(Left) Basic Underwater
Demolition School students practice small boat drills
while the ever-present bell looms ready for those
who simply can't muster the endurance to survive
A BUDs class with San Diego in the background.
has more than one birthplace. Some are well known;
Kona, Alcatraz, Mission Bay... Some are less famous
but more important. These are the sacred places of
our sport, the Temples of Triathlon. One you have
never heard of is called “Yellow One Beach”.
Yellow One Beach is the swim start for the Superfrog
Triathlon, one of the most unusual and difficult triathlons
in the world. It may be the world’s hardest
half Ironman. It is certainly one of the least known.
Superfrog is hosted by people who make a point of
keeping a low profile, the U.S. Navy SEALs. This place
is so secret and secure that admission is granted
only once a year. Photography is prohibited. To see
Yellow One Beach you can look through binoculars from
over a mile away, but an armed security guard will
be watching back. It is a sacred place, a place of
mysticism and lore. This is the Roman coliseum of
triathlon. Heroes, living and fallen in battle, are
made on this beach. Once a year you and I can race
here. This is where you do the Superfrog Triathlon.
Superfrog is one of the oldest triathlons in the
sport, over 27 years old. It takes place at the U.S.
Navy’s Naval Amphibious Base on Coronado Island,
California. Within that sprawling facility is the
ultra-secure, top secret Naval Special Warfare Center,
the home of the U.S. Navy SEALs. Behind high walls
ringed in concertina wire, guarded through binoculars
by day and night vision goggles at night the Navy
prepares candidates for inclusion into the elite SEAL
teams at the Basic Underwater Demolition School, BUDS.
This is also the home of SEAL Team 5, SEAL Team 1
and SEAL Team 3, each one operational Navy SEAL units.
Superfrog is a half Ironman distance triathlon with
a brutal swim in water that breaks navy SEAL candidates,
causing them to “ring out” of BUDs and
give up on their dream of being a SEAL. The Pacific
Ocean in front of Yellow One Beach is freezing cold
and habitually rough. SEAL instructors test students
with “surf passage” exercises and by ordering
them into the freezing water to induce hypothermia,
and then snap them back from the brink by running
up and down lose sand dunes on Yellow One. Aspiring
SEALs are frequently injured by waves on Yellow One
during surf passage drills. This is where you’ll
try to swim 1.2 miles for Superfrog.
If you finish the swim at Superfrog you run up and
over a loose sand dune nick-named “Mt. Suribachi”.
That’s where Marines planted the U.S. Flag on
Guadalcanal in World War II. You celebrate your survival
of the swim BUDs style with a Navy SEAL using a fire
hose to blast the saltwater off you.
The bike course passes Navy Security Police and U.S.
Marine Guards going out onto Highway 75. You will
negotiate four out-and-backs on a board flat, perfectly
paved bike course with storm force headwinds coming
off the Pacific or up from Mexico. In one direction
it takes everything you have to go 18 m.p.h. In the
other direction you’re going over 28 m.p.h.
It is a difficult contrast to moderate. There is an
aid station at either end of the course staffed by
highly motivated naval cadets, Marines, SEALs and
BUDs trainees. Passing through the aid stations you
hear the SEAL motto; “Go Sir! Outstanding! It
pays to be a winner!”
Swim conditions for Superfrog.
Mt. Suribachi: Athletes
go up and over.
SEALs train at the Naval Special Warfare Center.
You'll pass the "O" course on the run at
A view normally reserved for SEAL candidates. The
top of Yellow One Beach.
Storm winds rolling
in from Mexico test athletes in the swim at Superfrog.
(R) A traditional mass beach start.
Ideal conditions for one
of the sport's greatest challenges.
Once clear of the bike
you re-enter the secure Naval Special Warfare Center
where the world’s safest transition area is
and begin the run evolution. If you thought the swim
and the bike were tough, you may be ready to “ring
out” on the run. It’s like the SEALs say,
“If it isn’t miserable, we don’t
The Superfrog Triathlon hosts a website that features
maps of the course. One detail missing from the run
course map is the section from Yellow One Beach across
the dunes to the SEAL obstacle course. It is sand.
Soft sand. Ankle deep, energy sapping, churned up,
suffer-fest, Navy SEAL ass-busting soft sand. After
running through this roughly one mile section once
you’ll learn the reality of this race. It’s
indescribably difficult. You will run through it again:
four more times. The run is five laps. Welcome to
SEAL country, it pays to be a winner.
During the five laps that make up the 13.1 mile run
you will pass by the Naval Special Warfare Headquarters,
the office where the Admiral, commanding officer of
all SEAL Teams, is housed. The admiral is not in his
office today. He is front of you doing the race. You’ll
turn left across Gator Beach and left again up toward
the firm sand between the cold Pacific and Yellow
One Beach. It’s picturesque and inspiring. The
cool breeze off the Pacific (that was a brutal headwind
on the bike) is pleasant now. Enjoy it. At the Naval
Special Warfare Center pleasant sensations are fleeting.
Another left hand turn at the top of the run course
puts you into oddly loose, black sand. Surely no race
would have you run more than a few steps in sand like
this. No race except one designed by Navy SEALs. For
a little more than a mile (it seems like four miles)
you’ll try to figure out how to run in sand
so soft it feels like oatmeal. Your feet sink, your
ankles twist and you slow down, way down. About the
time the absurdity of it sets in you are lapped by
a man in a black tri suit with “Navy SEAL”
written on the back. He is going twice as fast as
you, seemingly floating over the loose sand. That
is U.S. Navy SEAL and Ironman Hawaii finisher Mitch
Hall. The rest of the fellows who pass you on this
section are usually Navy SEALs. They are used to running
in soft sand with forty pounds of equipment in the
middle of the night with a bullet or two whistling
overhead. For those guys, Superfrog is a fun day off.
A multi-lap swim means athletes are running up the
beach for multiple surf passages.
Flat and windy: Four loops on the bike.
Most of the Superfrog
run course is on sand. From firm footing on the
beach (right) to ultra-soft sand near the Obstacle
Navy SEAL Mitch Hall wins
|After surviving a swim that has
been featured in Discovery Channel documentaries, trying
to punch through tropical storm winds lashing up from
Mexico and then re-enacting the first twenty minutes
of “Saving Private Ryan” five times between
Yellow One Beach and the SEAL obstacle course your feet
will touch pavement again near the blacked-out doors
at SEAL Team 3. You’re running on asphalt now
up Trident Way in front of Naval Special Warfare Center
Headquarters toward one of the toughest finish lines
to reach in our sport. When you cross that line you
can say you’ve done what may be the sport’s
toughest ½ Ironman and you’ve done it in
one of the most unusual and exotic locations in any
Sarah Demerly battles headwinds
on the outbound leg at Superfrog on the way to 5th
The Admiral presents awards
at Superfrog. The little wood trident inscription
is the only way for a civilian to win a version of
the coveted SEAL insignia.
It is fitting the SEALs
host such an unusual and demanding event. The hallmark
of SEAL operational capability is excellence in any
environment, any conditions. Superfrog is the triathlon
manifestation of SEAL toughness and adaptability.
Naval Special Warfare has increasingly turned to multi-sport
as a demographic ideal for recruiting. Triathletes
and multi-sport athletes traditionally have a higher
success rate during BUDs (Basic Underwater Demolition
School) than any other athletic demographic. The SEALs
are looking for a few good triathletes. At the 2007
Ford Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii the
race was opened with Navy SEALs parachuting into the
swim course. SEALs are part of triathlon and triathlon
has always been a part of the SEALs.
Superfrog is an incredible race, an unsung classic
with the same heritage and history as the other classics
like the Hawaii Ironman and the Escape from Alcatraz
Triathlon. Few people outside the Special Warfare
community even know about the Superfrog Triathlon.
This race is about the very roots of our sport: Who
is best? Who is toughest? Who can adapt to nearly
impossible conditions? Anyone can complete a ½
Ironman but it takes special determination to finish
Superfrog. It takes a reverence for the things that
distinguish our sport. To do this race you must be
a special kind of triathlete. You must have a spark
of the flame that burns so strong inside a Navy SEAL.
Like the men who put together the event Superfrog
is quiet, elite, low key. And just like those men
who slip through the dark, freezing Pacific, battle
the wind on the bike course and struggle through the
sand between Yellow One Beach and the SEAL obstacle
course, this race is tougher than words can describe.
If you finish Superfrog, you are special kind of triathlete.
SEALs training in San Diego Harbor.