My first triathlon was a fun, short-distance sprint that made me feel like a total badass and got me hooked on multisport races. Before I knew it, I was handing over my hard-earned cash for a $500 wet suit and signing up for five or more triathlons a season.
When a friend of mine did her first tri, I was excited for her—and for me. I’d have a training partner, not to mention a guaranteed travel companion for all of the races I’d planned! Yet the Olympic-distance, über-competitive race my friend signed up for in Boulder, Colorado (a.k.a. the land of seriously intense athletes), left her less-than-keen on the sport: Her goggles got kicked off at the start of the open-water swim, the bike course was hilly (duh—it’s mountainous Colorado), and she cursed her way through the run, thanks to utter exhaustion. When she crossed the finish line, she told me she’d be sticking to tribathlons—her beloved sauna, steam, hot tub ritual at the gym.
Whether you’ve been wanting get your feet wet (literally!) and do your first triathlon or you feel like your multisport life would be so much more fun if your bestie or boyfriend joined you, here are seven races that practically guarantee you or your recruit won’t experience a first-triathlon fail:
1. Wildflower Triathlon in Bradley, California (May 1-3, 2015)
Okay, full disclosure: This course is known for being particularly hilly and grueling. However, it’s one of the largest triathlons in the world (a whopping 7,500 athletes participate, and 30,000 spectators cheer you on!), helping you feel like a rock star as you whip off your wet suit, hop onto your mountain bike, and run through pretty trails. (Yes, you’ll have to off-road through parts of the two-mile run!) Bonus: The race expo is the mack daddy of all expos, selling all the equipment your newbie triathlete’s heart might desire.
Especially great if… you’re training buddy is an Ironman vet. You know that feeling you get when you’re on a run or a ride and feel like your workout partner is holding back just for you? Yeah, well you can let the Ironman in your life do his or her thang in the “long course” (considered by pros to be the best non-Ironman sanctioned half-Ironman distance race) while you hit the shorter, 0.25-mile out-and-back swim, 9.7-mile mountain bike, and two-mile run.
Entry fee: $80-$320, depending on the race, distance, and your age (kids and college students get a discount)
2. Jekyll Island Turtle Crawl in Jekyll Island, Georgia (May 16, 2015)
A race with the words “turtle crawl” in its name has to be reassuring for new triathletes, right? You can swim, bike, and run as slow or fast as you like on Georgia’s scenic barrier island in either an Olympic or sprint-distance triathlon—or do a 5-K run. Even better, stay at The Westin Jekyll Island, and you’ll have access to a 24-hour triathlon recovery retreat, including post-race massage, group meditation, yoga sessions, and more.
Especially great if… you love animals. Not only is a portion of your race registration fee donated to the Jekyll Island Foundation for the benefit of sea turtle conservation, but there’s also a “NestFest” that takes place near the finish line, which involves the release of a rehabilitated sea turtle.
Entry fee: $35-$140, depending on the race and distance
3. Musselman Triathlon in Geneva, New York (July 13, 2015)
Looking to try a tri without investing in all of the equipment—or even logging too many hours training? Register for the “microMussel,” which involves a mere 100-yard swim, half-mile bike ride, and 0.2-mile run, making it one of the shortest races around. Game for something a little more strenuous—but still aimed at beginners? The sprint distance involves a half-mile swim that starts in a canal before hitting the open lake, a 16.2-mile bike race that takes you through vineyards and mellow, rolling hills, and a 5-K run along a mostly shaded lakeside path.
Especially great if… a wine-tasting weekend sounds just as good as a triathlon weekend. With race distances that suit a range of triathletes and a location in the heart of the Finger Lakes wine region, this race is the perfect way to check “romantic weekend getaway” and “triathlon” off your list at the same time.
Entry fee: $85
4. Lake Tahoe Triathlon in Lake Tahoe, California (August 22 and 23, 2015)
Swimming, biking, and running through this scenic part of the country is basically worth the training alone. Plus, there’s a distance and multisport combo to satisfy everyone’s athletic tastes: You can sign up for the sprint, Olympic, or half-Ironman distance; there’s also an “Aquabike” (swim-bike, for those who don’t want to run) and a duathlon (run, bike, run, for non-swimmers).
Especially great if… you like to camp. All races take place in Sugar Pine State Park on the west shore of the lake, which is one of the most coveted camping destinations in the area.
Entry fee: $86-$261, depending on the type of race, distance, and when you sign up (the earlier, the cheaper)
5. Lobsterman Triathlon in Freeport, Maine (September 12, 2015)
Head to Freeport, ME—land of beautiful New England beaches, “lobstah,” and the Land’s End outlet—for an Olympic-distance triathlon that meanders along the boardwalk-free coastline. While the 0.9-mile swim is pretty chilly (warning: wet suits are a requirement), the bike and run have such must-see views, they’ll make up for the somewhat challenging course.
Especially great if… your idea of post-race perfection is a great meal. Replenish all those cals you blasted by pigging out on a quintessential Maine lobster bake, which is just $25 for racers.
Entry fee: $76.50-$155, depending on the type of race, distance, and when you sign up (the earlier, the cheaper)
6. Banff Triathlon in Banff, Canada (September 12, 2015)
You’ve got to love a triathlon that has “super sprint” and relay options, along with a full Ironman. Know you could kill it on the bike but have no desire to swim or run? Rope a couple friends into doing those legs of the race in a relay. Or if you’re jonesing to do it alone but don’t want to get in over your head, the “super sprint” (300-meter swim, 12-K bike ride, and 5-K run, in contrast to the 500-meter swim, 25-K bike ride, and 5-K run you’ll do if you sign up for the “sprint”) is a good option.
Especially great if … you want a race-cation more than a race. During your race, you’ll swim in pristine Two Jack Lake, cycle through Banff National Park, and run through the scenic town of Banff, giving you a taste of all of the amazing outdoor activities you’ll want to do more of when you don’t have a black permanent-marker number on your arms and legs.
Entry fee: $129-$215, depending on the type of race, distance, and when you sign up (the earlier, the cheaper)
7. Mesa Sprint Triathlon in Mesa, Arizona (October 10, 2015)
The swim is just 400 meters (eight lengths of an Olympic-size pool), the bike is a four-mile loop you’ll repeat three times, and the run is a flat 5-K. If you’ve got a few triathlons already under your belt, this race is a great chance to push hard and try to beat your personal record.
Especially great if… the swimming leg of the race is the one you dread. For some, wading into open water in a wet suit, “sighting” to stay on course, and dealing with waves adds to the excitement. For others, it just inspires terror. With a pool swim, you’ll simply feel like you’re taking a ramped-up master’s class before biking and running.
Entry fee: $60