As an amateur athlete (with more emphasis on the amateur part), I always enjoy reading about the successes of other people who have had great results at sports events even if they can only train part-time since they have jobs and families. I have done many 100 mile or 200 km bike rides, which impresses neophytes (Bicycling magazine seems to have "Prepare For Your First Century!" as a feature in every third issue).
Many of us know people who have participated in events such as Ironman-length triathlons, or even the ridiculous 1200 km bike ride held every four years, Paris-Brest-Paris. L'Etape du Tour, the chance for amateurs to ride the same stage as the Tour de France pros, is high on the list of tough things to do, as is the exciting JeanTex Transalp. But I have recently found what must be one of the hardest of all: Switzerland's Gigathlon.
The Gigathlon comprises five different events: mountain biking, swimming, road cycling, inline skating and running. It goes all the way around Switzerland pretty well and takes a full week. There are variations on how to do it: as a solo participant, as part of a couple or in a team of five. You can sign up for the full week, a two day part of it, or, in a team, for a single particular day. If not going solo, you divide the different events up each day, so one person might be the runner, another the swimmer and so on. Since each event starts at one spot and ends somewhere else the logistics alone are terrifying, but what really is stunning is what you would have to do each day as an athlete.
For example: 132 km of cycling with 2000 vertical meters, followed by 3 km of swimming, then 21 km of running with 700 m of altitude gain, then 19 km of inline skating and finally a mountain bike leg of 57 km with 1550 m of climbing. This totals 235 km of distance with nearly 4500 vertical meters. Multiply this by seven for the week and you get some idea of how hard--and complicated!--this must be. The organizers have set out a chart showing everything that needs to be accomplished here. The chart indicates how the challenge is viewed in terms of technical requirements, conditioning and scenery, with classification ranging as high as "Breathtaking."
The winners in 2007 in the Couples, Men's, Women's and Team categories. The Men's winner, Roger Fischlin, is a policeman from Zurich and was also the winner in 2006. His elapsed time was in the order of 66.5 hours, which is pretty good for 1432 km and nearly 27000 vertical meters! Respect.
I cannot imagine a less commercializable sport than this one, so there are still places for happy amateurs to fight it out. No money, not much in the way of sponsorship or recognition but it looks like a lot of fun. If you are a bit crazy.
(all photos from the Gigathlon official website)