Silverman Long Course Triathlon


When a triathlete uses the phrase “The Man”, there is only one person they can mean – Dave Scott, six-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion.

Any race that Dave Scott endorses, or even competes in, is automatically recognized as a race worth doing … it’s kind of like those old Merrill Lynch ads; when Dave Scott talks, people listen.

So when Scott said that the Silverman Long Course Triathlon – held for the first time in 2005 in Henderson, Nevada – was the toughest course in North America, triathletes around the world immediately took notice and added the race to their bucket list, and those who actually got a chance to participate were quick to chime in, raving about the combination of wide-open western vistas combined with the seemingly-endless uphill climbs of both the Bike and the Run.

So you can imagine the way that disappointed athletes lit up the boards over the past two years when after a successful five-year run since its inaugural, both the 2011 and 2012 events were cancelled, and then lit them up again recently when rumors started flying that the race would be resurrected in 2013.

What happened?

There’s been no official answer given as to the why, but the general consensus is that the race was a victim of its own success.

Not to say that the organizers couldn’t handle it – rather that Frank Lowery and his wife Megan did such an incredible job as Race Directors, and had laid out such an amazing course that both Henderson and the Lowerys got tapped for the 2011 ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships.

Having the Worlds back in the U.S. after fifteen years was quite a coup, and the race organization for the Worlds was a Herculean effort, even though the course ended up almost identical to the Silverman.

The overall endeavor was apparently just too much for the Lowerys to run two in a year.

As for 2012, there is no clear answer as to why the race didn’t return, but Lowery has given more than a few hints that the race will return in 2013, and if that’s the case, it will be welcome news to both veterans and wannabes alike.

So what is it that makes the race so special?

How did a race that fielded just over 200 participants the first time out balloon to over 2,500 (including short-distance participants) in just five years?

The truth is that the Silverman Triathlon has earned its reputation by providing a combination of straightforward, unrelenting toughness on the course and the kind of organization that can only be provided by somebody who has competed in lots of triathlons himself.

Frank Lowery completed 149 of them over the course of 23 years, so when he crafted his own race he made certain that it was done to the Nth degree.

The course itself holds few stand-out challenges to speak of with the extreme exception of a series of three 18% hills, with no downhill between, dubbed the Three Sisters – or Three Bitches as some riders have affectionately renamed them.

The Three Sisters are tough enough that many riders just surrender, hopping off the bike and walking up instead of struggling with the extreme grade.

The three sisters are short and steep, three consecutive climbs of 18% grade with no downhill in between just climb, a few yards of flat, climb, a few yards of flat and climb again with the last climb being the longest. When I hit that point the guy in front of me wobbled to the top of the last of the sisters, rolled a few more yards and then got off his bike and started pukeing…that pretty much says it all. –S. Baboo

The rest of the race’s features are fairly straightforward, though straight is more correctly defined as straight up, or at least progressively up.

The swim is held in a man-made lake that is capable of glass-like stillness but is just as likely to generate waves, and the competitive nature of the other participants can turn even the lake at its stillest into a churning whirlpool.

Both the bike and the run are straightforward out-and-backs held in a western version of the moon, sparse and grand and rolling.

There are downhills that can offer a respite and can help rebuild average speeds, but the downhills never end up compensating for the grueling nature of the climbs up, which after a while feel like some kind of sick joke – after all, aren’t deserts supposed to be flat?

From the time you leave the swim at the lake you are immediately climbing, encountering one rolling hill after another, often exacerbated by headwinds that last for miles and miles, and when you hit the Run, the downhills can be just as painful as the ups, as your quads have been to hell and back already, with miles to go.

My quads were pretty sore by the end of the first lap, and while I had been looking forward to finishing the uphills on the second lap, the downhills would prove to be so brutal on my quads that I rather looked forward to the start of the next hill. –renorider

What makes Silverman so tough?

The fact is that those rolling hills and intermittent downhills total 9,700 feet of climbing on the bike leg alone and 1,600 feet on the run, with both finishing at a higher elevation than they began, and all done over the Ironman distances of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 miles on the bike, and a 26.2 mile run.

Beyond the toughness, what makes Silverman so great is the incredible effort of the volunteers who are there at every turn, manning kayaks to corral and redirect off-course swimmers, stripping wetsuits for the transition to the bike, and staffing special needs stations that seem almost clairvoyant in their efficiency and readiness.

Add on to that a reputation for providing the best swag of all of the races, and it’s no wonder the race became such a must-do, and was so immediately missed and mourned when it disappeared.

Frank Lowery has shown up at a couple of recent events, offering encouragement to exhausted competitors and dropping hints that Silverman will be back, and that word has spread quickly among the true believers.

Triathletes are checking in daily for an announcement, and it’s expected that if Silverman does reappear, it will quickly be sold out.


  1. Pablo Vaca says

    Thank you for the great article! Everything you said is correct and brought back memories! I competed in the 2009 race and finished. Silverman is one of the toughest courses in the world. I hope the race comes back. This is where I would like to propose to my girl friend!

    Pablo Vaca
    Thu 11/8/12

Speak Your Mind