These five U.S. races are a great introduction to iron-distance racing.

Making the decision to jump up to iron-distance racing is a big one. But an even bigger decision comes after that—which race? After all, there are so many to choose from. Though they all cover the same distance—a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run—that doesn’t mean they’re all the same experience. Choosing your first iron-distance race can be based on a multitude of factors: Some opt for a race that is close to home, while others will pore over elevation profiles to find terrain that suits their strengths. Others still will take into account the general vibe of the race—Is there a lot of support? How often will I see my family on the course? Can I take the kids to Disney World for a post-race vacation?

After all is said and done, there are certain iron-distance races which tend to rise to the top for first-timers. Keep in mind we’re focusing on the overall experience here. Don’t let some hills intimidate you, as the “hard” bike courses are easier than you realize. Will you toe the line at one of these in 2019?

Ironman Boulder

June 9, 2019
Average Water Temperature: 68 degrees Fahrenheit
Average Air Temperature: 66 degrees Fahrenheit
Bike Elevation: 3,936 feet
Run Elevation: 898 feet

Racing in the mecca of triathlon has its perks—the whole population seems to turn out to cheer on athletes at Ironman Boulder, including the many famous pros who live and train in the mountain town. In addition to being mega-inspiring, it’s also incredibly helpful for first-timers—because many of the volunteers are athletes themselves, they intuit exactly what each athlete needs in transition tents, aid stations, and along the course.

Ironman Wisconsin

September 8, 2019
Average Water Temperature: 74 degrees Fahrenheit
Average Air Temperature: 71 degrees Fahrenheit
Bike Elevation: 4,210 feet
Run Elevation:946 feet

Don’t let the cows and cheese fool you—this Midwestern race is as glam as it gets. The rowdy college town of Madison, Wisconsin pulls out all the stops when hosting Ironman Wisconsin each year: a swim that exits up a spiral helix at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Monona terrace, a bike that rolls through the deep crowds of the Verona Loop Festival, and a run that showcases the University of Wisconsin (including a dash down the football field of Camp Randall Stadium).

Redman Triathlon

September 21, 2019
Average Water Temperature: 71 degrees Fahrenheit
Average Air Temperature: 80 degrees Fahrenheit
Bike Elevation: 1,080 feet
Run Elevation: 250 feet

This Oklahoma City mainstay prides itself on individualized attention for each athlete. In addition to capping entries at only 1,200 athletes, the Redman Triathlon recruits a large and loud contingency of volunteers to support athletes from registration to finish line. This flat-and-fast course (the hardest “climb” on the bike is 20 feet) is appealing to first-time triathletes, and the transition zone is stocked with tons of fun options for friends and family who come along to spectate.

Great Floridian Triathlon

October 17, 2019
Average Water Temperature: 72 degrees Fahrenheit
Average Air Temperature: 76 degrees Fahrenheit
Bike Elevation: 6,200 feet
Run Elevation: 680 feet

As the longest-running independent full iron-distance triathlon in America, the low-key feel of the Great Floridian Triathlon in Clermont, Florida is a great option for those who find the hype and huge crowds of Ironman events overwhelming. The bike has a surprising amount of elevation gain, given its location (6,200 feet of climbing spread out over 112 miles), which keeps things interesting, while a spectator-friendly three-loop run never deviates more than three miles from transition. It’s comparatively affordable, too–athletes with early registration can snag a spot for less than $300.

Ironman Arizona

November 24, 2019
Average Water Temperature: 63 degrees Fahrenheit
Average Air Temperature: 80 degrees Fahrenheit
Bike Elevation: 2,577 feet
Run Elevation: 358 feet

There’s a reason why this race sells out so quickly each year–Ironman Arizona is a hot ticket for both first-time Ironman athletes and those who return year after year. In addition to the extended training time for a late-season race, Ironman Arizona is a logistically ideal destination race, thanks to easy access to a major airport and an event location in the bustling city center of Tempe, Arizona. The three-loop bike and run courses allow for frequent opportunities to high-five your cheering squad, while the finish line veers naturally to Mill Avenue, a mile-long stretch of bars and restaurants waiting to serve you a post-race burger and beer.