Whether that’s swimming among sea turtles, biking through lava fields, or running up beautiful mountains there is no other sport that can bring you the experiences, adventures and sceneries that triathlon can bring you. Many races have emerged, including some truly iconic ones. Legendary for their course, their history, or simply the experience, these are five of the most iconic triathlons we believe every triathlete must do at least once in their life.
Kona is The King
Ironman’s World Championship is possibly the most recognized and iconic triathlon race. It's the oldest long-distance event in the world. The first edition took place in 1978, when Judy and John Collins, came up with the idea of the greatest test of human fitness in the world, a long-distance triathlon (3.9k swim, 180.2k bicycle ride and 42.2k run) in which the winner was crowned an Ironman.
The event is hosted on the Big Island of Hawaii in a town called Kailua-Kona. It is the holy grail of triathlon. Of the 100.000 triathletes who try to qualify for Kona every year, there is only a spot for 2.000 of them at the start line. So just to be at the starting line is a victory in itself.
The race is iconic for so many reasons. You will be swimming alongside the turtles of Hapuna Beach. And bike on the Queen K highway up to Hawi in between black lava fields and seascapes. The ride is one of the hardest rides you’ll ever do, it’s extremely hot and windy and the temperature can go up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. After the bike ride, comes the run through the energy lab, which is definitely the hottest part of the race. Here you will push yourself to the limits and keep finding more. There is no hiding on this course.
But it’s not all about the racing. It is a week celebrating the lifestyle that is triathlon. The flag parade welcomes all the contestants as they walk behind their country’s flag. The underpants race is a bit of fun before the big race. It is a short run where everyone runs in their underpants. They also have an Iron kids race for the supporting kids who have made it to the Island. Furthemore, on practice swims before the race athletes can have a cup of coffee at the floating coffee house placed at the halfway mark on the swim course.
Let's not forget about the Ironman's finish, in the end it’s about the finish line. Running down Ali’i Drive, high-fiving the crowds, crossing the finish line and hearing Mike Reilly calling out, “you are an Ironman,” is the cherry on the top of this iconic race.
This full distance race is held in and around the town of Roth bei Nuremberg in Germany. From the moment you enter Roth town you realize how big and special this event is, "Welcome home triathletes" banners are everywhere and you start to get a tingle down your spine. Iconic doesn't do this race justice.
It’s a very fast course, because it's quite flat and simple, and the weather is also ideal for racing. Both the woman and man’s long-distance world records are held here, the British Chrissie Wellington at 08:18:13 and the German Jan Frodeno at 07:35:39. So, if you are looking for a personal best, this is the race for you.
Besides being fast, it is famous for its atmosphere and absurd number of athletes and spectators. Roth is the largest triathlon in the world with 5.000 athletes taking part and over 250.000 spectators cheering them on. The bike ride is through beautiful countryside and small towns with a couple of climbs which are packed with spectators cheering tired athletes on. Who wouldn’t get a spurt of energy when greeted with scenes like these?
And if that wasn’t enough. The finish is incredible, nothing can beat the finish at Roth. You run into a stadium full of screaming supporters, strobe lights, and music. It is utterly breathtaking. Get on the podium and your reward is a huge jug of Bavarian beer. Either to be drunk or thrown over a fellow competitor.
Wildflower Experience, California
The burning man of the triathlon circuit. This triathlon is so much more than the half distance Triathlon on the day. It is a full weekend festival with live entertainment. It mixes bohemian soul, campfires, bike gear and racing clinics. Get over the finish line and the Wildflower experience awaits you.
This triathlon festival has something for everyone. It is not just limited to the 70.3 distance, but includes on and off-road triathlons, trail runs, open water swims and kids distance triathlons– you name it they have it.
If triathlon is not your thing then the live entertainment, yoga workshops, beer gardens and wine tastings might be something for you while you watch all the calories being burned on the course. In fact, it could be described as Woodstock meets Kona. This event is iconic and a truly unique experience.
Challenge Almere – Amsterdam
Challenge Almere – Amsterdam is the oldest long-distance triathlon in Europe. In fact, it is the second oldest Triathlon after Kona. It is held in and around the city of Almere, North of Amsterdam. Challenge Almere- Amsterdam is the only long-distance triathlon completely below sea level in an area that once used to be the South Sea (Zuiderzee) before the land was reclaimed from the sea.
In typical Dutch style, the course is flat, but very windy. Don’t underestimate how tough this race is. With headwinds for a long stretch of the 90k bike loop, and mostly likely rain on the day, you will feel every moment of the bike in the legs.
This is an iconic race for its history and place. Nowhere on the planet can you race quit like this, in a former sea bed with beautiful views on the bike ride of the water, gorgeous farms and windmills. The run course consists of six laps therefor there are spectators cheering you on all the way. Let’s not forget the finish area which is tremendous and has a wonderful atmosphere.
Next to the full distance, this event includes shorter distance triathlons, aquathlons, duathlons, off-road triathlons, kids distance triathlons, family relays, senior challenges, you name it it's there. Plenty of choices, if full distance isn't your thing!
Escape from Alcatraz
On paper this triathlon is pretty straight forward, a 1.5k swim, 29k bike and 12.9k run. The devil is in the details though. Situated between Golden Gate Bridge and Treasure Island is the now unused maximum-security facility of Alcatraz. Thought impossible to break out of, the escape from Alcatraz triathlon has triathletes attempting the impossible - escape from Alcatraz Island.
It is a very tough swim through cold waters with strong currents. Causing it to feel more like the full distance swim. The bike ride is up and down the very steep streets of San Francisco, leaving your legs feeling like jelly. The run takes you off the road and onto the trail paths under the Golden Gate Bridge up to the headlands and unto the beach. Just when you think you’ve had enough, you will encounter the infamous 400 sand step-ladder. Finishing the race, you will surely have become a prisoner to this iconic race.
Unfortunately we have reached the end of our list. We hope that you have enjoyed the tour through the most iconic triathlons around the world. With the sport being in its infancy, we know that we will have to add to this list in the years to come.
Written by Michael Stolt