What kind of triathlete are you? Are you a dirtbag or a socialite? A recluse or a multi-multisporter? Can’t decide? Take our quiz here to figure out which athlete you most identify with—then see which towns are best for you below.Section divider
While you might not race off-road (though you might!), you prefer to start where the roads end: trails, open water, gravel. A lower cost of living is important, but you still want healthy options and a gritty, dirt-focused community that doesn’t mind a little crunch in their training.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Though not known for its extensive tri community or race calendar, elite training groups often find their way to Santa Fe for the clean air, great riding, and leg-burning running (and the 7,000 feet of altitude). Killer climbs abound, where crunchy trail riders can find a home on the Winsor Trail or aptly named Aspen Vista Trail that boasts huge views of Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range. For running, check out the twisty and turny sections of the 25-mile Dale Ball trail network. Swim at the Chavez Community Center or hit the open water to rinse off the grime at Cochiti Lake or Lake Abiquiu—where there has traditionally been an open-water swim series.
You know you’re in the right place for unconventional training (think trails for days) when pros like Heather Jackson and Linsey Corbin call Bend their sometimes-home. The “dirtbag” food and fun factor is also a big feature, as Bend is known for its high concentration of brewery and brewery-adjacent food options. There’s a reason Trail Runner named it one of its “Top Trail Towns” back in 2013, and it has to do with Bend’s well-thought-out system that connects trails from town into as many hills as you can handle. In terms of training, the mid-altitude location (3,600 feet) gives athletes options to grab vert if you want or stay on something more civilized, like the Deschutes River Trail. Lots of nearby lakes provide spots for open-water swimming (in the summer), and you can get gravel-y with dirt roads like the extensive Cascades Gravel Scenic Bikeway that winds along waterfalls and through covered forests.
Santa Fe, Bend, Roanoke? Only the most hardcore of off-road fans would recognize the name of this mid-sized town, located near the neck of Virginia’s western panhandle. But that’s the appeal. While you won’t hear about big name pros doing training camps in Roanoke (yet), its proximity to the Blue Ridge mountains means over 320 miles of nearby trails and a surprisingly moderate climate that sees a long training season from April to October. Many mountain bikers on the east coast already know that Roanoke is their low-key mecca (Bicycling named it one of its top six secret mountain bike destinations in the U.S. in 2020), but those same trails are ripe for running. Try the popular Carvins Cove for tree-covered singletrack or Mill Mountain for epic Blue Ridge views. And the open-water scene is surprisingly rich—in 2020 the east coast open-water championships were held in nearby Smith Mountain Lake.Section divider
Group rides, club meetups, Masters swims, and post-ride coffee! You could tri all day because you’re doing it with friends. Though some of your activities may have gone virtual in the last year, that doesn’t stop the community vibe you love about multisport. A bigger population might be important, but really it’s about the availability of options for having fun.
Santa Monica, California
Socializing is the oxygen that keeps Santa Monica moving, and the tri scene is no exception. On the weekends, group rides roll out along the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) and finish at any number of hipster coffee shops in Venice or the even more exclusive Pacific Palisades. In pre-COVID times, the LA Tri Club—one of the biggest clubs in the U.S.—offered an extensive calendar to satiate the thirst of any triathlete. In the summer months, there’s an abundance of group swims in addition to rides. The Wednesday morning Tower 26 ocean swim is the place to work hard and play hard. Then check out the miles of trails, especially those in and around Will Rogers Park and the Santa Monica Mountains. And, of course, if you want to see and be seen, nothing beats a run along the Santa Monica beach path that goes from the Palisades through Venice towards LAX.
Raleigh, North Carolina
As a triathlete in Raleigh, you’ll never be short of people to train with and beautiful places to train in. It boasts some of the best swim facilities (Triangle Aquatic Center, we’re talking about you), as well as some stunning bike and run routes (the Umstead Forest is a local fave for great trail running). The Triangle Triathlon Club is community-oriented and even has a dedicated beginner tri training program with swim clinics, organized rides, and runs. When training is all wrapped up for the day, you’re spoiled for choices on what you want to do next: Raleigh is a foodie’s paradise that also boasts a next-level food truck scene. Plus, the city is now seeing its many music venues and arts centers open back up after a year of COVID closures.
Austin has something for every social butterfly looking to combine training with heavy-duty Type 2 fun. Whether it’s organized rides that end at breweries or group swims at Barton Springs in the heart of the city, there’s almost always a way to turn your swim-bike-run into swim-bike-run-fun. Austin’s training opportunities are as diverse and plentiful as its social scene, which thrives on live music, award-winning restaurants, and buzzing nightlife (in non-COVID times, of course). Every Tuesday evening, Austin’s Formula One race track has Bike Night, where cyclists can clip in and ride around the closed three-mile loop while catching up with friends and training buddies. And the Austin Tri Club, which boasts 200+ members, is a great hub to train or socialize, and is renowned for its warm welcome to athletes of all ages and abilities.Section divider
You live in an amazing training area with few triathletes or nearby races, and no one thinks of your spot as a tri hotbed—but that’s the point. You’d rather be known as a figment of someone’s tri-imagination as you train, hidden from the eyes of the triathlon world.
Located seemingly in the middle of nowhere, this Midwest town might not get marks for perfect year-round weather, but that’s kind of the point. For pros like Matt Hanson, who—along with his coach Julie Dibens and her crew of ath- letes—calls Lawrence his training home in the early fall, the Kona simulation and isolation is the name of the game. Hanson loves the hot, humid, and windy conditions that make Lawrence an inexpensive suffer-alike for Kona, whether he’s riding rolling hills on surprisingly bike-friendly roads, swimming in the area’s 50-meter pools or open-water at Clinton Lake, or running on the super exposed (and super windy) Kansas river path. But like any good recluse guarding his secret spot, Hanson jokes that the entire county is reserved for him and his teammates for the first three weeks of September.
Canmore, Alberta, Canada
Though you wouldn’t want to be caught trying to train in Canmore outside of June to September, those few months are pure bliss. Known more for its skiing (and also running) communities, Canmore is only 75 minutes away from Calgary International Airport and boasts moderate altitude (around 4,500 feet) and a cool small-town vibe, according to local tri-denizens like two-time Challenge Daytona winner and Olympian Paula Findlay. Findlay and pro triathlete partner Eric Lagerstrom say that despite the low concentration of triathletes in the area, the trails and gravel-riding options are second to none. They like to hit the open water at nearby Quarry Lake, which has gorgeous mountain views (bring a wetsuit), and run on the mostly flat crushed gravel path that winds along the Bow River. If gravel riding isn’t your cup of tea, then head out along the extremely quiet Bow Valley Parkway.
Centre County, Pennsylvania
Home to the town of State College and Penn State University, Centre County lives up to its name—it’s quite literally in the center of nowhere. Sitting in the middle of Pennsylvania, the farmlands, mountain ranges, natural lakes, and streams surrounding State College are three hours from Philadelphia and two-and-a-half hours from Pittsburgh. But once there, you’ll find excellent university facilities, food, and a town’s population that shrinks substantially in the summer when the students disappear. If the college town’s summertime scene is still too much action, head to nearby hamlets like Millheim, where you can swim in the municipal pool as cows silently critique your technique (open-water swim spots also abound, sans-bovines), ride alongside Amish horse-drawn buggies on quiet, winding mountain roads, and run on endless miles of trails in Bald Eagle and Rothrock State Forests.Section divider
You have pretty much no tolerance for inclement weather, riding indoors, or even putting on a heavy jacket. You might bristle at the cost of living in your mild clime, but you’d implode at the thought of running in ice or snow. There’s also a good chance pros live and train in your area—at least during the winter.
Tucson’s year-round sunshine and dry desert climate make it the perfect play- ground for triathletes, so it’s no surprise that the “Dirty T” attracts pros from all over the U.S. and beyond. Ben Hoffman, Heather Jackson, Lionel Sanders, Sam Long, and many more all either live here or have been based here for extended training blocks. It’s particularly popular in the spring when the temperature consistently sits around 75 degrees Fahrenheit, making pre-season miles much easier to get done. There’s an abundance of gyms, bike shops, and outdoor pools, like the ones on the University of Arizona campus (almost always complete with tanned triathletes logging their laps). The popular 28.8-mile Mount Lemmon climb is on every triathlete’s must-do list when they’re in town, or head towards Kitt Peak and Madera Canyon on one of the fast weekly group rides. You also have plenty of cactus-lined trails in Saguaro National Park, which borders the town, or head down the Arizona Trail for a long run. And if all of that’s not enough, just south is the up-and-coming gravel riding hotspot of Patagonia, for when you need even more of the great outdoors.
Greenville, South Carolina
Definitely not an obvious choice for multisport athletes, but those who know, know. Named one of the best small cities in the U.S. by National Geographic Traveler, Greenville has a lot to offer those looking for an off-the-beaten-path, warm-weather destination. It was recently named one of the 20 best places to live in the U.S. for its weather—from May through September, average temperatures range between 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The Greenville Splash Masters swim team is a great option for triathletes, particularly the open-water swim practice at Lake Jocassee in the Devils Fork State Park. For running and riding, there’s an abundance of multi-use trails that wind around lakes and hills in Paris Mountain State Park, north of the city, where you might spot former Tour de France legend George Hincapie putting in post-career miles to or from his cycling-themed Hotel Domestique. And for those looking to race, you’re not too far from events in places like Augusta and Chattanooga.
When triathletes think of Hawaii, they almost always think of the Big Island, but there’s another jewel sitting pretty in the Pacific that checks many tri boxes. The weather is warm but never uncomfortably so, with highs in the summer between 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit and winter lows rarely below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Home to the XTERRA World Championships, Maui knows a thing or two about hosting triathletes—and it’s been the pre-Kona training camp venue for four-time Ironman World Champion Daniela Ryf for good reason. There’s no shortage of open space here. Ocean swimming is idyllic, but if you really want a challenge try tackling the famed Haleakala climb: 36 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing through five different ecosystems that tops out at the summit of Maui’s highest volcano. As with many of the Hawaiian islands, resources are a little more scarce than on the mainland, but the friendly and knowledgeable staff at bike shops, like West Maui Cycles, more than make up for that.Section divider
The Type-A Classic
When people think of stereotypical go-go-go triathletes, they think of you. You’re all about efficiency and cramming as much into your day as possible—getting in your trainer session before you power through to work and swimming at lunch in your building’s gym. Everything is planned to a T, and you need a spot that works for your schedule and efficiency.
The Marina, San Francisco
OK, yes, San Franciscans love to hate on how “basic” the The Marina is—with its Apple store next to its Gap and so much expensive coffee. But for the classic triathlete, it’s also basic in the best sense. Before work, you can run around Crissy Field with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge or hit the surprisingly picturesque trails of the Presidio. The Presidio is also home to the YMCA’s pool and to countless outdoor strength and conditioning classes, or swim in the Bay at nearby Aquatic Park. A short ride over the bridge spits you out in the pristine Marin Headlands open space for a pre- or post-work workout or keep rolling up Highway 1 and over Mt. Tam for a long weekend ride. A short bus ride the other direction and you’re in the financial district—home to hundreds of large companies and a number of triathlon clubs and gyms.
Manhattan, New York
Manhattan isn’t exactly known as a training destination—despite being home to popular races like the New York City Triathlon and the New York Marathon—but you might be surprised at the triathletes you find nearby, like pros Laurel and Becca Wassner (who made New York their training home for years). Start by connecting with the Empire Tri Club or the Manhattan Running Company, both of whom host club workouts around town. The storied and hard-to-get-into New York Athletic Club might be the best swimming in the neighborhood—and you’ll probably spot an Olympian—but many athletes rely on their building’s indoor pools. You’ll find lots of other dedicated triathletes (and runners and cyclists) doing laps around Central Park very early in the morning or hitting up one of countless indoor cycling studios—or treadmill studios, like the Mile High Run Club—catering to athletes who are trying to get it all done. On the weekends, head over the George Washington Bridge for a ride through New Jersey or test your open-water mettle at Brighton Beach in Brooklyn. You might spend a lot of time on the trainer and treadmill, but that’s OK, so is every other Manhattan triathlete—and then you can all get a drink after.
The Loop, Chicago
For decades, the Chicago Triathlon, right in downtown, was one of the biggest triathlons in the world. Spurred by that race, and by the popular Chicago Marathon in the fall, this bustling industrial city has secretly turned into a fitness center. Head out from your high-powered job to the 18-mile lakefront path any summer weekend and you’ll find it full of runners and cyclists (and open-water swimmers headed to the chilly water at Montrose Beach, Foster Beach, or Ohio Street). They’re all getting ready for a season packed with races like Ironman Wisconsin, just a two-hour drive away, and USAT Age-Group Nationals in nearby Milwaukee this fall. The weather can be brutal, but join the Chicago Tri Club for friends to commiserate with or send the kids to the legendary Tri-Masters group, which has been bringing tri to local families for years. When the weather is cold, the downtown Loop neighborhood is full of high-rises and indoor treadmill and cycling studios. Private pools and Masters swim options are everywhere, plus the public park and pool system is ubiquitous and surprisingly cheap.Section divider
In the winter, you might do a little skiing or snowboarding. In the summer, maybe you hike or climb. Throw in a little yoga sometimes, a swimrun race, and a trip to the gym—and you really mean multiple sports when you say multi-sport. It’s important that you can get in your swim-bike-run, and everything else that catches your eye.
A city near the Canadian border between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., Bellingham is a dream for anyone who loves nature, doesn’t mind a little rain, and enjoys medium-town life with big city access. The Bellingham Triathlon Club website says it best: “The San Juan Islands are our front yard, and the Cascades are our backyard.” This is the spot for the athlete who wants to do all the things. Compete in a handful of local triathlons (and the breathtakingly hard Odyssey Swimrun Orcas Island race) in the summer and then enjoy all that the Mt. Baker Ski area has to offer in the winter. When family comes to visit, there’s plenty to keep them busy with whale watching tours, bird watching, fishing, and golfing.
St. George, Utah
With one of the most popular national parks (spanning 2,400 square miles) as your backyard, you’re guaranteed to always find a new adventure in the St. George area. Zion National Park is known for some of the best hiking, backpacking, climbing, and kayaking in the world. For winter sports, Brian Head Ski Resort is just a half-hour drive away and gets an average of 360 inches of snowfall every year. When you’re ready for a more structured challenge, right in town are iconic events like Ironman 70.3 St. George—this year, home to the 70.3 World Championships, the St. George Marathon, and the Tour de St. George. The well-organized and well-attended Southern Utah Triathlon Club offers plenty of opportunities to meet and train with fellow triathletes. And when the desert valley gets over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, simply head to higher elevations or make the two-hour drive to Las Vegas for some indoor activities.
This northeastern gem’s biggest boast is that you can get to the beach, mountains, or river within minutes. Kayaking, sailing, surfing, hiking, and camping are all popular during the summer. Summer can still be chilly and winter is downright frigid, but that’s when you sled, ice skate, or cross-country ski. There are also several ski resorts within a quick drive—Sugarloaf in the Carrabassett Valley is the largest, with 55 miles of groomed trails. Despite its relatively small size, Portland still has a unique arts and cultural scene, and well-known craft beer and local food. The beauty of the location is that you have several races close to home and even more within driving distance. You have off-the-beaten path events right in your backyard, as well as a quick drive to more urban options, like the Boston Triathlon roughly a two-hour drive away. And, of course, all the lobster and fish you want.Section divider
Yes, you train, but really you train to race—and the more racing the better. A big list of nearby races is super important—especially since travel is a little trickier than it used to be. Training options are great, but you’ll take racing opportunities over miles of empty local roads.
If racing is your priority, then you can’t do much better than living in proximity to the events put on by New Jersey-based Delmo Sports. Race director (and founder) Stephen Del Monte and his team put on award-winning races across Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including the hugely popular Women’s Philadelphia Triathlon, Escape the Cape, and the Atlantic City Triathlon. Beyond those events, you’ll have a race to choose from nearly every weekend during the main season. Between April and October in the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, you’ll find 70 triathlon options—spanning from sprint to off-road to Iron-distance. You’ll also get all of the perks that big city life has to offer, including deep historical roots (with 99 museums to choose from) and picturesque spots for training. Perhaps most popular is the nine-mile Kelly Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive loop that hugs both sides of the Schuylkill River.
While Dallas itself hosts a healthy calendar of races, it’s the proximity to other big tri hotspots that makes it so appealing for race lovers. There are plenty of opportunities to fine-tune race skills as a part of the triathlon community at local events like Texasman and the Best of the Best Triathlon. If going longer and chasing 70.3 or M-dot glory is the goal, 70.3 Texas, 70.3 Lubbock, 70.3 Waco (and the new Ironman Waco), Ironman Texas, and Ironman Tulsa are all less than a half-day drive. Dallas is also home to a vibrant triathlon community. Join the Tri-Now club and then head over to the PlayTri store in Northeast Dallas to immediately plug into the multisport vibe. Mild weather year-round also means it’s easy to enjoy the 350 parks and 160 miles of hiking and biking trails. Train hard, race hard, and then head to one of the many Tex-Mex, barbecue, or brewery spots in the area.
If you’re looking for a strong triathlon community, you’d be hard-pressed to find resident triathletes who are more excited about where they live than this Florida triathlon mecca—whenever we poll readers, Clermont always receives by far the most nominations. The city hosts the Great Floridian Triathlon, the Sommer Series, the Lake Louisa Tri, the Space Coast Tri, and an ITU event that even has a draft-legal age-group race. It’s also home to several informal club and training events—like the splash n’ dash races put on by former pro Sara McLarty’s SLAP Tri Team—and world-class facilities, like the pool at the National Training Center. Plus, the central location makes it easy to hop in the car and explore all the other Florida events on the calendar. Food choices aren’t as expansive or as premium as some other towns on our list, but there are some gems, like the Clermont Brewing Company.
From May/June 2021