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The 3 Most Physically Challenging Sports

Updated on August 10, 2011

3 Sports I Could Never Do - But Love to Watch

What are the most physically demanding sports a person can participate in? In my humble opinion, based on years of being amazed by numerous athletes, I would have to go with 3 major categories, running, cycling and skiing. Broken down even further into unique specialties, are my 3 choices as listed below.

For cyclists I feel the toughest specialty is:

Spain's Miguel Indurain, 1993's Tour de France
Spain's Miguel Indurain, 1993's Tour de France

The Tour de France

This pick is pretty much a no-brainer. 2,200 miles in 3 weeks is a lot of riding. The endurance level is tremendous and if you are not born with an enlarged heart like Lance Armstrong and you are not taking performance enhancing drugs, like Floyd Landis, then a Tour de France win is quite an incredible feat.

Past Tour de France winners include Greg Lemond and the guy I best remember, Miguel Indurain the first cyclist who ever won the tour 5 consecutive years in a row. Of course Lance Armstrong is no slouch either, his 7 consecutive wins is a record that I don't believe will soon be broken.

The race's length and duration is why the Tour de France is at the top of my list. 2,200 miles in 3 weeks surely gives any of the 200 riders who manage to complete the race an acceptable reason to feel good about themselves, whether they finish in the top 20 or in the bottom 10.

The fact that the racecourse is comprised of flat lands and hills and outright mountains winding through France, makes it even tougher. Sure it is no doubt fun to fly down a mountain at 50 mph, but then having to climb up the next one as fast as your legs will allow has to be a kill-joy!

The conditioning just to prepare for the Tour takes months and if you have an unexpected accident as happened recently to Lance Armstrong, you are set back in your preparation and then have to play catch up. Armstrong is still waiting to find out if he will even be allowed to participate in this year's Tour, as he apparently failed a random drug test.

So my proverbial hat is definitely off to the Tour de France participants. They make me want to ride my bike every time I watch them or other cyclists in less strenuous yet still very demanding races, pedal their hearts out. Until my MS based balance/coordination problem rights itself, I'll be content to just watch for now.

So if the Tour de France is my first pick, then my second pick would have to be:

Chrissie Wellington. Winner of women's Ford Ironman Championship, Kona, Hawaii, October, 2008-2010
Chrissie Wellington. Winner of women's Ford Ironman Championship, Kona, Hawaii, October, 2008-2010

You Tube Video of Ironman China

The IronMan Triathlon

I hope you noticed I picked the "IronMan" as opposed to the plain old triathlon. Yes the triathlon is bad enough, you have to swim 1500 meters (.9 mi) do a 40K bike ride (24 mi) and run a 10K (6.2 mi) Which is an Olympic style triathlon.

The IRONMAN however is a killer triathlon. You swim 2.4 miles, then bike 112 miles, then run a full marathon, 26.2 miles. There are 24 of these Ironman's scheduled for 2009. Ironman is the sole trademark of the WTC (World Triathlon Championship). So the logo is trademarked and cannot be used by the ordinary triathlons run around the world. The hardest of the hard seems to be the Kona, Hawaii Ford Ironman Championship held yearly.

The best and strongest seem to be able to finish all of the required activities non-stop in about 8 hours and some change. 2008 winner Australian Craig Alexander won with a time of 8:17:45. Unbelievable right? Well the best woman Ironman was Chrissie Wellington from England. Even with a flat tire, she finished the race in 9:06:23. She set a course record in the marathon portion, running the 26.2 miles in 2:57:44.

All I can say is whew! I get exhausted just thinking about it, but I try never to miss it. Interestingly, Lance Armstrong after completeing his first marathon, stated it was much harder on him then riding over 2,200 miles on a bike.

With my FIRST choice being the Tour de France and my SECOND choice being the Kona Ironman Triathlon, that just leaves one pick left:

Cross Country Skiing

I am a relative newcomer to this intense sport. I now understand why people who use the ski equipment at the gym stay in such good shape. Not to mention the fact that it is a winter sport played outdoors in all the elements. Can you "play" at skiing? Maybe the better choice is just to say that the skiers have to like the cold weather.

The champion cross country skiers of '08 are hard for me to distinquish. The scoring system seems pretty complicated, so I have linked the PDF file of the latest World Cup held earlier this year in January. No doubt as I watch this sport more and more I will understand the scoring system better. Meanwhile, I have to include them in my top three because of all the energy they expend and their ability to race for days and still have a pretty mean kick on the very last day.

The skis themselves are very unusual, they actually appear to unhinge especially as they race up inclines. They slip, especially if they don't have enough wax, or don't have the right type of wax. They also lose speed based on the waxing as well.

As good of shape as they are in, when it comes to the World Cup the skiers leave nothing out on the course. To see such excellent athletes totally collaspe out of exhaustion as they cross the finish line, is a testament to their conditioning and training. To see them recover so quickly after collapsing is another reason they are in my top 3.

Are Your Picks Different?

If so, I would love to read your top 3, if they are good enough I will even alter my original choices. Even if your choices don't change my mind, I'd be interested in what you think all the same.

My honorable mention went to the Olympic Decathlon Athletes.

Poll Question

Would you pick the same 3 sports as most physically challenging?

See results


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    • profile image

      Sam 5 years ago

      I have to disagree although those sports are very challenging. 1. Rowing. From just watching people row, it may look super easy but once you try it you'll realize how important it is to stay in time with your crewmates, focus on technique, and use your whole body at the same time. Addicting but hard.

      2.Kayak/Canoe. Tippy boat+waves+technique=difficult. I've been kayaking for 2 hours a day for about 2 weeks and it is so tiring. It looks simple but like rowing there are so many different things you have to concentrate on to go fast.

      3. Swimming. Like the other two sports, swimming requires the whole body. You can't stop in the middle of the pool no matter how tired you are. You have to hold your breath for long periods of time. Competitive swimmers usually practice in cold water at crappy hours. ie 7am

    • carol3san profile image

      Carolyn Sands 6 years ago from Hollywood Florida

      Nice picks, but I will add to the list the annual marathon run in NY.

    • profile image

      gtser 7 years ago

      snooker, table tennis and boules

    • Jen's Solitude profile image

      Jen's Solitude 7 years ago from Delaware

      Ultrarunning? Sounds very interesting. I have to check out your profile page in hopes you have a hub about that. First I've heard of it. Thanks for dropping by.

    • Ironracer profile image

      Ironracer 7 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Nice article! I somewhat disagree tough - I think ultrarunning, especially 100 miles at a time is harder than Ironman. I also think Epic distance Adventure Races are harder, like Primal Quest. These are on my "to do" list. So is the Kona Ironman (World Championship), but you have to be a stud to get a slot there - I've been trying the lottery for 4 years now...maybe next year! Cheers!

    • Jen's Solitude profile image

      Jen's Solitude 8 years ago from Delaware

      I'll have to check out Squash malnadstudios, thanks for the tip. Hope someone at Hubpages has written about it. I appreciate your comment!

    • malnadstudios profile image

      malnadstudios 8 years ago from Austin

      This is a good article should also include "Squash" as it is one of the most challenging sports in terms of burning calories.

    • Jen's Solitude profile image

      Jen's Solitude 8 years ago from Delaware

      LOL, I hear ya, locklevels! Thanks for dropping by.

    • locklevels profile image

      locklevels 8 years ago

      Yes, I think watching will be a lot better for me too.

    • Jen's Solitude profile image

      Jen's Solitude 8 years ago from Delaware

      Hi, I have wondered about that myself. This last Tour he wasn't as dominant, of course he had a long lay-over and is older. Still I hope it isn't true. Thank you for leaving a comment, I appreciate it.

    • profile image 8 years ago

      I agree with what you said. Unfortunately as a result of the difficulty of the Tour de France many have accused Lance Armstrong of using PEDs to enhance his talents.

    • Jen's Solitude profile image

      Jen's Solitude 8 years ago from Delaware

      Hi tennisgirl, I agree with you especially with the tie-breakers that go on forever. Can't imagine trying to return serves that are considered slow if they are "only" 70 or so miles per hour.

      Thanks for leaving a comment!

    • profile image

      tennisgirl 8 years ago

      cool article and yes for sure this are really Challenging Sports

      i have to say my favorite - tennis is too - mind and body at least for profesionals

      take care

    • Jen's Solitude profile image

      Jen's Solitude 8 years ago from Delaware

      Hi marcs,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to write such an interesting comment.

      I have to admit I thought about gymnastics too, but I had NO idea about what happens when you engage in the martial arts. It looks like such a smooth and graceful sport that I forgot about the actual fighting that occurs. :) Good choices!


    • marcs profile image

      marcs 8 years ago from Central California

      i'll go with running gymnastics and mixed martial arts. The gymnastics i put there because of the difficulty of the moves involved along with the hours of training it takes to master those moves. The mixed martial arts involves so many different aspects, you have the cardio involved, you have the natural athleticism needed, hand speed,strength,agility,reflexes and then you have to be able to phsyically take the pain of getting your butt kicked,and not have your heart rate go through the roof because of the adrenaline, you have the uncontrolled ups and downs of your heart rate that incur during a fight. I am a runner, but in a long distance race I have total control over my breathing and the pace I go at, I can plan and dictate my pace while in fighting if a guy is coming at you strong your heart rate goes up, you have to physcially exert yourself more and you have take the pain of getting punched in the face or kicked in the rib or slammed on the mat.

    • Jen's Solitude profile image

      Jen's Solitude 8 years ago from Delaware

      Hi M Smith, Thanks for leaving a comment. I agree hockey is another tough one. You have to have endurance plus be able to take plenty of hard hits. :)

    • profile image

      MSmithHub 8 years ago

      I won't be able to do these sports as well, plus, hockey.

    • Jen's Solitude profile image

      Jen's Solitude 8 years ago from Delaware

      Thanks compu-smart. In healthier and younger days I would have given the marathon a try. :) Just 26 miles though

    • compu-smart profile image

      Compu-Smart 8 years ago from London UK

      Very grueling sports indeed!, but I (call me lazy! lol) would not want to do any of them! Ummm, I cant think of any others that tops these!!