16 Bucket-List Triathlons (Outside Of Kona)

We know, we know—pretty much any triathlete you talk to has Ironman Hawaii on his or her bucket list. But we were curious which races outside of Kona people also dreamed of racing one day, so we polled our Facebook and Twitter fans, and came up with the top 16 non-Kona bucket-list triathlons, listed from 16 to 1.

16. Ironman Coeur d’Alene
The course: Set in Coeur d’Alene, in northern Idaho, the two-loop, 2.4-mile swim is in the beautiful, glacier-fed Lake Coeur d’Alene in water temperatures in the 60s F. The two-loop 112-mile bike takes two loops starting from along the lakeshore to the rolling hills west of the lake through rural northern Idaho (and features no turns for an 80-mile stretch!). The 26.2-mile run takes place on the shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene, and features one steep climb and great crowd support.

The draw: Triathletes return to this classic resort town in Idaho year after year for its natural beauty (glacier-fed lake, surrounding forests and parks), its moderately difficult course (unlike flat and fast U.S. Ironmans like Arizona and Florida), and its small-town feel. It’s a great vacation destination for families—the area offers an array of outdoor activities, and the race is relatively spectator friendly. The race also offers 50 qualifying slots for the Ironman World Championship.

How to race it: After the on-site registration opportunities, the online registration for the 2015 race (to take place Sunday, June 28, 2015) will open on Monday, June 30 at 12 p.m. PST—the race regularly sells out.

For more info: Ironman.com

Photo: Rocky Arroyo
15. Laguna Phuket Triathlon
The course: Laguna Phuket is a 1,000-acre tropical paradise that includes seven deluxe hotels along Phuket, Thailand’s Bang Tao Beach, and it’s the host of the famous Laguna Phuket Triathlon. The 1.8K (1.1-mile) swim includes two bodies of water (the sea and a lagoon) before exiting at the Laguna Grove. The 55K (34.2-mile) bike tours the northern part of Phuket with some steep, challenging sections. The race ends with a flat 12K (7.5-mile) run that finishes at the Laguna Grove.

The draw: Besides the baby elephant escort at the finish for the winners? This legendary race goes back more than two decades and has seen such top names such as Mark Allen, Greg Welch, Craig Alexander and Michellie Jones race on the course. The race is also an ideal tropical vacation destination if you’re looking to experience Asia. (Read this article for travel tips for Phuket.)

How to race it: Registration for the 2014 race (to take place Nov. 23) is now open and will remain open until the 600 entries are filled.

For more info: Challengelagunaphuket.com

Photo: Xaume Olleros
14. Challenge Wanaka
The course: Located in the small lakeside resort town of Wanaka on New Zealand’s South Island, Challenge Wanaka starts with a 2.4-mile sheltered swim starting from Roy’s Bay in Lake Wanaka, surrounded by the incredible Southern Alps and Crown Range mountains in crystal-clear water (61-64 degrees F). The two-loop, 112-mile bike includes a steady stream of hills as it wraps around Lake Wanaka and heads toward Albert Town and Lake Hawea. Three-fourths of the marathon course is on gravel trail and the other 25 percent on paved roads, and it takes in beautiful views of Lake Wanaka and the Clutha River.

The draw: Challenge Wanaka is considered a tough, “honest” and breathtakingly beautiful (as in Lord of the Rings-beautiful) course and is set in a charming alpine resort town, a vacation hot spot for Aussies and Kiwis. The family-friendly locale is perfect for outdoor adventures such as mountain biking, jet boating into Mount Aspiring National Park, or hiking to Rob Roy Glacier. This pristine natural setting for an iron-distance race can’t be beat.

How to race it: The 2015 race will take place on Feb. 22, and online registration is currently open until Jan. 25, 2015. The Lake Wanaka Half (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run) takes place concurrently with the Challenge race.

For more info: Challenge-wanaka.com

Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images
13. Alpe d'Huez
13. Alpe d’Huez
The course: One of the most beautiful and challenging races in the world, the Alpe d’Huez Long Distance Triathlon is set in the Central French Alps. It starts with a 2.2K swim in the crystal-clear waters of Lac du Verney at about 2,300 feet of altitude. The water is typically a chilly 59-61 degrees F. The 115K bike is the highlight of the course: It includes three mountain passes—the Alpe du Grand Serre, the Col d’Ornon and the famous 21 switchbacks in the climb to Alpe d’Huez. The three-loop, 22K run takes place at the majestic Alpe d’Huez resort on a mixture of paved roads and trails.

The draw: There’s something incredible about climbing in the Alps and riding the same challenging Alpe d’Huez course that’s regularly used in the Tour de France. The race expects more than 3,500 participants in 2014 over all the courses (the race also offers a short-distance triathlon of a 1.2K swim, 30K bike and 7K run, as well as a duathlon and kids’ race).

How to race it: The long course race will take place on Wednesday, July 30, and online registration is currently open until July 15.

For more info: Alpetriathlon.com/en

Photo: Thierry Sourbier/Endurapix.com
12. Abu Dhabi International Triathlon
12. Abu Dhabi International Triathlon
The course: The challenging course through the stark desert landscape of Abu Dhabi has drawn a world-class field of pros and age-groupers to the United Arab Emirates capital every March since 2010. The long-distance course features a 3K sea swim from a beach start, a 200K bike course that weaves through the city of Abu Dhabi—past landscaped parks and the Arabian Gulf—then around the Yas Marina Circuit, the host of Formula 1 racing. The 20K, two-lap run takes athletes along the scenic Corniche waterfront area. The hot conditions are especially brutal in the UAE, and the course has zero protection from the sun.

The draw: Athletes fly all the way to Abu Dhabi to race a unique distance (the long bike makes it especially appealing to strong cyclists) in a unique location—where else will you ride your bike on an F1 track and ride your bike on isolated roads through the Arabian Peninsula? The hot and sunny weather conditions make for an added challenge to the race. The race also offers something for every triathlete: a short distance (1.5K swim, 100K bike, 10K run) and sprint distance (750-meter swim, 50K bike, 5K run).

How to race it: The 2015 race date has not been set, but it’s usually in March. Check the Abu Dhabi website for registration information (it sold out for the first time in its five-year history in 2014).

For more info: Abudhabitriathlon.com

Photo: Paul Phillips/Competitive Image
11. Ironman Western Australia (Busselton)
11. Ironman Western Australia (Busselton)
The course: Located in the resort town of Busselton in Western Australia, this Ironman has been popular in the region since it started in 2004. The 2.4-mile swim goes around the famous Busselton Jetty in water temperatures ranging from 66 to 72 degrees F. The 112-mile, three-loop bike course is flat and fast—great for setting a PR—and has scenic views of Geographe Bay. The marathon is a four-loop course along Geographe Bay’s shores and is one of the flattest on the Ironman circuit with multiple spectating opportunities.

The draw: At the start of the Australian summer, athletes can take their families to a top Australian resort town and set a PR on this flat and fast Ironman course—it’s a perfect destination Ironman. Busselton is known for its iconic 2K-long jetty and calm turquoise bays, while the area is known for its beautiful forests, world-class wines and whale watching. The race also offers 40 qualifying slots to the Ironman World Championship.

How to race it: This year’s race, to take place on Dec. 7, 2014, is currently open for registration to the general public. Online entries will close at 5 p.m. (AEDT) on Friday, Nov. 7, if the maximums have not been reached.

For more info: Ironman.com

Photo: Delly Carr
10. Ironman 70.3 St. Croix
The course: The stunningly beautiful U.S. Virgin Island of St. Croix—84 square miles of natural paradise—plays host to one of the most famous and historic Ironman 70.3 races. The 1.2-mile swim starts from the beach at the Hotel on the Cay (a small island that athletes actually have to swim to before the swim start from the transition area just across the water) in warm, tropical waters of Christiansted Harbour. After a transition in the wharf area, the 56-mile bike course takes athletes to the crowning feature: The Beast, a climb at the 21-mile point of the bike where you’ll climb 600 feet over almost a mile, at a grade as steep as 21 percent. Finally, the two-loop, 13.1-mile run takes athletes away from Christiansted and onto the Buccaneer Hotel’s grounds and golf course before a finish back at the wharf.

The draw: One major draw to St. Croix is described as “Beauty and the Beast”—the natural beauty of the island combined with the challenge of the Beast on the bike course. The race is also a great vacation destination, with a laid-back island feel, tropical weather, incredible beaches and opportunity for adventures in the water and sub-tropical rainforests. While the location is a little difficult to get to, it’s one of only a handful of 70.3 races with qualifying slots to the Ironman World Championship, which keeps age-groupers coming back year after year. The race also goes back to triathlon’s early days—it’s been around since 1988, and everyone from Dave Scott and Mark Allen to Paula Newby-Fraser and Mike Pigg has raced on this course. (For travel tips and to get more of a feel of St. Croix, read this travel story.)

How to race it: The 2015 race date is still TBD, but check back to the Ironman 70.3 St. Croix website in a few months to register (the race hasn’t sold out in recent years).

For more info: Ironman.com
9. Ironman European Championship Frankfurt
9. Ironman European Championship Frankfurt
The course: Located in Germany’s fifth-largest city of Frankfurt, the European Championship boasts a course that’s loaded with historical charm. Athletes start with a 2.4-mile swim in the quiet waters of the Langener Waldsee, with water temperatures between 71 and 75 degrees F. The two-loop, 112-mile bike course heads straight through the heart of Frankfurt and then into the surrounding hills. The 26.2-mile run is flat and fast with four loops, which are crowded with thousands of spectators. Some common spectator spots are “The Beast,” a steep ascent leaving the city of Frankfurt and passing the historic town hall; “The Hell,” a narrow Tour de France-like atmosphere in a narrow section of the bike course on cobble-stone roads in Maintal-Hoschstadt; “Hühnerberg,” the longest ascent of the bike course with views of the city of Frankfurt; and “Burg-Meile,” a section of the bike course that leads around a historic castle.

The draw: Germans love triathlon—like in Roth, thousands of spectators will come out to cheer on fans on this fast and iconic German course. The finish line is in the impressive and historical Römerberg in the heart of the city. The race is also extremely competitive for the 100 qualifying slots for the Ironman World Championship—the best age-groupers in Europe race in Frankfurt.

How to race it: General entry for the 2014 Ironman Frankfurt (to take place July 6) has sold out, but starting on Monday, July 7 at 4 p.m. local time (CET), any slots for the July 5, 2015, race not claimed on-site at Frankfurt will be available online.

For more info: Eu.ironman.com

Photo: Paul Phillips/Competitive Image
8. Ironman Lake Placid
8. Ironman Lake Placid
The course: The small town of Lake Placid in upstate New York has hosted two Winter Olympic Games (1932 and 1980) and now hosts this classic American Ironman. The two-loop, 2.4-mile swim takes place in the calm, pristine Mirror Lake, with water usually in the high 60s to low 70s. After transitioning in the Olympic Speed Skating Oval, the two-loop, 112-mile bike ride takes athletes through the Adirondack Mountains, with challenging 11-mile climbs up “the notch” at the end of each loop. The two-loop, 26.2-mile course takes athletes through the city center four times, past the Olympic ski jumps and along the shores of Mirror Lake.

The draw: Lake Placid is the second-longest running Ironman in the U.S. (after Kona), so it’s come to be known as the classic American Ironman. The course is beautiful and challenging, and it’s set in a charming mountain village in the Adirondacks. It’s easily accessible to East Coasters, and features a spectator-friendly course, so the trip doubles well as a family vacation. The race also offers 60 qualifying slots to the Ironman World Championship.

How to race it: General entry and Ironman Foundation registration has sold out for the 2014 race, which will take place July 27 (charity slots are still available), but check the Ironman Lake Placid website the day after the race, when registration usually opens.

For more info: Ironman.com

Photo: Larry Rosa
7. Ironman Lanzarote
7. Ironman Lanzarote
The course: Lanzarote, the island at the northeastern edge of Spain’s Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, hosts what could also be referred to as one of the toughest Ironman events in the world. The two-loop, 2.4-mile swim starts from Playa Grande at Puerto del Carmen, the island’s main tourist resort, in water that is expected to be 64–66 degrees F. But the race is known for its 112-mile bike leg which includes 2,551 meters (8,369 feet) of climbing while battling strong winds all around the island. Both the bike and the 26.2-mile (and relatively flat) run feature incredible views—the run takes place along the ocean under the intense Lanzarote sun.

The draw: Climbing more than 8,000 feet on the bike through Lanzarote’s mountains while battling strong winds is an impressive challenge to overcome. The stunning yet difficult course makes it an epic Ironman-branded race. The race also offers 40 qualifying slots to the Ironman World Championship.

How to race it: The 2015 race will take place May 23, and registration is currently open until May 1, or until the race reaches its capacity.

For more info: Eu.Ironman.com

Photo: Michael Rauschendorfer/Endurapix.com
6. Ironman Lake Tahoe
6. Ironman Lake Tahoe
The course: Only in its second year, Ironman Lake Tahoe is known for its difficulty. The two-loop, 2.4-mile swim takes place in the pristine North Lake Tahoe from Kings Beach—the water is clear enough to see 70 feet down. The 112-mile bike takes athletes down the 21-mile length of the lake into Tahoe City, through the Truckee River corridor and includes 8,000 feet of climbing. The 26.2-mile run is relatively flat and follows the Truckee River bike path before a finish at Squaw Valley, the home of the 1960 Winter Olympics. (For a more detailed description and photos of the course, check out writer Susan Lacke’s course recon prior to the inaugural race.)

The draw: If the scenery doesn’t take your breath away, the hills and the 6,000 feet of altitude will—the race boasts the highest starting altitude of any Ironman. As if the challenge of doing an Ironman at altitude weren’t enough the inaugural race saw especially challenging weather conditions including frigid winds, snow the night before and temperatures in the 30s on race morning—the conditions led to a 20 percent DNF rate, second only to the 2012 Ironman St. George (29 percent), a race which has since been turned into a 70.3. The race could arguably earn the title of “toughest Ironman.” It’s also a challenging way to earn one of 50 coveted slots to the Ironman World Championship.

How to race it: Even though the inaugural race sold out within 24 hours of opening, the high DNF rate may have kept athletes from registering as quickly this year—registration for the 2014 event (and the inaugural Ironman 70.3 Lake Tahoe, to both take place on Sept 21, 2014) is currently open.

For more info: Ironman.com

Photo: Susan Lacke
5. Ironman New Zealand
5. Ironman New Zealand
The course: Located in Taupo, New Zealand, a town of just 22,000 located a few hours’ drive or 45-minute flight from Auckland, Ironman New Zealand features an incredibly green and scenic course. The 2.4-mile swim takes place in the clear waters of Lake Taupo (usually around 64 degrees F) from a deep-water start. After a 400-meter run to transition, athletes begin the two-lap, 112-mile bike that travels through the forest and farmland surrounding Taupo—it’s an undulating bike course and has spectators lining the lakefront. The three-lap marathon is flat, has views of the lake, and thousands of spectators to cheer on the athletes.

The draw: It’s no surprise that the top Ironman-branded race outside of Kona on people’s bucket lists is the second-longest running Ironman—it celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2014 (it’s been in Taupo since 1999). The breathtakingly beautiful course, excellent spectator support and clear freshwater swim (arguably the best on the Ironman circuit) make it a great venue for attempting to earn one of the 50 qualifying slots for the Ironman World Championship. The race is also considered the world’s most international Ironman, with half the field coming from outside the country every year.

How to race it: The 2015 race will take place Saturday, March 7, and registration opened March 13, 2014 and will close Feb. 6, 2015, if the maximum isn’t reached before.

For more info: Ironman.com

Photo: Delly Carr
4. Wildflower
4. Wildflower
The course: Located about 20 miles inland from California’s Central Coast, the small town of Bradley, Calif., hosts one of the longest-running and most popular triathlons in the world. The Wildflower Long Course Triathlon starts with a 1.2-mile swim in Lake San Antonio (water temperature is usually 65-68 degrees F). The 56-mile bike course is challenging—it includes rolling hills, plus Beach Hill (a very steep 1-mile climb) and Nasty Grade (a nearly five-mile grade which climbs 1,000 feet). The race ends with a 13.1-mile run that’s 60 percent on trails and 40 percent on paved roads and is almost never flat. (Check out four-time Wildflower champ Jesse Thomas’ tips on how to get the most out of your day at Wildflower.)

The draw: Known as the “Woodstock of triathlon,” Wildflower is a one-of-a-kind festival-like experience for the whole family. Many refer to it as a place to get back to the roots of the sport—enjoying the outdoors, time with family and celebrating around campfires (most athletes camp at the race site for the weekend with their families). The course is no walk in the park either—its constant hills are tough to battle for 70.3 miles. The race has been around since 1983, so it’s seen some of triathlon’s legends race there (Scott Molina, Paula Newby-Fraser, Julie Moss, to name a few). There’s also something for everyone—besides the Long Course Triathlon, there’s also a Mountain Bike Triathlon (0.25-mile swim, 9.7-mile mountain bike and 2-mile run) and an Olympic-distance triathlon (1.5K swim, 40K bike and 10K run). Outside of the races, there are live bands and plenty of activities for the whole family, like hiking, or swimming or fishing in the lake.

How to race it: Registration opens September 2014 for next year’s race, to take place May 1-3.

For more info: Tricalifornia.com

Photo: Rocky Arroyo
3. Norseman Xtreme Triathlon
3. Norseman Xtreme Triathlon
The course: Athletes will be treated to spectacular Norwegian landscapes in one of the most challenging triathlons in the world. Starting from the community of Eidfjord, Norway, the race climbs from sea level to 1,850 meters (6,070 feet) above. The 3.8K wetsuit-mandatory swim starts in the Hardangerfjord from a ferry—the water temperature on race morning in years past has been between 13 and 15 degrees Celsius (55-59 degrees Fahrenheit). Athletes then bike 180K from the town of Eidfjord to Austbygde through incredibly scenic and hilly landscapes. Finally, athletes run 42.2K from Austbygde to the top of Mount Gaustatoppen—the first 25K are relatively flat while the final 17.2K is a consistently steep climb up to 1,850 meters for a total 226K (140.4-mile) race. The race doesn’t have support for the bike leg or the first 25K of the run leg, so each athlete must have his or her own support vehicle and crew.

The draw: This race is all about the bragging rights. Imagine jumping into a freezing fjord from a ferry at 5 a.m. to start a day-long journey to climbing more than 6,000 feet to a mountaintop that could have air temperatures in the 30s F. The location is the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska, and can feature extreme weather conditions. It’s an ultimate test in endurance.

How to race it: The 13th running of the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon will be held on Aug. 1, 2015, and the only way to get a slot is through the lottery. The lottery enrollment opens the second half of October, and the 310 total slots are finalized by early November (usually about 250 athletes end up racing). There are slots, however, designated specifically for Norwegian men, non-Norwegian men, women and elite athletes.

For more info: Nxtri.com

Photo: Kai Otto Melau
2. Challenge Roth
2. Challenge Roth
The course: The historic Roth course is considered (and has proven to be) the fastest iron-distance course in the world—the iron-distance world record has been set on this course multiple times. German Andreas Raelert’s 2011 race set the record at 7:41:33, and Great Britain’s Chrissie Wellington holds the women’s record of 8:18:13. The 2.4-mile swim takes place in the Main-Donau Canal, and is followed by a 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run around and through the tiny German town of Roth.

The draw: The two things that set Roth apart are its flat and fast course (most athletes set a PR) and its incredible crowd support—the local police estimate a crowd of more than 220,000 spectators will cheer on almost 5,000 athletes (3,500 individual starters and 650 relay teams). The race, which has been around since 1988 (and was known as Ironman Europe until 2002), is the premier event in the Challenge Family series of triathlons. The race features a great festival atmosphere and concludes with a giant fireworks display.

How to race it: Next year’s race will take place on July 12, 2015. There are three opportunities to register for Challenge Roth: First, on July 21, 2014 at 9:30 a.m., you can register in person for 1,000 slots on a first come, first served basis at the awards ceremony in Roth, Germany. Secondly, on Monday, July 28, 2014 at precisely 10:00 a.m. (Germany time), the registration lists will be launched and more slots will be allocated depending on the order of requests. Finally, on Dec. 6, 2014, as part of a charitable pre-Christmas program, registration will be open one final time at 12 noon in order to allocate any remaining slots, and for each slot sold that day, 50 Euros will be donated to charity.

For more info: Challenge-roth.com

Photo: Paul Phillips/Competitive Image
1. Escape From Alcatraz
1. Escape From Alcatraz
The course: This iconic race starts with you jumping off of the San Francisco Belle ferry near Alcatraz Island into the icy cold San Francisco Bay and then swimming the 1.5 miles back to shore, usually in strong currents, 55-degree water temperatures and even sometimes extremely choppy conditions. Athletes exit the water at the Marina Green Beach before a half-mile run to the transition area at Marina Green (the run is pretty necessary to warm up before the bike). Athletes then ride an 18-mile out-and-back route that includes multiple hills and turns, and goes on the Great Highway and through Golden Gate Park. The race finishes with an 8-mile run through the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and includes running in deep sand and climbing the Equinox Sand Ladder (400 steps up the cliff) before a finish at Marina Green.

The draw: Take your pick: swimming in the frigid San Francisco Bay, the history (it’s been around since 1981, and just about every legendary triathlete has raced it at some point), the ridiculous views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the challenging Sand Ladder and brutal hills—and the list goes on. With this race comes major bragging rights.

How to race it: The race is so popular that organizers had to resort to lottery and qualification entries to fill the slots, capped at 2,000. About 1,700 of the entries come from the two lottery drawings, which take place in the fall prior to the race and cost $25 to enter. (For the 2014 race, the lottery opened on Sept. 1, 2013 and closed Oct. 25, 2013, with drawings on Sept. 27 and Oct. 25.) Make sure you register before the first drawing—anyone not chosen in the first drawing is automatically entered into the second drawing—double the chances! Instead of the lottery, age-groupers can instead ensure a slot by a top finish at one of the Escape To Alcatraz qualifying events:
–Triathlon De Gérardmer (Sept. 6-7, 2014; Gérardmer, France; 50 qualifying slots)
–Beijing International Triathlon (Sept. 14, 2014; Beijing, China; 50 qualifying slots)
–Westchester Triathlon (Sept. 21, 2014; Westchester, N.Y.; 50 qualifying slots)
–Cannes International Triathlon (April TBD 2015; Cannes, France; 50 qualifying slots)
–Kemah Triathlon (April 11-12, 2015; Kemah, Texas; 50 qualifying slots)

Athletes can also qualify by attending one-day Escape Academy clinics. Learn more at the race website.

For more info: Escapefromalcatraztriathlon.com

Photo: Rocky Arroyo