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Race Tips

The Best Small Triathlons You Haven’t Heard Of (Yet)

There are plenty of hidden gems within the racing season that probably don’t get the credit they deserve—until you talk to the people who return to them year after year.

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Everyone has their favorite pizza joint, or bar, or coffee shop that is near and dear to their heart. It may not have the glitz and glamour of newer and fancier joints, but who cares? It’s your favorite, and that’s all that matters. Triathlon is no different. Small races, especially locally-owned races, have a special feel that can’t be replicated anywhere else. There are plenty of hidden gems within the racing season that probably don’t get the credit they deserve—until you talk to the people who return to them year after year. Here are six races that may not be on your radar, but should be.

RelatedOur Comprehensive, Region-by-Region Guide To Under-The-Radar Races

Islandman Triathlon

Avalon, New Jersey

This ocean-side triathlon offers a beach resort vibe that features an ocean swim, a flat bike course, and a challenging beach run. Adults compete in a USAT-sanctioned sprint triathlon, while younger athletes can join the fun in a youth distance race. The spectator-friendly race is put on by Tim Kerr Charities and delivers great swag (no chintzy one-sized-fits-all t-shirts here, people). The icing on the cake is that 100% of proceeds support the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “It’s got awesome race swag for all participants,” said age-group triathlete and Islandman participant Pat O’Connell. “The coolest part about it is that every penny of your race fee will go to a wonderful charity. Every penny, every year. Islandman is a must-do, and great for the beginner and highly experienced triathlete.”

Lake Minnetonka Triathlon

Excelsior, Minnesota

The Lake Minnetonka triathlon takes place in Excelsior Minnesota, a charming lake-side suburb of Minneapolis, less than 20 miles southwest of downtown. The triathlon is a well-supported race that features a point-to-point swim (in mid-June expect wetsuit-legal water conditions), a bike course containing a mix of lake-adorned roads and rolling hills, and a run segment that is fun, flat, and fast. There may be bigger flashier races around, but the picturesque venue makes this a great addition to the schedule. Bonus, the race staging area is within walking distance from plenty of great restaurants, bars, and shops for your post-race celebration.

The Pre-Halloween Triathlon & Duathlon

Rio Verde, Arizona

If you think there’s anything ominous or foreboding about a pre-Halloween triathlon that takes place somewhere named ‘Rattlesnake Cove’…you might not be wrong. Considered one of the most difficult races in Arizona, this triathlon has a scary number of hills on both the bike and run courses. Athletes can compete at sprint, “sprint plus,” and Olympic-distance races. Fortunately, the wild and rugged desert surroundings are stunning and (mostly) make up for the grueling course. Tri-Family Racing team provides excellent race support to ensure this triathlon is as much a beauty as it is a beast.

Belews Lake Olympic and Sprint Triathlon

Stokesdale, North Carolina

This is a great event for triathletes of all experience levels. Athletes can compete in either sprint or Olympic distances and enjoy a well-supported race loaded with great swag. Belews Lake boasts excellent water quality, which any veteran triathlete will tell you is not always the case. The bike and run courses are clearly marked and easy to follow for safety and convenience. As one of the first regional triathlons of the season, the Belews Lake Triathlon has become a local favorite for collegiate, semi-pro, and beginner triathletes alike. “I love this race,” said age-grouper Cary Maycook. “The water is clean and clear and the bike is rolling and fast. It is always competitive but with a laid-back atmosphere. A great way to get everyone back out racing in the early season. Rich and Libby at Trivium are the best in the business. Their biggest goal is for the athletes to have a great experience. If you haven’t tried this race I highly recommend it.”

Lums Pond Olympic & Sprint Triathlons

Bear, Delaware

When you want to get away from the daily hustle and just race, there are races like the Lums Pond Olympic & Sprint Triathlons. Staged in scenic Lums Pond State Park, this triathlon is surrounded by green space, and the course is designed for speed. The race begins in the calm waters of the event’s namesake, followed by a flat bike course (all right-hand turns so you can drop the hammer), and concludes with a beautiful run course along forested paths to keep the heat in check. The race is put on by the experienced group at Kinetic Multisports—add it to the list for 2022, but don’t expect this gem to remain hidden for long.

Tri Indy Triathlon and Duathlon

Indianapolis, Indiana

Located in the heart of Indianapolis, TRI Indy provides competitors with fast-paced urban racing in, around, and literally through iconic landmarks of downtown Indianapolis including the Indiana State Museum, NCAA Hall of Champions, Indianapolis Zoo, and more. The swim course is a unique point-to-point through the White River State Park Canal. The bike course winds around Riverside Parkway (keep an eye out for the velodrome) with a few small hills, and the run takes athletes along the east side of the zoo and back along the White River on a flat course. Tuxedo Brothers do an excellent job running and supporting the triathlon and line up plenty of post-race festivities at Celebration Plaza. “It’s an incredible swim through downtown,” said Nicholas Edger, an age-grouper who participates in the Tri Indy event every year. “I really enjoyed racing through the canal and being surrounded by skyline on the swim. The run was also great, more competitive than other races because there was so much visibility in the field.”

How to find your local triathlon races

Odds are, there are plenty of great races on the calendar that fly under your radar, yet offer a special flavor of awesome. The best race near you isn’t necessarily the most well-known race. To find your next favorite triathlon, consider a few practical tips:

  1. Keep an open mind. The tricky thing about hidden gems is that they are hidden. You may not recognize that “wow” factor at first glance, but give it a chance—it’s there.
  2. Do your research. There are many different triathlon experiences to be had. A little sleuthing around online can open the door to an unexplored race experience.
  3. Know thyself. Think about what kind of race experience you’d like to try, set aside all the ads, buzz, and brand names that swirl around well-established races.
  4. Ask around with intention. Find out what races your peers are doing. If you like a specific race, ask the race director for any recommendations for similar events.

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