In eating, sleeping, living and breathing #50womentokona on a daily basis and seeing things like this promoted on twitter sometimes its hard to remember that there are really fantastic races not owned by the World Triathlon Corporation (thanks Charlie Patten for the reminder).  Through social media I have connections with thousands of triathletes, so I asked the question “What is your favorite race with regard to overall athlete experience?”  These are the races and series that came out on top.

Beach 2 Battleship – Wilmington, North Carolina – October 17, 2015 – 70.3 and 140.6

Run by Setup Events, this is one of the best “independent” 140.6 races on the  circuit.  It features a (current assisted) swim in the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, a “totally flat” bike course from Wrightsville Beach, through the northern section of Wilmington and then up towards White Lake and a flat run through Wilmington.  No detail is too small for Setup Events and in 2014 competitors not only received finisher medals, they also received finisher’s pajamas.

Swim Out at Beach 2 Battleship

Swim Out at Beach 2 Battleship

Awesome swag, organized race, affordable, awesome and fun aid stations along the run, course support was great along the bike, the fans were great around the transitions, just as overall awesome experience. — Sara Hunt

Crowd support, great organization, amazing aid stations (variety and volunteer energy), a nice course, and ideal weather made my first iron-distance race the one I will compare all others to. I can still hear the teenagers on the bridge in the park yelling “you guys are amazing, you’ve got this!”- I can’t imagine how many hours they did this. Oh- and bike to run transition area was in the convention center- how awesome is that? — Carina Halloran

Challenge Atlantic City – Atlantic City New Jersey – June 28, 2015 – 70.3 and 140.6

Challenge Family’s first 140.6 race in the United States took place in Atlantic City.  While I crashed out on the bike in somewhat spectacular fashion, the race directors did a top notch job making all of the athletes — both age groupers and professionals feel like super stars — registration even included red carpets (can can check out my review from 2014 here).  With a re-designed bike course for 2015, this race should continue to improve (I’ll be back doing the 70.3 this June and hopefully not crashing).

Transition Area at Challenge Atlantic City

Transition Area at Challenge Atlantic City

Charleston Marathon – Charleston, South Carolina – January 15, 2016 – Marathon

Good races are not limited to triathlons.  Despite being a Mainer, Ryan Heisler sang the praises of the Charleston Marathon.  The race, which runs along the water in historic Charleston features awesome January running weather and superb attention to detail.  Plus you can always take a detour and visit Frank Underwood’s hometown of Gaffney, South Carolina.

Throw Charleston Marathon on that list in SC; full block party post-race for athletes with shrimp and grits and beer. Michelob Ultra has never tasted that decent… — Ryan Heisler

Cranberry Tri Fest – Lakeville, Massachusetts – August 22-23, 2015 – Sprint and Olympic Distance

This was the third triathlon I ever raced (back in 2006).  I thought it was a fantastic race then and it hasn’t disappointed since.  Sun Multisport Events does an excellent job of creating fun events without losing sight of the little things like kiddie pools to clean your feet in transition.  As silly as it may sound their post-race raffles are some of the best around.  Since I started in racing in 2006, I’ve raced at least one Sun Multisport Event each year.  While they’re all fantastic in my opinion Cranberry is the crown jewel.

I think anything Sun Multisport Events does is spectacular. I’ve done and loved Whaling City and Cranberry. Looking forward to doing those again +Patriot this summer. Great food, great swag, great communication, OUTSTANDING courses. — Shira Flowers


Post Race at the Cranberry Tri Fest Olympic Distance

Post Race at the Cranberry Tri Fest Olympic Distance

Door County Half Iron – Door County, Wisconsin – July 18 – 19 , 2015 – Sprint and 70.3 

The Door County Peninsula is often referred to as the “Cape Cod of the Midwest” and the race lives up to its billing as a great destination with a great race.  This challenging 70.3 course begins with a 1.2 mile swim in the clear waters of Horseshoe Bay. The 56 mile bike route travels along Door County’s scenic backroads, through the main retail district in Sturgeon Bay, along the shipping channel, out and back on a wooded back road and gradually ascends 200 feet up the famed Door County Bluff . The 13.1 mile run course takes participants north to the Egg Harbor Dock, up Harbor Heights Road, through the village of Egg Harbor, up the infamous Bluff Pass Road (200 foot climb in 1/2 mile), and through the stacked stone fences of Horseshoe Bay Golf Course before a downhill descent to the finish line.  You can check out nice reports from the race here and here.

Door County Half Iron in Door County, WI. Ironman has tried to buy it many times. This race is all about the athlete. And they have a bonfire on the beach in the evening as a kind of after-party for athletes. –Emily Jaehnig

Finish Line at Door County

Finish Line at Door County


Escape the Cape – Cape May, New Jersey – June 14, 2015 – Olympic Distance

A riff on the famous Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, participants in the this southern New Jersey event take a ferry a mile out into the ocean, jump from the ferry and swim to shore.  So freaking cool.  The bike course is closed to traffic and the run includes some soft sand (always a challenge).

Escape the Cape is quickly becoming a premier East Coast event. Over a thousand people jump from the Cape May-Lewes Ferry to swim back to shore, to ride on a closed and fast course, and then finally run on a challenging road, beach, and dune run. Post-race, there’s a full, fantastic breakfast and plenty of plenty of cold beer.  — Laura Connell Pyott

Running to T1 at Escape the Cape

Running to T1 at Escape the Cape


Feb Apple Frozen Fifty – Maplewood, New Jersey – February 2016 –  50 Mile, 50 Kilometer, 20 Miles, 10 Miles 

The northeast has fantastic winters — cold with abundant snow, ice and sleet.  What better to way to celebrate the season than with an ultra distance trail run?  The Feb Apple Frozen Fifty gives runners a choice of four distances and runners at each distance get the same great experience.

NJ Trail Series’ “FebApple Frozen Fifty” is absolutely the best! Primo swag, fully stocked fuel stations, and kickass crew. — Brennan McDavid

Not the Frozen Apple 50 But an Awesome Picture of Brennan,Who Recommended the Race

Not the Frozen Apple 50 But an Awesome Picture of Brennan,Who Recommended the Race

Gran Fondo New York – New York City, New York – May 17, 2015 – 50 and 100 Mile Bikes 

A bike race that starts on (and crosses over) the George Washington Bridge.  How cool is that (in fact just yesterday my mother told me the most interesting thing she did in her entire life was ride her bike over the George Washington Bridge)?  The 100 mile option involves a lollipop course out to Bear Mountain and back via the Cheesecote climb.  The total ride involves over 8,000 feet of climbing.  The 50 mile version goes out to (and up) Bear Mountain and then riders are bussed back to Fort Lee, New Jersey.  Both the 50 and 100 miles options are fully supported and there are awesome prizes available for the riders.


Start of the Gran Fondo on George Washington Bridge

Start of the Gran Fondo on George Washington Bridge

Multisport Canada – Canada – Various Dates – Various Distances 

Multisport Canada is an organization than came up over and over and over again on both Facebook and Twitter.  The organization puts on twelve races across Canada including Barrelman just over the border in Niagara Falls.    The races have a reputation for being extremely well run and providing athletes with a top notch experience.

View from the Run Course at Barrelman

View from the Run Course at Barrelman

It is the largest triathlon series in Canada and one of the biggest independent series in North America. MSC put on absolutely amazing first class events. — Steve Fleck

I can vouch for multisport Canada as well. Fantastic events here in Ontario. — Carly Domingues

Onurmark Production – Houston, Texas – Various Dates – Various Distances

Onurmark is known for taking care of the athletes that compete in their races from beginning to end.  They provide a little something for everyone.  If you want a seemless race experience they deliver there.  Packet pick up in convenient locations (a chore in Houston), the safest courses in town, and a schedule of events that go off on time.  If you’re into swag the deliver there as well.  High quality items and picture downloads are provided for in the entry fee.  Along with the adult triathlons they hold youth races at each venue.  These go off with the same precision as the adult events.  A feat in and of itself.

All of Aaron Palaian’s races from Onurmark Productions are beyond top notch (both adult and youth races). We’re very spoiled down here. — Scott McMichael

Post Race at the Cyprus Triathlon

Post Race at the Cypress Triathlon

Pat Griskus Sprint Triathlon – Middlebury, Connecticut – July 8, 2015 – Sprint Distance

The Pat Griskus Sprint is one of the few non-weekend races; held on a Wednesday afternoon.  The race takes place at Quassy Amusement part and features some of the same hilly course as the Challenge Family Quassy race.  The atmosphere is very inviting and this is one of those races that feels like a throwback event to before triathlon was dominated by commercial interests.

Running in the Rain at the Griskus Sprint

Running in the Rain at the Griskus Sprint


Red Man Triathlon – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – September 26, 2015 – 70.3 and 140.6 

A Top 10 Finish at Redman

A Top 10 Finish at Redman

Regarding Redman . . . we are one of the few half AND full iron-distance triathlons in our region.  What sets us apart from the other races is that EVERYBODY on the race committee is either a runner, triathlete, marathoner, or Ironman.  All of us have raced at different events locally (and around the country) and we are aware of what athletes would like to have available at those events.  So, we strive to make Redman an event that **WE** would want to race if we didn’t already have race day obligations.  This makes Redman a race FOR athletes BY athletes.

We have developed a good enough reputation in the region that we were selected by USA Triathlon to host the USAT Long-Course National Championship race (70.3-distance) in 2009. 2012, and 2015.  In 2009 & 2012, we also hosted the USAT Club Championship races (Sprint & Olympic distances) the day AFTER Redman.  So, basically, over the course of about 30 hours during Redman weekend those 2 days, we held EVERY distance of triathlon (sprint, olympic, half-iron, and full-iron).  Plus, in 2016, Redman will be hosting the ITU Triathlon Worlds Championship Race, which is a HUGE honor for our event.  The last time the ITU Worlds was in the U.S. was in 1996.  For the 2016 event, there were 16-17 other applicants to host ITU Worlds.  Each of the other applicants was a CITY.  Redman was awarded the event as an EVENT (and organizing committee) . . . but we have received support to host this event by the OKC Convention & Visitors Bureau as well as many of our sponsors. — Rocky Chen

I know there are tons of excellent races out there that bend over backwards to roll out the red carpet for athletes.  Please help me add to the list in the comments below.

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Kelly Burns Gallagher

mccarter english employment litigator / oiselle team runner / coeur sports triathlete / sonic endurance coach & race director / writer / dartmouth '02 / emorylaw '05


Carina · March 23, 2015 at 5:38 am

Pumpkinman 1/2 in Maine was so fun- although not the easiest course, the small field size helps keep it unintimidating for first timer. The full-out thanksgiving style feast after the race was impressive.

joannah Graham · March 23, 2015 at 7:31 am

I also highly recommend the New Years Double and any other race put on by The Active Joe in in the north TX area. Incredibly organized, great communication, insane medals, top notch! And where else can you run marathons on New Years eve AND New Years day?

bonnev659 · March 23, 2015 at 7:38 am

open water swim Betsy Owens Memorial Swims in upstate NY, it is a 2 mile open water cable swim. the race director even posted up hotel info for those coming in from out of town. (I do not see a 2015 race on schedule)

Great lakes 100 mile tri (outside Buffalo, NY) the race director even added aqua bikes as a few racers asked to switch. has a great swag for both racers and volunteers and throws a sweet after party. Not sure if the Ohio race is on this year but last year I heard good items from that location as well.

Incredoubleman Triathlon going into its 2 year in Beautiful Sockets Harbor, NY. Has sprint, olm and half iron distance). the race director after the first race was asking for input to improve for this year.

Maple City Triathlon another small tri in Ogdensburg, NY. The race director saw a few things while doing another tri that he will try to have this year.

Henderson Harbor Tri, River Rat tri, Lyme Sprint tri are 3 sprint independent tris in 1000 Island/Watertown, NY area. Love the small town atmosphere by them. That work hard and also helped the area go at it.

Lake Terramuggus Triathlon Series and Cedar Lake Triathlon (Week day series in CT) I heard good reviews both are sprints

Shoreline Duathlon & Triathlon (Harmil, NY) and Sodus Point Triathlon (Sodus Point NY) both tris owned by YellowJacket Racing. both are spring distance.

Cornwall Triathlon, Cornwall Ont Canada race director does it right with 200 volunteers. Saturday is the kids tri and Sunday is adult, has tri a tri, sprint, and Olympic distance. best part roads for bike course is closed for traffic for most part as it is a 10K loop in the city. The Race director answers questions very quickly. Also can you say wet suit strippers!

Beth · March 23, 2015 at 9:08 am

Syracuse half ironman in June….great event…. I’m a huge fan of the marine corps historic half marathon on May 17…fredericksburg, virginia

John Loxterman · March 23, 2015 at 9:08 am

Steelman Tri in Lake Nockamixon State Park, Pennsylvania is great. Dale puts on a fantastic event – low pressure vibe for rookies like me and very enthusiastic volunteers to cheer you on. They do Sprint and Olympic distance. The swim is in a nice, calm lake. The bike has a few hills but no traffic and the run is shaded most of the way (a key point in August). Dale also does a great OWS in July in Lake Nockamixon. Swag is also top notch. I think Steelman sweatpants sell for big bucks on eBay.

Jacqueline Brill · March 23, 2015 at 9:24 am

I’ll throw out two, with an asterick on one:

Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon & Marathon – Louisville, KY (April 25, 2015) – Biggest race in Kentucky that features beautiful course, tons of crowd support, a run around the infield at Churchill Downs, and a fabulous post-race party on the Ohio River. It’s a part of the Kentucky Derby Festival (one week before the BIG race), and the city looks and feels fabulous this time of year.

Race the Bridge Triathlon* – Louisville, KY & Jeffersonville, IN (June 14, 2015) – This race is in a tough spot right now, and likely for one more year with the construction of two new downtown bridges that are preventing use of their usual course. When it’s really on and not a looped race of boring (as it is currently), these local organizers REALLY work to please the racers. Partially current-assisted swim in the Ohio, great bike out Utica Pike next to the River in Indiana (mostly flat with a great longish hill near the turnaround), and then a fun run up and across the bridges into Kentucky and back. Great post-race food, and well-organized. Olympic and sprint distances. Alas, I’ll be avoiding until it can return to its original course and construction problems wain.

    Kelly Burns Gallagher · March 23, 2015 at 9:40 am

    With all the time I spend in Louisville, I’m going to need to stay over for a weekend and actually do some racing there.

Christina · March 23, 2015 at 10:11 am

Detroit half in Michigan. You run in downtown Detroit, run across the bridge at sunrise over to Canada, run in Canada, cone back to the U.S through the tunnel ( only underwater mile in the world), and finish in downtown Detroit. You cross two borders, two countries, and get one awesome medal 🙂

Steph · March 23, 2015 at 11:17 am

I would definitely x2 on anything with Setup Events. I’ve raced their events a lot since they run most of the events here in SC/NC and have been really pleased with them! Some the bigger races: TryCharleston, White Lake, Lake Logan, B2B. For running I would add the Kiawah Marathon- great event!

Christine · March 23, 2015 at 4:02 pm

You’ve already got some of my faves here – Escape the Cape in NJ is so cool, and any DelMo race is great if you ask me. Love Tri the Wildwoods – great course, self-seeded starts, Morey’s Pier passes, post-race party. For running events, also love the Runner’s World Half & Festival in October in Bethlehem PA. Challenging hilly courses (but not soul-sucking), well-organized weekend of running. I’ll also add the Perfect 10 for women in central NJ and the Rutgers Unite Half Marathon, both put on by CGI – another local favorite for race organizers in NJ.

tammy · March 23, 2015 at 8:33 pm

River Cities Tri, Shreveport, La. it sells out in less than 36 hours. Great event, great swag. Great for those in the back of the pack too. The athletes have to walk by the run course on the way to their cars and they cheer the everyone on as they finish the run course.

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