Recalled: Four of the Longest Running Triathlons

While there are always new races, the tried-and-true are here for a reason. Let's take a look back at how four iconic events got started.

Photo: Rocky Arroyo/Endurapix

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Not sure which race to sign up for this season or next? You might want to start with the tried-and-true triathlons that have been around since Ronald Regan was president. In the challenging race production industry during even more challenging times (hello, COVID), these events have stood the test of time and continue to attract athletes year after year. Here are four of the longest-running triathlons out there.

RELATED: Editors’ Choice: Best Triathlons in the U.S.

Escape From Alcatraz 

Established: 1981

2022 Race Date: June 5

How it Started: Around 1980, San Francisco Bay Area resident “Alcatraz Joe” Oakes proposed the idea of a local triathlon after racing the Hawaiian Ironman, which was then held in Honolulu. His idea? A “more intense” race than the Ironman, starting with a very cold swim from Alcatraz, a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, and a run along the hot and hilly Dipsea Trail. And, in June 1981, the first Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon field assembled to do just that. Reportedly, no wetsuits were worn by any competitor, and the earliest athletes took off from a rocky, windswept cove on Alcatraz Island and swam towards Aquatic Park (leading many racers to fall off their bikes due to the shock of the cold-water swim). The race has evolved in many ways over the years (including the $750 entry fee) and no longer crosses the Golden Gate Bridge, but Oakes’ initial vision persists to this day. 

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Tupper Lake Tinman

Established: 1982

2022 Race Date: June 25

How it Started: Inspired by the Hawaii Ironman, which started three years prior, this race in New York’s Adirondacks region is a favorite tune-up for those racing Ironman Lake Placid (Mirror Lake, IMLP’s starting point, is about 30 miles away). Race organizers dubbed their half-Ironman distance race the “Tinman” as a play on the Hawaii race, and over the years, it grew from a hyper-local event with 68 competitors to one that welcomes hundreds of athletes. “The bikes were heavier, wetsuits were rare, bike racks were wooden, buoys were made of milk jugs, and the finish line was held by two people on either side,” an article reflected on the race’s earliest days. Today, the Tinman remains the marquee race, but the event also offers an Olympic, sprint, aquabike, and team relay. 

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L.A. Triathlon Series 

Established: 1983 

2022 Race Date: Oct. 2

Sometime in the early 1980s, Los Angeles businessman and World War II veteran Bill Fulton had a spark of an idea to start a triathlon series in his home city. By 1983, he launched the very-first series in the sport’s history staged in Bonelli Park, a scenic spot in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. Before long, his races became a go-to for some of the best triathletes on the planet, like Olympic silver medalist and Ironman champion Michellie Jones. (Fun fact: The triathlon wetsuit made its debut at one of Fulton’s races, in 1987.) Fulton, who passed away at the age of 93 in 2016, kept the series a family-run affair, with his daughter, Carolyn Wolk eventually taking over until this year, when it changed management. 

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Mission Bay Triathlon

Established: 1988

2022 Race Date: Oct. 9

How it Started: This race may be in its 34th year, but its roots go back even further—all the way to the very first triathlon in the U.S. in 1974. Mission Bay, in San Diego, is considered the “birthplace” of triathlon and served as the site of the race that launched the sport. The format has since changed to a traditional triathlon (the 1974 event featured a run-bike-swim-run), but the multisport essence and enthusiasm has stayed the same. Last year, 1,900 competitors from around the country participated in the event. 

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