Spin the globe to these triathlon destinations and check out top pros tips on where to race, how to train—and how to make new adventures even if you stay close to home.
Written by Brian Metzler, Chris Foster, and Rachel Sturtz
Ironman South Africa
TBD 2020, Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Set in the quiet beachside community of Port Elizabeth, along breathtaking and picturesque Nelson Mandela Bay, Ironman South Africa has grown in popularity for the past decade and was runner-up in the 2017 Ironman Athletes’ Choice Awards. This coastal city with a small-town vibe comes alive on race weekend, making it feel like an all-encompassing party for participants and spectators alike.
The race begins with a one-lap 2.4-mile rectangular swim from the typically calm and temperate (think mid-70s) Hobie Beach. From T1, athletes head out on an amended two-lap, undulating but fast bike course along Marine Drive that overlooks Sardinia Bay and the rugged coastline en route to the turnaround point at Seaview Village. The 26.2-mile run course keeps you in it with typically more than 75,000 people lining the four-loop coastline circuit. Voted as the best Ironman run course in the world, it’s an invigorating experience with elements of Kona, the Tour de France, and the New York City Marathon wrapped into a grand finish line on Hobie Beach.
“The course and crowd support make it truly a remarkable experience,” says local age-grouper Audrey Seale, a four-time Ironman South Africa finisher, who is signed up again for 2019. “I’ve done Ironman races in Argentina and Kona, but the Port Elizabeth event is my favorite. There’s nothing quite like it, with all of those people cheering you on as you loop the run course to the finish on the beach.”
Muse Restaurant (Muserestaurant.co.za) is a family-owned establishment that features many European and South African dishes, as well as some of the best locally produced wines.
Make time to visit the Shamwari Game Reserve (Shamwari.com), one of the world’s most respected safari companies. A safari drive tour will reveal elephants, zebras, rhinos, cheetahs, giraffes, and other native wildlife in five of South Africa’s eight biomes.
Racing there? Traincation Here: Cape Town, South Africa
If you’re planning to race Ironman South Africa, consider a training vacation in Cape Town. The autumnal weather in March and April is typically mild to warm, dry, and mostly sunny, making for ideal training conditions. Stay along the Atlantic seaboard, aka the Cape Town Riviera, where you’ll find great running routes, long rides, and open- water swimming in calm waters adjacent to white-sand beaches—not to mention nice hotels, great restaurants, and local shops. “Apart from it being a tourist destination, we really do have a lot to offer for triathlon training,” says local Steve Attwell, head coach for Embark Triathlon Training (Embark.co.za), which features coached group training, personalized training, and training for visiting triathletes.
Another option if you want to stay closer to home: Ironman Cozumel
Nov. 24, Cozumel, Mexico
Ironman Cozumel has many of the best features of Ironman South Africa. It’s located in an exotic vacation destination with a supportive, festival vibe and features a pristine, clear-water swim; a flat, fast, three-lap bike course; and a well-supported three-lap run course that guides participants through to the finish line at city hall. “Normally Cozumel is a quiet resort destination,” says Mike Isacson, an age-grouper from the Chicago area, “but during Ironman the entire island comes alive. It’s like a massive party filled with music and vibrant color and Caribbean style. “The race was tapped as the best swim, bike, and host- city experience, and the event most likely recommended to a friend in Ironman’s 2017 Athletes’ Choice Awards.
Aug. 18, Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, Canada
Cody Beals has known about the grandeur of the Mont-Tremblant resort since he was a youngster. “We used to go there on family vacations, so it’s always been on my radar as one of the most beautiful places on earth,” says Beals, a professional triathlete from Guelph, Ontario, who has raced Olympic-distance, 70.3, and full Ironman races at the resort 80 miles northwest of Montreal. “Since I’ve raced there, I have a new appreciation [of] how beautiful it is. It’s by far the most amazing place I have ever raced.” Beals was plenty amazing himself when he won the 2018 Ironman Mont-Tremblant in August, setting a new bike course split and overall record (8:10). “Even if you’re a strong cyclist, I would consider using a bigger cassette than you normally would, and if you’re not a strong cyclist I would consider using a compact crank set. “The swim consists of one big 2.4-mile loop in the 71-degree waters of Lake Tremblant, while the rolling and scenic two-lap run course sends athletes along a section of the former route of Le P’tit Train du Nord (the Train of the North), past a large waterfall and alongside three lakes before returning to Tremblant Resort. Beals’ biggest tip? “Try to learn a little bit of French,” says Beals, who said a few words in French at last year’s awards ceremony in a town known for its European charm and French-Canadian culture. “If you learn a few phrases, the locals will really appreciate it.” Even if it’s just, “Merci!”
Check out one of the six Mont-Tremblant resort hotel properties (Tremblant.ca); all are within walking distance to the race expo and start and finish areas. Slightly more affordable nearby options include Hotel Mont-Tremblant (Hotel-monttremblant.com), Le Grand Lodge Tremblant (Legrandlodge.com), and Comfort Inn (Comforttremblant.com).
There are many restaurant options within the resort village, ranging from French-influenced cuisine and lakeside dining at Restaurant La Quintessence & Winebar (Restaurantquintessence.com) to the simple but tasty pasta and pizzas at La Pizzateria (Pizzateria.com) and just about everything in between.
Casino de Mont-Tremblant (Casinos.lotoquebec.com) offers a variety of gambling opportunities (poker, black jack, baccarat, and slot machines), stage shows, and comedy acts.
Racing There? Traincation here: Burlington, Vt.
When it comes to endurance sports, The Queen City has all the trappings—great places for long, rolling rides, plenty of rail trails for uninterrupted running, and open-water swimming in Lake Champlain. It also has similar weather as Mont-Tremblant, even though it’s situated about 3 hours to the southeast. The Lake Champlain Bikeway is a network of routes in the Lake Champlain Valley that includes more than a dozen loops between 10 to 60 miles in length near Burlington. The Island Line Trail is a 14-mile flat, crushed gravel route that heads through the middle of Lake Champlain on a causeway, ideal for long runs and tempo workouts. The Champlain Valley Open Water Swimmers is a meet-up group that meets once or twice a week in the summer, typically from North Beach.
Another Option on the West Side: Ironman Canada
July 28, Whistler, BC, Canada
One of North America’s original Ironman races, this classic just keeps getting better. Like the race in Mont-Tremblant, it’s set adjacent to a world-class ski resort amid lush forests and stunning mountain vistas. Based on Ironman’s 2017 Athletes’ Choice Awards, Ironman Canada has the best swim, run, and race venue in the Ironman circuit, as well as the race offering the best overall satisfaction. The race starts at nearby Alta Lake with a self- seeded, two-loop, 2.4-mile, wetsuit-legal swim in shallow water that’s typically 64 to 71 degrees. There’s a new 112-mile bike course on tap in 2019—it’s both hillier and more scenic with more miles logged on Sea-to-Sky Highway—and it should be one of the most challenging Ironman rides in North America. The two-loop, double out-and-back run course rolls continually as it follows Valley Trail past Lost Lake and Green Lake before returning to spectator-friendly Whistler Village.
July 7, Roth, Germany
Welcome to the Super Bowl of triathlon, a decadent spectacle of human endurance that should be on every age-grouper’s bucket list. Held in the heart of Bavaria since 1984, Challenge Roth is the world’s largest long-distance triathlon, typically drawing 3,400 individual competitors and 650 relay teams from 75 countries. But what makes Challenge Roth so otherworldly? An estimated 250,000 spectators come out every year to cheer on pros and age-groupers alike, lining every juncture of the swim, run, and bike courses.
The race begins with a single-loop 2.4-mile swim in Main-Danube Canal, with screaming spectators lining the banks and bridges. The rolling, two-lap, 112-mile ride has one significant climb and descent per lap and a Tour de France atmosphere with crowds, music, and revelry in each of the dozen or so villages along the course. The marathon run course was modified for 2018 with a flat, one-lap circuit that sends athletes along the canal and through the city streets of Roth and Büchenbach to the most thrilling triathlon finish line outside of Kona. A massive finish-area party and a spectacular fireworks show cap off the amazing day after the last racers cross the line.
The Arvena Park Hotel (Arvena.de) is the official race accommodation partner, but there are many other hotels in Roth. Camping is available adjacent to the swim start from the Wednesday before the race until the Wednesday after the race.
Be sure to stop in the Waldblick Restaurant Café (Waldblick-roth.de) for traditional German fare, including cordon bleu, bratwurst, schnitzel, and spätzle.
If you make time to see one thing, make a visit to Schloss Ratibor, a castle built between 1535-1538. It has served many uses during the past five centuries (hunting lodge, factory, jail), but now it houses a museum, library, and city council chambers.
Racing there? Traincation here: Font Romeu, France
Situated at 6,100 feet in the French Pyrenees, Font Romeu is an increasingly popular high-altitude training hub that attracts world-class athletes from dozens of sports. There is a wealth of great cycling and running routes, plus a 400-meter track, two swimming pools, and dormitory accommodations at the National Altitude Training Centre (Cnea-fontromeu.com). Roth is a day’s drive away, but it is possible to connect via several trains.
June 9, Cairns, Queensland, Australia
Known as the “Ironman in Paradise,” this event has everything to make it the ultimate Australian race vacation. Situated amid the stunning tropical environment of North Queensland, the Cairns race venue is adjacent to the Coral Sea, several national parks, and the world’s oldest rainforest. With a backdrop of rainforest mountains, the race begins with a 2.4-mile, one-lap swim in the balmy waters of Palm Cove—a rectangular loop that parallels the beaches adjacent to Williams Esplanade. From there, competitors head out for a spectacular 112-mile ride and down Captain Cook Highway along the Coral Sea coastline, a route considered to be among the best bike courses in the entire Ironman circuit. Then it’s a three-lap, 26.2-mile run along the palm tree-lined beachfront walkways of Cairns Esplanade and Marina, where throngs of tourists, sunbathers, and restaurant patrons cheer participants to the finish line. The event is part of an eight-day adventure festival that also includes a 70.3 race, an ocean-swimming event, mountain- bike races, a kids’ triathlon, and a neon-infused nighttime 5K.
Mantra Hotels (Mantrahotels.com.au) has three moderately priced properties in Cairns, all within close proximity to the race venue. For a luxury hotel stay, check out The Abbott Cairns (Theabbott.com.au).
Be sure to head to Prawn Star (Prawnstar.cafeleader.com)—a restaurant situated on a boat in Marlin Marina— for fresh seafood and festive maritime ambiance.
The Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef system, off the coast of Queensland, is a must-see attraction, either by scuba, snorkeling, yacht excursion, or helicopter tour.
Racing There? Traincation Here: Noosa, Heads, Australia
When it comes to tri training, Noosa Heads is the San Diego of Australia. Not only do many pros spend their summers here, it also offers great places to swim and run. (But like San Diego, cycling along the Sunshine Coast can be challenging because of busy roads and aggressive drivers.) The Noosa Tri Club (Noosatriclub.com) is a great resource for swimming sessions and group runs and rides. Connect with Nick Croft, a local coach who hosts several training camps every year (Multisportconsultants.com).
No Passport Required: Ironman Boulder
June 9, Boulder, Colo.
If you can’t make it to the triathlon mecca of Australia, then race in one of the triathlon hubs of the U.S. Home to numerous pros and even more committed age-groupers, Boulder has great places to ride, dirt-road running routes, several outdoor pools, and numerous massage and physio practitioners, plus a variety of tri, running, and bike shops. The race is a point-to-point event that starts at Boulder Reservoir and ends with an exciting finish in the downtown restaurant and shopping district adjacent to Pearl Street Mall. The race consists of a 2.4-mile wetsuit swim, a three-lap, 112-mile ride on undulating rural roads, and a 26.2-mile run from the Reservoir to Boulder Creek Path, where thousands of raucous spectators line the course.
Dispatches From the Tri Travel Frontier: Patagonman
December 1, Coyhaique, Chile
The Adventure: In southern Chile, in a region so remote and rugged it was inaccessible by car until 2003, the Patagonman Xtreme Triathlon hosts a jaw-droppingly beautiful—and brutal—point-to-point full iron-distance race. The race takes place in December, springtime in Patagonia. It begins in the middle of the icy Aysén Fjord after a leap from a ferry boat. The cycling course follows the storied Carretera Austral—a stretch of road with 8,000 feet of climbing and an absolute wall of wind in the second half. A run along a gaucho-tread singletrack leads to a panoramic view of the Patagonian Andes’ largest peaks, including Cerro Castillo, and takes runners past some of the region’s glacier lakes and thundering waterfalls.
Get There: For those in North America—New York, Miami, Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas offer direct flights to Santiago. From Europe, nonstop flights to the Chilean capitol leave from Paris, London, Madrid, and Rome. From Santiago, it’s a 2.5-hour flight into Balmaceda and a 50-minute drive from the airport to Coyhaique, race central.
Why It’s Tricky: Unless you live in South America, it’s a haul no matter where you’re from: The direct flight to Santiago clocks in around nine hours for Americans and 14 hours for Europeans. Things get worse if you miss your flight from Santiago to Balmaceda, an often-booked route throughout the day. Some airlines include a layover in Puerto Montt, but neglect to say so on your ticket, so if you get o the plane assuming you’re in Balmaceda—as this writer did—there’s an airport barman who will pour you a stiff drink. Because the Aysén Region is the least populated region in Chile, know that options as far as hotels, restaurants, and other amenities will be limited. Brush up on your Spanish.
Why It’s Worth It: It will be most beautiful triathlon you’ve ever raced. Even at its most sadistic, the race rewards its victims with shockingly stunning views. Racers told us they refused to stop because they couldn’t bear missing whatever was around the next corner. The Aysén Region is home to three climate zones, and all of the fjords, mountains, glaciers, temperate rainforests, and steppes you can cram into a Tennessee-sized territory.
If You Go: Choose your own adventure. Drive the 770-mile Carretera Austral, which winds past a grab bag of glaciers, mountains, rivers, and rainforests, and some of the world’s most beautiful national parks. Explore the newly created Patagonia National Park, part of the one million acres of land donated for conservation by Doug and Kris Tompkins, founders of Patagonia and The North Face. For polar explorers, it’s an hour-and-a-half flight from Balmaceda to Punta Arenas, the gateway to Antarctica, where you can charter a plane or travel the Drake Passage to hang with penguins.
Dispatches From Tri Travel Frontier: Israman
January 2020, Eilat, Israel
The Adventure: Located in the seaside resort town of Eilat, on the southernmost tip of Israel—wedged between the Jordanian and Egyptian border—Israman hosts super tough half and full iron-distance races, traditionally held on the last weekend of January (2020 date TBD). A no-wetsuit-needed swim in the crystal-clear Red Sea gives way to a grueling bike with a 2,600- foot climb, harsh winds, and a course that literally takes you within meters of the heavily guarded Egyptian border. Given the time of year, conditions can either be mild or freezing, depending on the mood of the high-desert winds. A bone-shattering descent at the beginning of the run gives way to a flat waterfront section later.
Get There: From most European countries, you can find direct flights into Ovda Airport, just outside of Eilat. From North America, adventurous travelers need to fly into Tel Aviv and make the 3.5-hour drive south or board another small plane to fly in directly. If you drive from Tel Aviv, you’ll go through nearly all of Israel on the ride.
Why It’s Tricky: For Europeans, it’s not. North Americans, however, stare down the barrel of a 10- to 14-hour—bare minimum—flight to Tel Aviv before making it down to Eilat (expect more time, based on connections). Also, if you don’t practice Orthodox Judaism, expect a few little cultural surprises like automatic elevators on Saturdays, strict Kosher food prep rules, and big breakfasts—also, don’t wear your spandex at holy sites.
Why It’s Worth It: It’s insanely tough—mostly due to the brutal bike course’s climb/winds/temperatures, but it’s also an excellent way to combine a love of triathlon and history. Imagine riding a space-age carbon rocket one day, and then glimpsing the roadside site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found the next.
Quick Pick: Ironman New Zealand
2020 TBD, Taupo, New Zealand
Ironman New Zealand is celebrating its 35th event this year with the same Kiwi spirit that has led to every participant being treated like an honored local. It was named the top Ironman event based on overall athlete satisfaction in 2016, and it regularly gets high marks for its swim, bike, run courses, post-race celebration, and host city. Held amid stunning scenery in Taupo since 1999, the event includes a one-lap swim in Lake Taupo, one of the world’s largest freshwater lakes; a two-loop bike through villages and rural farmland; and a three-lap, spectator-friendly run course along the lake.
Quick Pick: Ironman Austria
July 7, Klagenfurt, Austria
Although it has gotten only sparse attention in North America, Ironman Austria is one of Europe’s most notable events. The one-lap swim in the clear, mild waters of Lake Wörthersee (typically 75 degrees on race day) includes a unique final half-mile in a narrow canal leading to T1. A new, one-loop bike course has been implemented for 2019 that includes four significant ascents and almost 5,000 feet of climbing. The two-loop run course is flat and partially shaded, taking runners along the lake and into the Klagenfurt city center before concluding with a grand finish-line promenade back at the lake.
Quick Pick: Ironman Lanzarote
May 25, Canarias, Spain
This Ironman race in the Canary Islands is not only one of the hardest and most remote events in the triathlon world, but it’s also one of the most remarkable in the sport. The island is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve with 300 ancient volcanic cones, black lava fields similar to Kona, an array of spectacular beaches, and world-renowned resorts. The race includes a two-lap swim at Playa Grande in the heart of the tourist district, followed by a challenging (and windy!) bike course with 8,400 feet of climbing, and a flat, three- lap seaside run course that culminates on Playa de Carmen amid thousands of cheering spectators. Think: Kona prep.
Noosa Triathlon Multisport Festival
Oct. 30-Nov. 3, Queensland, Australia
The world’s largest Olympic-distance triathlon (with more than 8,000 participants) is part of a five-day multisport festival in Noosa Heads that celebrates sports participation, healthy living, fitness, and fun. Started in 1983, the Noosa Triathlon is a legendary event known for elite racing, age-group participation, and the best post-race party on the planet. The festival includes nearly a dozen events in all, including a road ride, 1K ocean swim, 5K running race, a 5K fun run, plus a charity golf event, family events, kids races, and more. If you want to experience one of the world’s legendary races and heaps and heaps of Aussie culture, get yourself to Noosa Beach in November.