Editors’ Picks: The United States’ Best Triathlons

We picked our 22 favorite triathlons from across the U.S. Plus: The pros' picks and the most anticipated new races of 2013.

Photo: Eric Bakke

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Pacific West

*Paradise Meets Punishment*
Xterra World Championship (Kapalua, Maui)
Oct. 27, 2013
You’ve gotta qualify to partake in the particular kind of pain inflicted by this Xterra off-road course. It all starts with a one-mile rough-water swim, then it’s on to a lung-busting 30K mountain bike ride and 10K trail run through what is best described by race organizers as “a tropical roller-coaster ride through pineapple fields and forests.” Forget the world titles on the line—you’ll be stoked just to cross the finish line (and never feel so alive getting there).

RELATED PHOTOS: 2012 Xterra World Championship

*Back To Our Roots*
ITU World Triathlon San Diego
April 20, 2013, Olympic and sprint
History, convenience and a whole lotta world-class hoopla characterize the ITU San Diego race. Set in triathlon’s birthplace—Mission Bay—you’ll waste no time on logistics with a short walk to the start from most race hotels. But don’t hustle home after your finish; instead, grab a spot in the ample grandstands to witness the afternoon’s marquee event, where the world’s top pros duke it out, draft-legal style.

RELATED PHOTOS: 2013 ITU World Triathlon Series San Diego

*Mountain High
June Lake Triathlon (Outside Mammoth, Calif.)
July 13, 2013, Half-iron (new for 2013), Olympic, sprint
Think pristine alpine backdrop at 7,600 feet above sea level, with sweeping views of the Sierra Range anywhere you look. A (chilly) freshwater swim precedes a moderately hilly ride around the namesake lake and surrounding lakes. Racers then tackle a stunning yet equally challenging run course that’s a mix of road and trail. Bonus: one of the best finish-line spreads you’ll ever enjoy.

*Surf’s Up*
Sandman Triathlon (Aptos, Calif.)
Aug. 4, 2013, Modified sprint
Swim around the iconic cement ship at Seacliff State Beach, ride the tough yet charming Aptos hills and run four miles on calf-busting beachfront sand in hopes of scoring a beautiful sand trophy, handcrafted by longtime lifeguard Bob Dunker. Proceeds from your triathlon playtime fund the Junior Lifeguard Scholarship program, ensuring a strong next generation of swimmers and swim-course volunteers.

*Up At The Lake*
Rolf Prima Tri at the Grove (Cottage Grove Lake, Ore.)
July 27, 2013, Olympic and sprint
Nature-loving triathlon newbies flock to Cottage Grove Lake to soak up the sun in a warm and welcoming atmosphere for all levels. Athletes won’t want to miss the pre-race social, where a pro panel performs transition demos and participates in an all-inclusive Q&A. An easygoing, outdoorsy Oregonian vibe infuses every aspect of this race, from the lakeside camping option to the off-the-charts organic post-race feast served up by local café Laughing Planet.

Mountain West

*Montana Tough*
Grizzly Tri (Missoula, Mont.)
Apr. 20, 2013, Sprint
Going strong since 1987, the Grizzly Tri draws all types. Exit the pool swim and you’ll see everything from secondhand vintage bikes to tandems to local pro Linsey Corbin’s Trek Speed Concept. Then it’s time to run—straight up the side of Mount Sentinel on a gravel surface. Montana is no place for sissies, and April temps—rumored to range from 7 to 70 degrees—guarantee an unpredictable yet enjoyable adventure.

*Half-Distance, Full Challenge*
Ironman 70.3 St. George (St. George, Utah)
May 4, 2013, Half-iron
Three years after the inaugural Ironman St. George, the race was modified from 140.6 miles to 70.3. Though shorter in distance, the race still offers up one of the most challenging bike and run courses in the United States. Be prepared to take in some great views of clear waters, Snow Canyon and some of the sport’s top pros. As the 2013 Ironman 70.3 U.S. Pro Championship, this race will attract the sport’s top talent.

RELATED PHOTOS: 2011 Ironman St. George

*Why So Serious?*
Cruiserman Triathlon (Tempe, Ariz.)
Sept. 28, 2013, Sprint
Forget wetsuits; this race allows—nay, encourages—the use of arm floaties on the swim. A fun contrast to the very full race calendar at Tempe Town Lake, Cruiserman reminds triathletes not to take themselves too seriously. Dust off your fixed-gear bike and hit the beer garden on your way out of T1. If you don’t do this race, at least go watch it; the costumes will have you giggling for days.

*Make The Pilgrimage*
Ironman 70.3 Boulder
Aug. 4, 2013, Half-iron
Race in the mountain hub of triathlon alongside some of the sport’s fastest amateurs and professionals. The thin air will have you wheezing during the swim, but the bike and courses are flat (for the region) and speedy. Save time after the race to enjoy some of the most picturesque and challenging training grounds in the country. Flagstaff Mountain and the Mesa Trail are two can’t-miss routes for bike and run workouts, respectively.

RELATED PHOTOS: 2012 Ironman 70.3 Boulder

*Test Your Mettle—At 8,000 Feet*
Mountain Man Triathlon (Flagstaff, Ariz.)
Aug. 11, 2013, Half-iron and Olympic
Set in picturesque northern Arizona, Mountain Man offers cool temperatures and blue skies. With a name like Mountain Man, you know this course will present a good challenge. High altitude plus a punishing run (a 450-foot ascent awaits one mile out of T2) will test your physical and mental limits.


*All-Out Time-Trialing Party*
Pigman Sprint Triathlon (Palo, Iowa)
June 2, 2013, Sprint
Need an incentive to get in shape for the summer? Look no further than this Iowa gem with a time-trial swim start and killer prizes. Win your age group, and you get a free entry for next year. You can also enter the raffle to win Zipp wheels, a Kinetic trainer and more. Want to dominate the 22nd edition of the Pigman Sprint? Then practice climbing and bring a hat; the hilly ride through Iowa’s scenic countryside is challenging, and the sunny run can get hot.

*The Country’s Biggest*
Life Time Tri Chicago
Aug. 25, 2013, Olympic and sprint
The Chicago Triathlon offers its own variety of spectacular on-course beauty, weaving through the picturesque Chicago skyline along Lake Michigan. The Second City closes down its major costal freeway to accommodate more than 5,000 athletes. Renowned restaurants and thriving nightlife make the post-race period even sweeter.

RELATED PHOTOS: 2012 Life Time Tri Chicago

*Bring The Family*
Pewaukee Triathlon
(Pewaukee, Wis.)
July 14, 2013, Sprint
The glacial hills of southeastern Wisconsin make for a rolling bike and run course. Popular among beginners and professionals alike, the race is known for its small-town charm and enthusiastic volunteers. Want to make it a family weekend? The event offers a fun kids’ triathlon the day before the adult race.

*Affordable Big-City Challenge*
Tri Indy (Indianapolis)
Aug. 4, 2013, Olympic and sprint
Shaky on the swim? Then jump into Tri Indy, where the first leg of the race is in a beautiful, 5-foot-deep canal. Race through the city with 1,500 fellow triathletes on car-free—but bumpy—roads. And don’t forget an I.D.—beer tasting awaits at the finish line. Even better: The whole experience only costs $65.


*Texas-Size Fun*
TriRock Austin (Austin, Texas)
Sept. 2, 2013, Olympic and sprint
A supremely newbie-friendly race showcasing eclectic Austin, TriRock Austin is a rollicking good time from start to finish, with live music pumping from a boat during the swim and along the entire course. One major highlight is riding down Congress Avenue and in the shadow of the stately capitol building. Other fun features: the finish-line concert and beer garden (if you have a podium day, you can drink from your award—a sturdy glass mug etched with your finish place).

PHOTOS: 2012 TriRock Austin

*All Revved Up*
Rev3 Knoxville (Knoxville, Tenn.)
May 5, 2013, Half-iron and Olympic
The kids will love the inflatable slide; you’ll love the pro treatment that includes a name-tagged transition space. Already signed up? A few tips for Knoxville newbies from 2012 Olympic Rev champ, Kelly Williamson: Be prepared for a challenging bike course; wear tinted goggles as the swim starts right into the sun; and walk to Market Square District after the race for food and entertainment, complete with hippie drum circles.

RELATED PHOTOS: 2012 Rev3 Knoxville

*Epic Climbs And Beauty To Match*
Savageman 70.0 Triathlon (Deep Creek Lake, Md.)
Sept. 15, 2013, Modified half-iron
This is not the place to PR. The beautiful but painful course is nestled in the Allegheny Mountains, but you only get to enjoy the fall scenery between the bike course’s eight climbs, the most notorious of which is Westernport Wall (31 percent grade!), which has Tour de France-like spectator support—think cheering fans in all sorts of getups. If you summit the climb without touching a foot down, your name is engraved on a brick. This race gets rave reviews for organization and attention to detail.

*Options For All*
HITS Ocala Triathlon
(Ocala, Fla.)
March 23-24, 2013, Full, half, Olympic, sprint, open
Florida’s hill country provides a perfect venue for triathletes across all ability levels to enjoy a weekend chock-full of endurance-related fun. There’s even a free “intro to tri” open race for wannabes to test their skills. HITS goes the extra mile to make athletes feel at ease—each gets a dedicated stool in transition and the race director’s cell number in case they need assistance—even during the actual race!


*Not Your Granny’s Turkey Trot*
Pumpkinman Triathlon (South Berwick, Maine)
Sept. 7-8, 2013, Half-iron and sprint
Finishers of Pumpkinman are evangelical about their experience—and for good reason. South Berwick locals go out of their way to offer a race weekend participants won’t forget. If the helpful volunteers and enthusiastic spectator support don’t spur you to a PR, perhaps the post-race buffet will—finishers are treated to a turkey dinner with all the fixings.

*America’s Iconic Ironman*
Ironman Lake Placid (Lake Placid, N.Y.)
July 28, 2013, Iron
Set in the charming former-Olympic ski town of Lake Placid, this race is what Ironman is all about. The centralized athlete village and supportive community give a sense of unity throughout the week, and the relaxed vibe makes it easy to slip into vacation mode before and after the race. Although you’ll be challenged by the hilly bike course, the views of waterfalls, mountains and fly fishers in roadside streams can make you temporarily forget you’re racing.

RELATED PHOTOS: 2012 Ironman Lake Placid

*Eight Stages Of Chaotic Fun*
Survival of the Shawangunks (S.O.S.) Triathlon (New York)
Sept. 8, 2013, Unique
The format of the challenging point-to-point SOS Triathlon takes a minute to grasp: 30-mile bike, 4.5-mile run, 1.1-mile swim, 5.5-mile run, 0.5-mile swim, 8-mile run, 0.5-mile swim, 0.7-mile run. Oh, and did we mention you have to carry your gear the whole time? (Tip: The top finishers have found that the fastest way to swim with running shoes is to shove them in their tri shorts.) You’ll run on carriage trails and swim through multiple mountain lakes on the way to the final steep climb to the finish at a stone tower.

*Green, Clean Racing Machine*
Musselman Triathlon (Geneva, N.Y.)
July 14, 2013, Half-iron
Musselman’s small-town feel, eco-friendly practices (finisher medals are made from recycled bike cogs) and passionate race director all contribute to a well-run race boasting unique perks: The bike course is swept the day before the race, and a bike shop fixes any flats in T1 while racers are still in the water. Swim in one of the crystal-clear Finger Lakes, and bike past pristine Mennonite farms (watch for grooves in the road from buggy wheels!) and rolling vineyards. Enjoy an abundance of fresh fruit post-race, provided by presenting sponsor Red Jacket Orchards.

The Most Anticipated New Races Of 2013

Rev3 Williamsburg (Williamsburg, Va.)
June 23, 2013, Half-iron and Olympic
Just steps away from Colonial Williamsburg, the nation’s largest living history museum, this Rev3 race will feature a swim in the James River, a bike course through the countryside and a finish on the campus of the College of William and Mary, the second oldest college in the nation.

LeadmanTri Epic 125 (Tempe, Ariz.)
April 14, 2013
Moved from the outskirts of Vegas to Tempe, the Leadman 125 (made up of a 2.5K swim, 111.5K bike and 11K run) will feature a flat and fast (and possibly windy) bike course and a run partly on trail through Papago Park. If that’s too intimidating, opt for the Life Time Tri sprint- or Olympic-distance races, or spectate at the USAT Collegiate National Championships the day before.

Rocketman Florida
Triathlon (Titusville, Fla.)
May 5, 2013, Half-iron, modified Olympic and sprint
Here’s your chance to compete on the grounds of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, where you’ll ride past iconic space program landmarks, as well as near the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Keep an eye out for bald eagles!

The Pros’ Favorite Local Races

“For something different, I would recommend people check out the Xterra Real Mountain Bike Triathlon [Granite Bay, Calif., Tbfracing.com]. The water can be chilly, but the bike is fun single-track and the run is amazingly scenic. Xterra always has that more relaxed and fun vibe, and this race has a great community feel.” – Ben Hoffman

“The Reservoir Triathlon [Morgan Hill, Calif., Thresholdracinginc.com] is a fun and well-organized race in a beautifully clean reservoir and on quiet rolling country roads. It’s a great family-friendly venue too!” – Becky Lavelle

“My favorite local race has to be the Buffalo Triathlon [Buffalo, Minn., Tribuff.com]. Brett Oden, a local doctor, initiated this race to encourage fitness and health in his community. Ten years on, it still has a fantastic grass-roots feel, despite the fact that it has grown to be the second largest triathlon in Minnesota. I love the kid volunteers, fantastic live music and my special Minnesota homestay family. The best part about the race? My host drove me to the start in Buffalo Lake in his speed boat!” – Chris Legh

“The Wildflower Triathlon [Lake San Antonio, Calif., Tricalifornia.com] has the local feel of a small festival event. All triathletes should do it once. It combines a tough course with an amazing festival atmosphere. The bike and run are challenging and beautiful. I suffered but enjoyed every minute of it!” – Mary Beth Ellis

“I’ve got to tip my hat to the Wilkes-Barre Triathlon [Wilkes-Barre, Penn., Wilkesbarretriathlon.com]. It’s my hometown race. A classic old-school race that still feels like a grass-roots event. It has an awesome bike course with beautiful backcountry roads, and an 11K run gives you a bonus kilometer to run people down!”
– Timothy O’Donnell

Susan Lacke, Erin Beresini and Holly Bennett contributed to this story.

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