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Best Places To Live … For Triathletes!

These U.S. cities are all home to some stellar swim, bike and run training venues and terrain, as well as vibrant multisport cultures.

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What makes a locale ideal for triathletes? As a starting point for uncovering the nation’s best places to live for the swim-bike-run set, we asked readers across the country to weigh in with their picks. Then, the editors dug into research on the top vote getters to whittle our list down to 12 cities (listed in no particular order). What do these places all have in common? Of course they are home to some stellar swim, bike and run training venues and terrain. A vibrant multisport culture and community of fellow triathletes are two musts. What’s the flavor of the local racing scene? We also looked at other variables like climate and cost of living for a reality check.

San Diego, California

Population: 1.3 million

The birthplace of triathlon has remained one of the best places for triathletes to live: consistent 75-degree days for year-round training, hilly inland roads or flat coastal routes, multiple outdoor pools, plenty of local races and one of the nation’s largest triathlon clubs. Considering Triathlete is based here, we may be partial to our surroundings, but the overall healthy lifestyle in Southern California makes for an abundance of triathlon opportunities.

Training highlight: Swim
If you can’t make one Masters group, there’s likely another one happening close by and it’s probably outdoors—the University of California San Diego, Solana Beach Boys and Girls Club, Encinitas YMCA and the 50-meter outdoor pool at the Carlsbad Alga Norte Aquatic Center are a few of the best programs. La Jolla Cove is a popular spot for open-water swimming, but if the ocean intimidates you, there are a plethora of protected coves in Mission Bay.

Standout races
The early-season Ironman 70.3 California sells out every year; local races San Diego International Triathlon, Solana Beach Triathlon and TriRock San Diego (owned by Triathlete parent company, Competitor Group) all draw a mix of beginners and elites.

Don’t move here if…
The benefits of SoCal life don’t outweigh the infamous “sunshine tax,” which is the term used to describe the lower average income but higher cost of living. (In 2015, the median home sale price was $505,000.)

Did you know?
The Tri Club of San Diego is one of the nation’s largest, with nearly 2,000 members, and the perks are awesome—workout options every day of the week, organized races free to members, a private annual viewing of the NBC broadcast of the Ironman World Championship, and all-star speakers such as Chrissie Wellington, Dave Scott and Mirinda Carfrae have headlined club meetings.

RELATED – Triathlon Tour Guide: San Diego County

Boulder, Colorado

Population: 103,166

You’re shocked, we know! Along with San Diego, Boulder inevitably makes the cut as one of the best places for a triathlete to live. The best pro endurance athletes—and that also includes world-class runners and cyclists—base here because of the mix of open roads, mountains and altitude. It’s small enough to feel homey, and offers distinct athlete perks like a strong coffee culture and a sophisticated culinary scene. Winters are fairly mild, and with the right gear you can ride outdoors under typically sunny skies year-round.

Standout races
The BolderBoulder 10K on Memorial Day attracts more than 55,000 people because of its festive feel. Long-standing (now Life Time-owned) Boulder Peak is a popular Olympic distance, and 70.3 Boulder and Ironman Boulder attract out-of-towners. Smaller race organizers Racing Underground put on a quality local race series; during the summers at the Boulder Reservoir there’s a Stroke and Stride event every Thursday to practice open-water swimming.

Don’t move here if…
You’re intimidated by constant pro sightings or won’t settle for anything but an endless summer atmosphere. And, like many others on this list, it’s not the most affordable place to live

A local’s perspective
“Even on your recovery days, you are working harder than your competitors,” says Kona-qualifying age-group athlete and bike fit specialist Ivan O’Gorman. “There are quiet farm roads to the east, big mountains to the west and amazing trail networks. Smart training at altitude is a big advantage. Being here in this environment just makes you faster—period.”

RELATED – Triathlon Tour Guide: Boulder

Tucson, Arizona

Population: 526,116

Sunshine an average of 350 days per year, 630 miles of striped bike paths, more than 300 miles of trails, a flourishing triathlon and running community, several endurance sport-specific retail shops and a long list of can’t-miss restaurants that will make any foodie drool—Tucson is a triathlete’s paradise. Plus, with an average house sale price at just over $190,000, it’s one of the most affordable cities on this list. Yes, temperatures can get up into the triple digits in July and August, but “during those months local athletes either get up earlier to train before the heat of the day or we retreat up Mount Lemmon to the cooler temps and shade of the pine trees,” explains Amy Dillon, Tucson Tri Girls president.

Standout races
In 2016 the Sahuarita Triathlon—held in May about 15 miles South of Tucson—will expand to a two-day event and include both sprint and Olympic distances. The Finis Triathlon at Patagonia Lake is held in late October and, according to Dillon, has earned a reputation as “the toughest Olympic and sprint in the state.” There are also several beginner-friendly triathlons—like the Oro Valley Sprint Triathlon Series—that utilize pools for the swim.

Don’t move here if…
Hometown long-distance races are important to you. The lack of lakes in the area means that you’ll have to travel about 100 miles to Tempe, Ariz., for the closest half-iron (a 70.3 in October) and iron-distance (an Ironman in November) opportunities.

Did you know?
Tucson is surrounded by five mountain ranges—the Rincon Mountains, Tucson Mountains, Santa Catalina Mountains, Santa Rita Mountains and Tortolita Mountains—that contain several state and national parks, making for plentiful opportunities to ride and run among some stunning alpine scenery.

RELATED – Epic Ride: Mt. Lemmon

Austin, Texas

Population: 885,400

If you’re looking for a mix of funky city with a welcoming triathlon culture, there’s no better place than Austin to plant your roots. The triathlon shops and race series thrive in this area as much as the live music scene does, and you’ll never have trouble finding a triathlon club to join—there are more than 10 in the area. Mellow Johnny’s is one of the most community-minded bike shops in the country—the shop hosts group rides most days of the week and has an awesome café and apparel selection. Unique open-water opportunities abound, including Quarry Lake, which is the location of Pure Austin’s Splash-n-Dash series held every Tuesday of the month from April to September.

Training highlight: Run
Whether you want to stay in the city or feel like you’re not in it, Austin has wonderful trail options. Go for a 3- or 10-mile run around Lady Bird Lake, run by waterfalls on the Barton Creek Greenbelt Trail or get away from the city and head to the shady and quiet Shoal Creek.

Standout races
Local races offer something for triathletes of all levels, including the newbie-friendly Rookie Tri (300-meter swim, 11-mile bike, 2-mile run) the team-focused Couples Triathlon, the TriRock sprint or Olympic distance or the late-season Ironman 70.3 Austin.

Don’t move here if…
You can’t hack it during a hot and humid summer. Temperatures are often north of 100 degrees in the summer and early fall.

RELATED PHOTOS: 2015 TriRock Austin

Bend, Oregon

Population: 81,236

Just try visiting Bend without wanting to move there. The peaceful and abundantly green locale is a triathlete’s dream for most of the year (winters can get rough), which is why you’ll find pros Jesse Thomas, Matt Lieto, Linsey Corbin and Heather Jackson taking advantage of the area’s trails, mountainous climbs with barely any traffic, craft beer and farm-to-table restaurants. At more than 3,600 feet, Bend is known as “high desert,” which means there’s no shortage of sunshine, even when temps get cool. It can rival (if not trump) the epic scenery and idyllic training grounds of San Diego and Boulder, but is smaller and much more affordable.

Don’t move here if…
You travel often (flights out of Bend are rarely direct without a connection) or you want to train all year without a snow interruption.

Local’s perspective
What draws people to Bend is cycling and running in the summertime, says pro triathlete Matt Lieto, who has lived in Bend for 12 years. “We have a lot of great three-, four-, five-hour loops that are all super picturesque. I moved here because it’s a place that has seasons, so it forces me to take a break. Bend is also a place for people who want to do other things, like cyclocross, mountain biking and Nordic skiing.”

RELATED – Triathlon Tour Guide: Bend, Oregon

Clearwater, Florida

Population: 109,703

If stumbling out of bed and onto some of the most beautiful beaches in the world is a priority for you—and we’d guess your family—then Clearwater is worth a look. On top of its renowned white sand beaches, the smallish city features several top-notch lap pools and paths for biking and hiking, as well as the Cleveland Street Retail and Entertainment District to keep you well fed and entertained. With St. Petersburg (home to the 3,000-member St. Pete Mad Dogs Triathlon Club) and Tampa (the location of Ironman headquarters) a short drive away, alternate training options, job possibilities and travel opportunities are easily accessible.

Standout races
In addition to the beginner-friendly TriRock Triathlon Series Clearwater race (taking place in early November), there are several well-known races nearby. Most notable is the St. Anthony’s Triathlon, located in St. Petersburg, which is known as being among both the oldest and largest triathlons in the country.

Don’t move here if…
You can’t handle humidity! The year-round warmth comes with a hefty side of humidity that can be tough to handle when temperatures reach the 90s during the summer months.

Did you know?
Clearwater played host to the first Ironman 70.3 World Championship in 2006. It continued to hold the event until 2011, when the race moved to Henderson, Nev., for three years and then started to annually rotate around the world.

RELATED – Race Radar: TriRock Clearwater

Maui, Hawaii

Population: 163,019

The second largest of the Hawaiian islands, Maui is home to a vibrant community of triathletes who train year-round in a postcard-perfect setting—think clear, crystal blue ocean swims among coral reefs teeming with colorful fish and honu (Hawaiian for turtles), and winding rides and runs set against a lush rainforest setting with sweeping coastal views.

Training highlight: Swim
You won’t lack motivation—or willing training partners—when diving in here. Informal open-water swims take place every Sunday morning, meeting at 8:15 at South Makena Beach Park fronting the Maui Prince Hotel. The Kihei Aquatic Center, home to the Kihei Valley Isle Masters Swimmers program, has an eight-lane 50-meter pool and a 25-yard pool. The Maui Masters Swim Club also organizes a number of workouts and swim programs, including a triathlon swim clinic.

Training highlight: Bike
Three popular routes with variations make for unforgettable island riding: The Haleakala crater ride is 36 miles with 10,000 feet of climbing that starts in Paia at the intersection of Hana Highway and Baldwin; Road to Hana is a narrow, winding road that starts in South Maui or Twin Falls in Paia (the entire loop is 115 miles); and the West Maui Circle is a 60-mile ride marked by a steep climb.

Don’t move here if…
You melt in the heat and humidity. Maui is characterized by microclimates that yield varying humidity, wind and rain at different elevations, but daytime temperatures average between 75 and 90 degrees much of the year, and the island sees consistently humid conditions.

Standout races
The XTERRA international off-road triathlon series culminates each October with the world championship race, which takes place in Kapalua, on the southwest side of the island. (Who wouldn’t want to take on a triathlon challenge described as “a tropical roller coaster ride through pineapple fields and forest”?) The South Maui Triathlon in May is an Olympic-distance race in Wailea.

RELATED – Triathlon Tour Guide: Maui

San Francisco, California

Population: 837,442

There are fewer more expensive places to live in the U.S., but if you can stomach the housing costs, San Francisco has incredible training grounds and some of the nation’s best food and drink options to fuel your lifestyle. Within the city, which is a small area (49 square miles), you can train within national parks—Golden Gate Park is 7.5 miles around and contains a loop for cycling and a huge trail system to go off-road or run. The Headlands have hills for repeats, and Highway 1 rolls along the coast for hundreds of miles. Most people ride over the bridge (and through the tourists) to get to Marin County, and once you’re there, the riding and trail running is sublime. There’s a healthy mix of public and private pools, and if cold-water swimming is your thing, the nutty local swim clubs go into Aquatic Park year-round without wetsuits (it gets in the low 50s!).

Standout races
Escape From Alcatraz is a bucket-list race for most triathletes and showcases the city in an exclusive and spectacular way. The whole experience, from chilly water jump-in to the sand ladder run, is like no other. Races in Santa Cruz are drivable, like the local Olympic-distance race in September. It’s a surf-entry swim around the harbor with seals barking at you, and the run course hugs the coast and offers the potential to watch whales breaching.

Don’t move here if…
Your income is far south of six figures.

Training highlight: Bike

There are some can’t-miss bakery stops within rides in Marin County. Bovine Bakery in Point Reyes Station is a popular halfway destination because it’s 40 miles outside the city, so cyclists earn their massive muffin.

RELATED PHOTOS: 2015 Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon

Seattle, Washington

Population: 652,405

Sure, it rains a decent amount in the Pacific Northwest, but if you can adapt to it (like most local triathletes have), Seattle is a multisport gem. The city is progressive in improving its bike friendliness, with protected bike lanes popping up in popular areas and massive initiatives in the pipeline to improve cycling access. Within the city, you can find a difficult and scenic running route through Discovery Park, which has more than 9 miles of trails. And if you like good coffee, you’ve come to the right place.

Standout races
In addition to the nearby Ironman 70.3 Lake Stevens and sprint and Olympic race Seafair Triathlon, Seattle also offers cool single-sport events that triathletes will love, like the Fat Salmon 3.2-mile open-water race in July, where winners take home an actual salmon, or the multiple options for trail running races, like the Evergreen Trail Series and Northwest Trail Runs.

Don’t move here if…
Your motivation directly correlates to the amount of sunshine.

Did you know?
Endurance sports-focused companies like Brooks Running, Oiselle, Blueseventy and Nuun are headquartered here.

RELATED – Triathlon Tour Guide: Seattle

St. George, Utah

Population: 76,817

With the smallest population on the list and a median house cost of $214,000, St. George is an affordable spot to be a triathlete. The area suits those who are seeking quiet roads and the simplicity of a small-town feel, but who also get excited about easy access to parks—the magnificent Zion National Park is less than an hour away. There are red-rock trails for running, epic climbs for riding and Utah’s largest aquatic center is right in town. Summers are hot and dry and winters are generally mild for year-round training. Pro triathletes Heather and Trevor Wurtele have spent a good deal of time training in St. George, and, compared to San Diego where they have lived in the last year, they appreciate the lack of traffic and stoplights in the area.

Standout races
Ironman 70.3 St. George shows off the region and its signature red rocks over the course of one of the toughest half-Ironmans on the circuit. If it says anything about how hard riding and running on that landscape can be, there used to be an Ironman here but it got cancelled—DNF’s and course difficulty seemed to scare people off!

Don’t move here if…
You thrive in a bustling, always buzzing city. Small-town appeal is what draws most residents here.

RELATED PHOTOS: Age Groupers Of Ironman 70.3 St. George

Wilmington, North Carolina

Population: 112,067

With a busy local race scene, beautiful beaches and mild enough winters to train through, Wilmington is a very livable place for triathletes, especially for those with families. A factor that could bump Wilmington to the top of our list is the potential of TriHabitat, the first all-inclusive “Disneyland for triathletes.” It’s still in its funding phase, but the plans include everything a multisport athlete would want for a training and racing destination: smooth, perfect roads on an enclosed bike course, the perfect temperature and water quality-controlled lake, permanent transition area, the potential for nighttime races and much more. Wilmington also has a solid string of triathlete-friendly stores (Bike Cycles, TrySports, Toad Hollow Athletics) and local triathlon clubs, and the University of North Carolina Wilmington has a Masters swim and triathlon team. The Gary Shell Cross-City Trail is a new, 15-mile off-road, multi-use trail for running or cycling. There’s also a charming historic downtown area and an active waterfront with plenty of bars and restaurants.

Standout races
Known best for its half and full iron-distance race Beach2Battleship, Wilmington-based Set Up Events hosts an impressively full calendar of events in the area from March through October. (*Editor’s note: Since initial publication, Ironman has purchased Beach2Battleship and the newly-branded Ironman North Carolina will take place on Oct. 22.)

Don’t move here if…
You’re looking for outstanding, hilly riding routes—the area is flat, and roads can be busy. Further inland, near towns like Asheville or Boone, you’ll find better access to mountainous riding.

Off-season appeal
Value your varied off-season pursuits just as much as your PR goals? The Intracoastal Waterway is a popular spot to kayak, canoe, water-ski or kneeboard.

RELATED: This New Triathlon Facility Looks Insane

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Population: 173,366

The outdoor adventure-friendly city with Southern charm will be the host of the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in 2017, and it’s also one of the best places for an active, adventurous person to make home. Off-road junkies will appreciate the hundreds of miles of singletrack for mountain biking and trail running, and outdoor enthusiasts can find easy access to rock climbing and hang gliding. There are regular open-water swims with the COWS (Chattanooga Open Water Swimmers) during the week, and the Riverwalk, which parallels the Tennessee River, is the perfect long run spot. With eclectic neighborhoods filled with cafés, yoga studios, small boutiques and an arts district, Chattanooga has a lot of character. It also sits right in the middle of Atlanta and Nashville—both are about two hours away—so weekend trips for a city fix are easy.

Did you know?
Kids will love the waterfront, top-rated Tennessee Aquarium, which has the world’s largest gathering of freshwater species.

Standout races
All within Chattanooga, you can do an Olympic (Chattanooga Waterfront Triathlon in July) up to an Ironman, which features a downstream swim, in September. If you’re looking for a standalone road race, the popular Chattanooga Chase 8K has been around for nearly 50 years.

Don’t move here if…
You’re happiest in a bigger city or on the coast. It’s a hard spot to argue against!

RELATED: Chattanooga To Host 2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championships