On Saturday, June 22, 2024, I finished the Swissman. It was my first experience of an extreme triathlon, and I would like to share it with you.

Swissman is a beautiful and tough race from the xTri series of extreme triathlons, known for its significant elevation gain, extreme weather conditions, and the self-supported nature where participants are responsible for their own support. Swissman is considered the most scenic race in the series.

The total elevation gain is 5760 meters (3770 meters or 12 370 feet on the bike course and 1990 meters or 6 530 feet on the run), and it is a self-supported race. There are no official aid stations; you cannot do this race solo. The success and ability to finish heavily rely on your support team. The final 9 kilometers of the run, where you gain nearly 1000 meters in elevation, must be completed with a partner and a backpack carrying mandatory equipment (flashlight, rescue blanket, gloves, pants, jacket). For timing and safety purposes, you must carry two trackers that organizers and supporters can use to track your location in real-time on a map.

I want to sincerely thank those who supported me: Andrey, Madina, Tolya, and Zhenya. You are the best! Supporting in such a race is not easier than participating.

Only about 250 participants take part in Swissman, as there is no space for more on the mountainous cycling leg. Entry to this race is through a lottery system, where residents of less represented countries or women reportedly have higher chances. I managed to secure a spot only on my fourth attempt, thanks to additional slots added for the 10th anniversary edition.

Many participants had previous experience in other extreme triathlons, suggesting that such events become addictive. The average participant age is around 35 years, with very few young or elderly participants.

The downside of the lottery system, which does not consider participants' level of preparation, is that the field may not always be highly competitive. This year, 62 out of 239 starters did not finish, approximately 26%.

The race starts in the small, affluent tourist town of Ascona on the shores of Lake Maggiore, near the Italian border. This year, the start coincided with a jazz festival. The town center had numerous open stages where music played all night, making it difficult to sleep. Despite this, your day begins around 2 am.

Swissman involves complex logistics. It starts on an island in the lake, and finishes (after 226 kilometers) at a ski resort accessible only by train. There is no road access to the resort.

Participants must reach the dock by boat to get to the island. Everyone must be at the pier by 4 am. From the first transition (where you leave your bike), it's a 15-minute walk to this point. Missing the boat is not an option.

The race starts at 5:00 am with a bell, traditionally worn by cows in this region. Unlike the modern Ironman format, it's a mass start: everyone begins swimming simultaneously. Navigation during the swim is straightforward: you swim from the island towards a bright spotlight on the shore. There are no "Australian exits" or complex routes like in Ironman. There isn't a single turn! Participants must swim with a safety buoy they tow behind them.

The cycling leg crosses almost the entire length of Switzerland from south to north, experiencing diverse weather conditions ranging from +25°C to +3°C. Roads are not closed, so you ride over mountain passes alongside regular weekend traffic, which can be significant. You must follow traffic rules and stop at traffic lights. There were few—about five throughout the entire cycling leg.

The mountain passes (San Gottardo, Furka, Grimsel) are stunning, but racing and tourism are different experiences! One pass, Tremola, is on cobblestones, thankfully only on the ascent; it would be dangerous to descend on them. The highest point on the bike course is Furka Pass at 2264 meters (7 427 feet).

The cycling leg took me some 8 hours. To stay engaged, I played music on my phone tucked in my cycling jersey pocket.

The running leg follows well-maintained trails. You can have a pacer or even two immediately with you, as I did. The route is marked with small arrows, but it's difficult to stray from the path. At the beginning, you run under a waterfall!

You can refill water from springs during the running leg. Remember, this is a self-supported race, and the average finishing time is around 22 hours. There are no toilets; everyone deals with that challenge at their own risk.

Unusually, you can make phone calls directly from your bike. For example, to inform your supporter about your next support station. During the cycling leg, I was helped with sandwiches and chocolate milk. I ran out of food during the run; my body refused to take any gels. Sausages, potatoes, and broth would have helped me finish a couple of hours faster.

The finish is organized at an altitude of over 2000 meters above sea level near a small station (Kleine Scheidegg) with a centuries-old history. You can only leave the finish by train to your hotel. On race day evening, trains operate on a special schedule.

The next stop for the train is Europe's highest railway station. There, winter is perpetual, and the majestic Jungfrau mountain towers above.

At the finish, there's no shouting "You are a Swissman" or medal ceremony. Everything is very straightforward. The finisher's T-shirt (which supporters also deserve) can only be obtained the next day at the award ceremony on the same mountain. The first three men and women receive their awards with the same cowbells worn by cows in these parts.

[caption id="attachment_37700" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Swissman, Kleine Scheidegg, Switzerland, 22.6.2024, (c)alphafoto.com[/caption]

Some tips:
- Nutrition largely determines the final result. For the run, you need "human" food, not gels. Skratch drink would also help!
- Support. In T1, you can bring a small chair, shoe horn, and even broth.
- Bike equipment. 1By (single front chainring) is sufficient for this bike course.
- Aerobars would be useful on the first "flat" 70 kilometers. Overall, this course favors road bikes over triathlon bikes.
- Organizers provided a very useful file for downloading the bike course, so my bike computer had not only the route but also possible support points.
- Mudguards and shoe covers help keep you dry in rainy weather. Buff also would be helpful 
- Due to significant temperature differences and potential rain or even snow, having spare clothing is essential.
- You can run in regular (non-trail) running shoes. Poles would be helpful but are prohibited.

The finish protocol is not sorted by age groups or stage times. There is only the absolute finish time. From that, though, calculating the total time is straightforward. My time was 16 hours 10 minutes. I had never run for so long. Lack of experience in such long races led to me walking a significant portion of the marathon.

The finish protocol is alphabetically sorted. This emphasizes that people are battling themselves and the elements, not competitors. There are no prizes awarded, and professionals do not participate. There are no marshals monitoring drafting, which is almost useless here.

The cost of a slot is 520 euros. I don't think organizers profit from this race at all, and I sincerely thank them for their efforts. For comparison, the average cost of participating in an Ironman is $750. Swissman does not invest in promotion.

You can buy a slot, but you can only earn the finish. Each participant has a significant story and years of training behind them. This race is tougher than any Ironman. People come here only by recommendation.

Registration for the 2025 lottery will open in early fall. Swissman is an unforgettable race that will expand your notions of what is possible and give you time to reflect on life against the backdrop of magnificent mountains!