6 Great Triathlons in the Northwest

Triathlon is a sport that requires some travel. This is a fact that those of us who race regularly have resigned ourselves to. As a competitive amateur athlete, I am always looking for races that are worth the drive (or flight), the time investment, the entry fees, the time off work, and everything else that goes into getting on the starting line.

For the benefit of anyone out there who might be looking for a good racing experience to add to their calendar, I decided to put together a list of a few of my favorites, accumulated through the years, and and some of the reasons they made the cut. My races pretty much all take place in the Pacific Northwest, due to my geographical location, and I tried to include primarily races that don’t break the bank cost-wise. If you have others that you like, please share!

Here they are, in no particular order:

  • Grizzly Triathlon, Missoula, MT
    Distance: Sprint
    This race has long been one of my favorites. It is often referred to as the Montana World Championships due to the level of competition it draws, mostly among the Missoula elite, but it is undeniably also one of the best beginner triathlons in the region, including a 500yd swim option for those who are not so confident in their ability to do the full 1000. Since it is early in the season (usually the third weekend in April), the swim takes place in the Grizzly Pool on the University of Montana campus. As a result, there are heats that leave every half hour for the whole day, which makes for awesome spectating. To sweeten the experience, the race-day swag is excellent, with something different every year (towels, running shorts, hoodies, long and short-sleeve and t-shirts are all past items in the race bag). If you manage to crack the top three, you not only get a share of the prize money, but you get a highly coveted Grizzly Tri rock.
  • Pacific Crest Triathlon, Sunriver, OR
    Distance: Half-iron
    2013 was my first year participating in this event, and it certainly won’t be the last. I was blown away by the level of organization and the sheer beauty of the course. The highlight for me was the bike course, which travels from Sunriver to the north around Mount Bachelor. After climbing a pass around mile 35 of the course, competitors are treated to a screaming descent with smooth pavement and great views. It is slightly long for a half-iron bike course, at 58 miles, but they own up to it before-hand, so you’re not shocked by having to go a couple extra miles at the end. The run course is also phenomenal, winding through the woods on the paved path. The race expo is great the day before, with a pro q&a to help you out with questions and an excellent variety of vendors. Prize money pays five deep and is pretty substantial. Also, if the long course triathlon isn’t for you, there is a whole weekend festival, which includes a half and full marathon, olympic distance triathlon, and 5k/10k run/walk, and probably some other events I forgot to mention.
  • Tiger Triathlon, Colville, WA
    Distance: Olympic-ish
    The Tiger Tri makes the list for a few reasons. Mainly, it holds a special place for me as the first triathlon I competed in, first as a member of a team back when I was in high school (I did the run), then by myself the next year, after I graduated. I swam in a wakeboarding wetsuit, rode a 1980s steel Giant road bike, and wore my racing flats on the bike. Despite that, Haley Cooper-Scott still managed to beat my T2 split by 10 seconds. And I thought I was being so clever… Back then, the course was a quarter-ironman, which has since been shortened to a 1000m swim, 40k bike, and 5-mile run. If that seems a little bike-heavy, take note that the bike course features a net elevation loss of approximately 1,300 feet. Basically, if you don’t ride your fastest 40k split to date, something went terribly wrong. The run is on my old high school cross country course, which is two laps on a rolling gravel path through a golf course. And to top it all off, there’s a glorious finish on the high school track, with plenty of cheering spectators in the bleachers. Awards are made by local artisans every year and are super-awesome.
  • Wasa Lake Triathlon, Wasa Lake, BC
    Distance: Olympic
    From what I’ve seen, those Canadians sure know how to put on a race. Wasa is one of the best-marked courses I’ve ever seen, and there were volunteers everywhere! Not to mention announcing by the one and only Steve King. If I can’t have Shaun and JB announcing at a race, I’ll take Steve King any day. All in all, organization is the highlight of the event. The post race meal is also worthy of a mention, even including plenty of options for pain-in-the-ass vegans like myself. And you know what? The course is pretty phenomenal too – particularly the run. It’s a very nice paved path, mostly shady and pretty flat. Prize money goes to the top five finishers, and the draw prizes are some of the best I’ve seen. I’ll definitely be back to this one next year!
  • Coeur d’Alene Triathlon, Coeur d’Alene, ID
    Distance: Olympic
    I didn’t participate in the Coeur d’Alene Triathlon this year, simply because I had too many races stacked up in a row and needed a break, but I kind of wished I had made room for it. It’s a great course, with a really challenging bike leg, including a brutal climb and a super speedy descent. Mid-August in Coeur d’Alene is pretty much always perfect weather, so that’s a definite plus. The race’s subtitle is “The Scenic Challenge” and it has that name for a reason.
  • Polson Triathlon, Polson, MT
    Distance: Olympic
    The Polson Triathlon was a new event in 2012, when race director Matt Seeley saw huge potential in the venue as a regional triathlon destination. The course is quite difficult but well thought-out, with a little bit of everything. The bike course featured a slight re-route for 2013 that got rid of a few pesky 90-degree corners, and the run course, still the original route, features just about every surface you can think of, from pavement to gravel to grass to packed dirt. There is prize money that pays five deep as well as a wonderful array of prizes at the post-race ceremony.

I hope you consider adding a couple of these to your 2014 calendar. They are all events that are worth supporting.

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