Here are 10 of the coolest, most challenging triathlons in the United States. Trust us: They’re fully worth the blood, sweat, and tears.
Kristin Luna 1 / 10
XTERRA World Championship
Kapalua, Maui, HI – October xterraplanet.com
The name says it all: Maui’s prestigious XTERRA World Championship off-road competition tests your self-discipline in a spectacular setting. With a one-mile rough-water swim, an 18.89-mile mountain bike ride, and a 5.9-mile trail run through pineapple fields and forests, it’s anything but easy. And at $500 to enter, it’s also anything but cheap. How to Train for a Triathlon >>>
Panama City Beach, FL – November ironman.com
Unlike the tempestuous waters of the Pacific races, the Gulf of Mexico is balmy, crystal clear, and perfect for an ocean swim. The run and bike portions of this spectator-friendly race traverse nearby neighborhoods and St. Andrews State Park. The flat, fast course is great for a PR, and the race is an Ironman World Championship qualifying event. While you're in PCB, plan a trip to nearby Grayton Beach; November is the perfect time for soaking up the Panhandle in all its glory—and without crowds. Photo credit: Nils Nilsen/IRONMAN
Wildflower Triathlon Festival
Pacific Grove, CA – May tricalifornia.com
Some call it “the Woodstock of tris” and for good reason: Athletes camp out in the California wilderness and groove to live music before and after the big race. There are three competitions to enter over the course of two days: Long Course, Mountain Bike, and Olympic. But it's more about camaraderie than toughing out the competition at Wildflower. You'll cruise through the hilly coastal terrain of the Pacific Coast Highway while soaking up the beauty of the Pacific as you lope along.
Wilkesboro, NC – June setupevents.com
Those who don’t like ocean swims will delight in a dip in a clean, placid reservoir that's protected by a dam and virtually wind-free. Then comes the hard part. As you hop on your bike, you’ll immediately climb a steep hill toward the dam, but the inclines don’t stop there. There are various monster hills throughout the bike and run portions of the race, which is likely why many triathletes call Bandits Challenge one of the toughest races out there. Just think of it as character-building.
Escape from Alcatraz
San Francisco, CA – June escapefromalcatraztriathlon.com
It may have been a matter of life or death for the inmates who once tried to flee this infamous island prison, but each year 2,000 triathletes willingly make the plunge into the bay's cold waters to complete this taxing tri that’s been a celebrated event in Northern California for the past 33 years. While San Francisco is never very warm, it’s also just mild enough to make for killer competition weather.
Coeur d’Alene, ID – June ironman.com
Idaho’s most beloved resort town is now also the site of one of the most popular Ironman competitions in the Northwest. And with great volunteer support, a challenging course, excellent pre- and post-race activities, a quaint downtown, and the family-friendly nature of the entire weekend, it’s not hard to see why. Photo credit: Nils Nilsen/IRONMAN
Aquaphor New York City Triathlon
New York, NY – August nyctri.com
Experience the pulse of the Big Apple alongside 3,000 other triathletes with this summertime, citywide, Olympic-distance tri that starts with a swim in the Hudson River, continues with a bike ride along the West Side Highway, and concludes with a run through Central Park.
Louisville, KY – August ironman.com
A rolling swim in the Ohio River marks the start of this Ironman race, which ventures out into the undulating hills and pastures of the Bluegrass State’s lush countryside. The 26.2-mile run covers flat terrain—another prime PR course—that passes Churchill Downs and ends at Louisville’s iconic 4th Street Live. And if the nearby Bourbon Trail isn’t an incentive to cross the finish line, nothing is. Photo credit: Nils Nilsen/IRONMAN
Lobsterman Triathlon and Aquabike
Freeport, ME – September lobstermantri.com
Set along a bay, this cold ocean swim will shock your senses into action. The rolling terrain of the bike course runs along the coastline of Freeport and into Brunswick before the run takes you through the quaint village of South Freeport and eventually back to Windsor Park. And if you’re cursing yourself for entering, just remember the pot of gold at the end of the sweaty rainbow: a delicious and re-energizing lobsterbake.
Kiawah, SC – September kiawahresort.com
Brand new in 2013, the South Carolina tri takes athletes into the ocean for a swim along the gorgeous Atlantic coastline, then in and out of nature. (The barrier island is a hotbed for wildlife like sea turtles, deer, and various species of birds.) After you’ve crossed the finish line, celebrate by checking into the Kiawah Island Golf Resort, one of the more prestigious resorts in the country, and unwinding in the Sanctuary Spa with an Athletic Recovery Massage (or a kayak trip on the marsh and a round of golf if you’re not too spent).