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Our Guide To Under-The-Radar Races to Consider In 2021

2021 is the year to get back to racing, travel lightly, and support your local event. Take a look at our favorite 14 underrated multisport events.

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Racing is back! It’s time to zip up your wetsuit, clip into your bike (not just your quarantine-purchased Peloton), lace up your shoes, and get back to focused training. Sure you’ve seen M-dot-branded tris on the calendar, but we’re happy to report some of the best independently owned and non-Ironman series races of all distances also survived the dumpster fire that was 2020. Of course, they’re slightly different, with COVID-19 protocols put in place (e.g., masks in transition, temperature checks, smaller capacities, very staggered starts), but racing is racing, and sometimes a homegrown race is just what the doctor ordered. Get one of these 14 local tris on your calendar—stat.

RELATED – Special Report: Stay Local, Race Local

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Western Region

Iron distance
Alpha Win Palm Springs 140.6
Oct. 23, 2021 | La Quinta, California |

Formerly the HITS Endurance series, Alpha Win maintains that small-race feel and accommodates all distances, from sprint to iron, at most destinations. The Palm Springs race in Southern California is the “crown jewel” of the series and serves as its championship. The flat and fast 140.6-mile course takes athletes on a swim through Lake Cahuilla in La Quinta and then throughout the picturesque Coachella Valley, which boasts a sunny and dry climate.

Half-iron distance
Donner Lake Half Triathlon
July 25, 2021 | Truckee, California |

Located 20 miles west of Lake Tahoe, Donner Lake showcases the alpine beauty of the region without the crowds. The Donner Lake Half, now in its eighth year, was an add-on distance to the long-standing Olympic-distance Donner Lake Triathlon, now in its 39th year. The USAT-certified course features a 1.2-mile loop in brisk Donner Lake (water temps 64-69 degrees) followed by a completely paved 56-mile bike course on Old Highway 40. The bike includes a climb up the 1,125-foot Donner Pass, which has views of the lake and Truckee Valley. The course wraps up with a two-loop run, totalling 13.36 miles. Make the race part of your summer vacation—it features a kids’ tri the day before the Olympic and half.

Olympic distance
Lake Wilderness Triathlon
June 5, 2021 | Maple Valley, Washington |

This summer race takes place about 25 miles southeast of Seattle in Lake Wilderness Park. The course starts with a 0.93-mile swim in Lake Wilderness and a staggered deep-water start with water temperatures in the low to mid-60s. Athletes then take on the 27.54-mile bike course, which begins in the park then travels through the quiet roads of Maple Valley and Ravensdale and back (the course is open to vehicular traffic). The 10K run, which is half trail and half paved, includes a run along the Cedar River trail and has a few moderate hills before ending back at Lake Wilderness Park. The race also offers a sprint distance.

Short course
XTERRA Lake Tahoe Off-Road Triathlon
Aug. 21, 2021 | Incline Village, Nevada |

This classic off-road tri course starts from the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, a deep and clear alpine lake. The 1500-meter swim takes off from a sandy beach and features two loops with a short beach run in between. The challenging 22-mile mountain bike begins up a sandy gradual climb before popping onto Flume Trail, which skirts the mountainside and overlooks Lake Tahoe. Athletes then ride past Marlette Lake and down the rocky Tahoe Rim Trail with stunning views—be sure to bring your fitness, as the course features 4,000 total feet of climbing. The race ends with a 6-mile, two-loop run on a relatively flat, aspen-lined trail that includes a few creek crossings. An off-road sprint-distance race is also offered.

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Mountain Region

Half-iron distance
Mountain Man Triathlon
Aug. 15, 2021 | Flagstaff, Arizona |

Now 36 years in, this family-run Southwestern event is the fifth oldest tri west of the Mississippi River. It takes place right after Arizona’s “monsoon” season, which means flora in full bloom along the route. The course totals 70.4 miles for the long-course event (an extra one-tenth of a mile on the bike). The race starts from Upper Lake Mary, which averages 70 degrees F temperatures. Athletes get stunning views of the San Francisco Peaks, Lake Mary, and Mormon Lake on the bike ride, which is mostly flat save for one 395-foot climb. The course ends with an out-and-back run on paved roads along Lake Mary, with one decent hill.

Half-iron distance
Harvest Moon Long Course Triathlon
Sept. 11, 2021 | Boulder, Colorado |

Established in 2000, this race has become a Colorado classic that offers a challenge for beginners and veterans alike—minus the branded name. The long-course race starts with a 1.2-mile swim in the crystal-clear Boulder Reservoir followed by a two-loop, 56-mile rolling ride through Boulder County. The two-lap run takes athletes around the reservoir on dirt roads and trails before a Slip ‘n’ Slide finish. Even before COVID-19, race organizers maintained a small participant cap so that they could provide a quality experience for every athlete.

Short course
Southern Utah Triathlon
Oct. 23, 2021 | Hurricane, Utah |

About 18 miles northeast of St. George lies Quail Creek Reservoir, where this sprint and Olympic event takes place. It starts with a swim in the reservoir (one lap for sprint, two laps for Olympic), then a scenic bike ride toward Leeds. The out-and-back bike course is 100 percent paved and relatively straight and flat with one solid climb. The out-and-back run course wraps around Quail Creek Reservoir, just past the dam, and is entirely paved as well.

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Midwest Region

Iron distance
Michigan Titanium
Aug. 22, 2021 | Grand Rapids, Michigan |

Thanks to a team who put in place new safety measures and revamped logistics, the Michigan Titanium—the only full-distance race in the state, which has been around since 2012—will return in person for 2021. It will take place at the same venue—Versluis Park in Plainfield Township—and will also include a virtual option for those who don’t yet feel safe returning to in-person racing. The course starts with a two-loop, spectator-friendly swim in the clean and clear Versluis Lake. Athletes then head east on the bike for a two-loop course before transitioning to the run, which is an out-and-back, four-loop course for the full distance. The race offers half and Olympic distances as well, and registration is currently capped at 600 athletes, so sign up soon.

Half-iron distance
Tulsa Half Triathlon
June 27, 2021 | Barnsdall, Oklahoma |

The Tulsa Triathlon course, which offers half and Olympic distances, is centered around Birch Lake in Twin Peaks Cove, about 45 miles north of Tulsa. The two-loop 1.2-mile swim in Birch Lake has a beach start and finish. Athletes then take on the bike course, a two-loop, 56-mile paved bike route and end  with a two-loop run course on a mix of pavement and packed gravel before the finish back at Twin Peaks Cove.    

Short course
Texasman Triathlon
May 2, 2021, Valley View, Texas |

Located about an hour north of Dallas, this 20-year Texas tradition is located at Johnson Branch State Park. Offered in three distances—sprint, Olympic, and “X-50” (1-mile swim, 40-mile bike and 9-mile run)—each course begins with a beach swim start in water that averages 71-74 degrees F. The bike ride is mostly flat with some mild “Texas hills” then a mostly tree-lined run through a state park.

Eastern Region

Iron distance
Great Floridian Triathlon
Oct. 23, 2021 | Clermont, Florida |

With its 30th event this year, the Great Floridian is the longest-running independent full-distance triathlon in the country. It’s held at the World Triathlon Destination in Clermont, Florida, about 22 miles west of Orlando and only an hour to beaches on either coast, making it a perfect family race-cation destination. The iron-distance course is set up in three-loop formats, making it a spectator-friendly event as well. The race starts with a swim in the pristine Lake Minneola, which averages 76-78 degrees F. The bike course takes athletes on the rural roads of South Lake County and features gently rolling hills—adding a bit of a challenge. Athletes then run a marathon on the South Lake Trail before a finish at Victory Pointe.

Half-iron distance
Challenge Daytona
Dec. 5, 2021 | Daytona, Florida |

Compete at the heart of NASCAR racing in this unique event, organized by the Europe-based Challenge Series and centered around the Daytona International Speedway. The swim takes place inside the artificial lake within the venue, making it spectator-friendly. After T1, athletes tackle the flat and fast bike leg, which starts around the speedway circuit then takes athletes outside the track onto surrounding closed roads (all named for famous NASCAR drivers). The run course features four loops to keep the race spectator-friendly, and the race ends with a red-carpet finish.

Half-iron distance
Peasantman Half Steel Distance Triathlon
Aug. 15, 2021 | Penn Yan, New York |

Peasantman is a community-focused event that has been around since 2013, located in upstate New York—about an hour southeast of Rochester. It’s focused on giving back to the surrounding area through the race–it partners with two local nonprofits on race day, encourages donations, and also redirects a portion of your registration fee to the charity of your choice. The USAT-sanctioned race starts and finishes from Indian Pines Park, and its half “steel” distance (it also has full, Olympic and sprint) totals 72.3 miles, thanks to a longer bike. The race starts with a picturesque 1.2-mile lake swim followed by a scenic 58-mile bike along both arms of Keuka Lake that explores the Finger Lake region’s wine country. The race ends with a half marathon along the northwestern shore of the lake.

Short course
Jamestown Triathlon Festival
June 18-19, 2021 | Williamsburg, Virginia |

Located just minutes from historic Williamsburg, Virginia, and next door to the original Jamestown settlement, this Olympic- and sprint-distance tri makes for a great early summer race and family vacation destination. The race starts with a swim at Jamestown beach in the James River, leading to a flat and fast bike course. The run winds through historic farmland and forest on biking paths and running trails. The race weekend will also offer a glimpse of the best young up-and-comers in triathlon—it doubles as the USA Triathlon Virginia State Triathlon Championships.

Note: As of the writing of this story, all races had published 2021 race dates and were scheduled to take place. Please check in with the race early and often for updates.

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