism destination – meaning you’ll have a pretty spectacular display of stars to guide your way (as long as the weather is in your favour).

The course itself isn’t the toughest going – though 1000m of elevation on the bike, in the dark, isn’t something to be underestimated. But with the added complication of racing after night fall makes this middle distance race a next level challenge that will feel more like an adventure than a triathlon.

IRONMAN 70.3 St George

Ben Kanute on the bike IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship 2022
Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images for IRONMAN
AG Finish Time AV.
6h
26m
Swim
Lake
bike Course eLEVATION
988m
AV. AIR TEMPerature
25°C / 77°F


The Zwift -like orange hues of the Zion National Park create a striking backdrop for this tough, but iconic race. Passing through desert landscapes and lava fields, IRONMAN 70.3 St George is one of the toughest half distance triathlons in North America.

The bike course will see you tackle rolling hills before riding up the legendary Snow Canyon. And that’s backed up by a tough run course, with around 400m (1400ft) of elevation to scale on foot. St George is also just over 3000m (9800ft) above sea level too, which brings the altitude factor into play.

Toughman Long Course Triathlon

AG Finish Time AV.
5h
35m
Swim
Lake
bike Course eLEVATION
1300m
AV. AIR TEMPerature
24°C / 77°F


Taking place in the scenic, but challenging terrain surrounding Lake Welch Beach, NY – Toughman is a festival of racing with short course, middle distance and collegiate racing all taking place over the course of one weekend.

The middle distance race features over 1300m/4400ft of climbing on the bike, combining rolling hills with some steep kickers to really test the legs. Heading out of T2, you’ll still have 245m/807ft of ascent to contend with – and there’s a double hit of a steep downhill followed by a sharp mile long incline at around the 4-5 mile mark that’ll really hit different after the tough bike.

Beastman Triathlon

AG Finish Time AV.
5h
35m
Swim
River
bike Course eLEVATION
1399m
AV. AIR TEMPerature
23°C / 77°F


Don’t let the short, down river swim lull you into a false sense of easy racing. The Beastman triathlon, set against the backdrop of Bend, Oregon, is anything but easy. Because once you’ve ticked off the swim, you’ve got Mt Bachelor to contend with on the bike.

Once you’re out of the city, you’ll ride uphill for 14 miles past the ski resort and Devil’s Lake before hitting a turnaround point. From there you’ll head all the way to the top, reaching a max elevation of 6,419ft (1956m) before a fast descent all the way back down to T2.

Singapore T100

Youri Keulen on floor finish line Singapore t100 2024 photo credit PTO
Youri Keulen well and truly emptied the tank to secure the win at Singapore T100 [ Photo credit: PTO]
AG Finish Time AV.
5h
41m
Swim
Reservoir
bike Course eLEVATION
700m
AV. AIR TEMPerature
32°C / 77°F


After TRI247’s Jenny Lucas-Hill raced the age group 100km herself at Singapore T100, we can confirm that this course is seriously tough. Given it’s city centre location, you might assume the bike course is flat. You’d be assuming wrong. In fact, the multi-lap bike course manages to rack up around 700m of elevation gain as you make your way up and over the short but very sharp inclines of the Benjamin Sheares bridge several times over. It’s a bike course which is incredibly fun – but very punchy. Hills aside, the other major factor at play here is the heat and the humidity. The water temperature in the swim is knocking on the door of 30 degrees Celsius – a very toasty start to race day. And there’s no let up on the bike and the run, with the scorching temperature backed up by oppressive humidity. It makes for an epic challenge to really push your limits.

Challenge Wanaka

kyle smith challenge wanaka 2024
Challenge Wanaka is a tough, honest, and insanely beautiful race course [Photo: Challenge Family]
AG Finish Time AV.
6h
25m
Swim
Lake
bike Course eLEVATION
943m
AV. AIR TEMPerature
17°C / 63°F


Challenge describe the half distance race at Wanaka as having ‘adventure elements’ – and with the Alpine backdrop and the off road run course, you can see why. The stunning scenery of New Zealand’s southern alps paints a spectacular picture for this middle distance race. With just shy of 1000m elevation gain on the bike, and a trail half marathon around the Bike Glendhu mountain bike park. This is a middle distance race which is as tough as it is beautiful. If you want a real, honest effort and an unforgettable race day experience – this is it.

IRONMAN 70.3 Rwanda

Spectators line the swim exit at IRONMAN 70.3 Rwanda
Spectators line the course at the IRONMAN 70.3 Rwanda swim exit [Photo: IRONMAN]
AG Finish Time AV.
7h
11m
Swim
Lake
bike Course eLEVATION
1554m
AV. AIR TEMPerature
17°C / 63°F


Lake Kivu, one of the great African lakes, plays host to this half IRONMAN distance triathlon. A scenic adventure through mountain-backed terrain, the bike course at IRONMAN 70.3 Rwanda is one of the hilliest middle distance routes going. 4-laps through the rolling terrain and small rural villages along the Lake Kivu shoreline means participants will ascend just over 1500m (4921ft) over 90km. And once you head out of T2, you’ve got a rolling run to deal with, too. The reward for all that climbing is some pretty epic scenery.

Challenge Wānaka

New Zealand is synonymous with incredible landscapes – and Challenge Wānaka is a race that should most certainly be on your bucket list as an incredible race-cation. Taking place in New Zealand’s South Island, the race has the lakes and mountains of Mount Aspiring National Park as a backdrop.

The bike course will give you the opportunity to take in the town itself, before heading out to Lake Hāwea and Red Bridge. Typically taking place in February each year, having this on your race calendar has got to be the ultimate way to start your year and banish any sign of the January blues!

kyle smith challenge wanaka 2024
As far as bike course views go, Challenge Wānaka is almost unbeatable.

Prefer your racing a little more fast and furious? Or maybe you’re looking for a city centre race to combine racing with sight seeing. Check out our round ups of the fastest triathlon courses and the ultimate sightseeing races. Or head to our Let’s Race… section for more race-spiration.

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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