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The Most Physically Challenging Sports

Updated on March 4, 2019

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 running, cycling and skiing. Broken down even further into unique specialties, are my 4 choices as listed below.

For cyclists I feel the toughest specialty is:

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:

The Iron Man 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:

You Tube Video of Ironman China

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 distinguish. 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 collapse 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.


I never truly appreciated the physicality involved with the average soccer/football match. One commentator stated that the players run on average 11 miles per match. The coordination needed to run, dribble, pass, and cross, not to mention scoring an actual goal is truly noteworthy. The matches played per season are astronomical. It is no wonder the players earn such high salaries.

What Are Your Picks?

I would love to read your top picks. Please feel free to answer the poll and include your choices in the comment section.

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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