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Fastest triathlon courses: Best IRONMAN, long course and middle distance races for a sure-fire personal best

Looking for a fast IRONMAN or middle distance triathlon course to get that new personal best in the bag? We've crunched the numbers to find the fastest races for age-groupers.

Writer & Long Course Triathlete
Last updated -

Swim, bike and run your way to a new long-course triathlon personal best with our round-up of the fastest full/IRONMAN distance and middle distance triathlons in Europe, North America, Asia and Oceania.

Whether you’re a first timer flirting with the cut-offs, looking for a course that will give you the best shot of getting that finish line feeling. Or an experienced triathlete looking for a lightning-fast race to show off your aero gains and (almost) guarantee a new PB. We’ve crunched the numbers to bring you a selection of the races that give age-group triathletes the opportunity to bring the speed.

Finding fast: how we’ve chosen our fastest triathlon courses

We’ve done our best to find the courses that are going to serve up quick times for your average age-grouper – not just the elites. That means taking into account not only the course profiles and typical race day conditions. But also looking at the middle of the pack finish time in each age group to get an overall average age grouper finish time for comparison.

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It’s not an exact science of course – that doesn’t take into account variations in strength of field versus course profile. But it gives us a picture of whether a course that is fast on paper, is translating to fast times out on the course – whether you’re racing for the podium or further back in the field, racing against the clock.

Fastest IRONMAN and full distance triathlons

Favourable swim conditions, rapid bike routes and marathon courses that give tired legs the best chance to let it rip after 112 miles on the bike. We’ve taken a look at the full-distance triathlons with fast reputations to bring you our top three across Europe, North America and the rest of the world.

Triathlon racing in Europe is filled with variety. From the relentless wind of Lanzarote, to the technical climbs of Nice, to the roads steeped in triathlon history in Roth. Those heading to Europe for a full distance triathlon are spoiled for choice. But which race is the best choice if you’re searching for a quick time?

Challenge Almere-Amsterdam

Challenge Almere-Amsterdam is the oldest triathlon outside of Hawaii. And if conditions are in your favour, it’s also one of the fastest courses going. The only long distance race that takes place below sea level – on land reclaimed from the Zuidersee – Challenge Almere has played host to European and World Championship races several times over.

Challenge Family
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A calm 2-lap lake swim with an easy to follow course makes for a fast start to your day. Compact transition zones mean you don’t lose precious time between disciplines. Despite a few tight turns on bike paths at the start of the bike course, the long stretches of smooth tarmac along the dikes give you plenty of opportunity to lay down some serious speed if the winds are in your favour. Aero really is everything at Challenge’s flagship long distance event. Head out on to the run course and you’ll find little to slow you down in terms of hills or terrain. Just make sure your training involves plenty of running off the bike – there’s no let up from the aero position on the bike, so tight legs could become your downfall.

AG Finish Time AV.
11h
51m
Swim
Lake
Course profile
Flat
AV. AIR TEMPerature
19°C / 66°F
Professional triathletes on the bike course at Challenge Almere-Amsterdam
If the wind is in your favour, the long straight sections on the bike course can set you up for a seriously speed bike split at Challenge Almere.
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IRONMAN Vitoria-Gasteiz

If you were tasked with thinking of a fast Spanish Iron-distance race, you’d probably come up with IRONMAN Barcelona. But looking at the average age-group race results, it was actually IRONMAN Vitoria-Gasteiz which looked the most promising for a quick time. Perhaps it’s Calella-Barcelona’s sea swim, with chop and waves to slow athletes down. Or perhaps it’s the relentless nature of the out and back bike course that triathletes underestimate when they toe the Barcelona start line. But in our opinion, IRONMAN Vitoria-Gasteiz offers up an exciting race if you’re looking for a quick time followed by a stunning Spanish race-cation.

The single-lap 3.8km swim takes place in the drinking quality waters of Ulibarri-Gamboa lake, with the lack of swell and chop plus the short run to transition setting athletes up for a quick start to the day. The bike course is rolling, but the combination of smooth roads and stunning scenery will have it flying by – literally. The city centre run course is flat, but features a fair number of twists and turns. Incorporate some technique work into your training and you’ll be in good shape for a rapid run time.  

AG Finish Time AV.
12h
25m
Swim
Lake
Course profile
Rolling / Flat
AV. AIR TEMPerature
24°C / 75°F
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IRONMAN Copenhagen

With its party atmosphere and beginner-friendly reputation, IRONMAN Copenhagen is always a firm favourite on the European race circuit. It even has the royal seal of approval, with the newly crowned King of Denmark clocking an impressive 10:45:32 at the inaugural addition of the race back in 2013.

The salt-water swim at Copenhagen takes place in a calm lagoon at Amager Strandpark, making an ocean swim feel more akin to a lake swim and setting racers up for a speedy time heading into T1. The bike course, blending coast, city and countryside is rolling. But the near-perfect road surfaces set the stage for a strong bike split. The run course also offers up its own fair share of rollers – particularly in the latter part of the 10km lap as you come back past the famous Little Mermaid. But the party atmosphere is sure to give any competitor an energy boost that’ll keep the legs ticking over.

AG Finish Time AV.
12h
13m
Swim
Ocean Bay
Course profile
Rolling
AV. AIR TEMPerature
21°C / 70°F
Crown Prince Frederik IRONMAN Copenhagen 2013
Prince Frederik clocked a sub-four hour marathon at IRONMAN Copenhagen [Photo credit: Flemming Gernyx for IRONMAN]

IRONMAN-branded races currently dominate the fast Iron-distance triathlon scene in North America. But those more interested in a grassroots experience over a fast time do have options in the form of races such as the Virginia Anvil, Michigan Titanium and Peasantman (NY).

IRONMAN Maryland

Featuring a river swim and a flatter than flat bike and run, IRONMAN Maryland offers up plenty of opportunity to lay down a fast time. Practice your sighting to stay on course while you’re going against the tidal current in the swim, and you’ll set yourself up for a speedy return to T1 once you have the tide with you.

The bike course is one of the flattest courses going, with under 500 feet (152 meters) of elevation gain. Get dialled into that aero position – but just remember the course isn’t closed to traffic so you’ve got to keep your wits about you.

AG Finish Time AV.
12h
45m
Swim
River
Course profile
Flat
AV. AIR TEMPerature
22°C / 73°F
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IRONMAN Florida

Age-group triathletes looking to make the most of a full summer’s worth of training should consider a late season trip to Florida to get that personal best time in the bag. The 2-lap ocean swim, which is typically wetsuit-legal, features an Australian exit. Practice your swim-run-swim and you could make up some precious time here. The fast, flat bike course favours those adept at staying down in the aero position. The typically warm but not too warm November temperatures should mean that athletes can make the most of the pan-flat run course to set a fast marathon split.

AG Finish Time AV.
13h
43m
Swim
Ocean
Course profile
Flat
AV. AIR TEMPerature
19°C / 66°F
American Skye Moench takes the tape at IRONMAN Florida 2023
Skye Moench takes the tape at IRONMAN Florida 2023 [Photo Credit – IRONMAN]
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IRONMAN California

Heading over to the west coast, IRONMAN California rounds out our selection of the fastest IRONMAN triathlons in North America. And with its down river swim resulting in an average swim time of just over 1 hour 5 minutes in 2023 – it’s easy to see why. After cruising through the point-to-point swim, athletes jump on the bike and head off for a lightning fast tour of Sacramento’s wine country. A two-loop, spectator lined run course along the river will have plenty of age-groupers crossing the finish line with a new PR, as well as another medal for their collection.

AG Finish Time AV.
13h
40m
Swim
Down River
Course profile
Flat
AV. AIR TEMPerature
21°C / 70°F

Outside of Europe and North America, there are a growing number of incredible Iron-distance races to pick from which offer the perfect excuse to combine racing with visiting a bucket-list destination – from New Zealand to Japan. But for a quick time, draw your attention to races in Australia and Korea.

Challenge Gunsan-Saemangeum

The stunning island district of Gogunsan provides a breath-taking backdrop for Challenge Gunsan-Saemangeum. After a sea swim, athletes will experience an ultra-fast and flat bike course – riding along the world’s longest 33.9km seawall. Other than a 180 degree turn at either end, triathletes will spend most of their time going in a straight line making for a fast split back to T2. The 2-lap run course features another long, straight out and back. Find your rhythm, focus on ticking off the miles and you’ll be at the finish line before you know it.

AG Finish Time AV.
13h
15m
Swim
Ocean
Course profile
Flat
AV. AIR TEMPerature
26°C / 79°F
Challenge Gunsan-Saemangeum
Make the most of flat course profiles and long straight sections for a fast finish at Challenge Gunsan-Saemangeum
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IRONMAN Cairns

Experience the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, and bring a new personal best IRONMAN time home as the ultimate souvenir. Once voted ‘world’s best IRONMAN’, Cairns is a great destination race for targeting a fast time. The ocean swim from Palm Cove could bring with it the risk of choppy water, but with the organisers moving the course closer to shore in recent years – the impact of the wind should be lessened. Winding along the coastline, with views of seaside rainforests, the bike course features a few rolling hills but no major inclines to slow down your average pace. Meanwhile the 4-lap run course along the Cairns Esplanade offers up plenty of straight sections to get into a good rhythm.

AG Finish Time AV.
12h
58m
Swim
Ocean
Course profile
Rolling / Flat
AV. AIR TEMPerature
26°C / 79°F
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IRONMAN Western Australia

With 20 years of heritage, ‘Busso’ as IRONMAN Western Australia is known amongst loyal fans has become a go-to destination for setting a new personal best. A bay swim offers all the speed benefits of salt water, with less risk of chop. A fast, flat bike course is backed up with a flat and straight forward run course. Another one for the late-season bucket list. But for those of us coming from the wintery northern hemisphere, just make sure you factor in some heat prep in the build up so you’re ready for Busselton’s summer temperatures.

AG Finish Time AV.
12h
53m
Swim
Ocean Bay
Course profile
Flat
AV. AIR TEMPerature
27°C / 81°F
Lucy Bartholomew qualified for the 2023 VinFast IRONMAN World Championship at December's GWM IRONMAN Western Australia [Photo credit: Korupt Vision for IRONMAN]
Ultra runner Lucy Bartholomew qualified for Kona with fourth at IRONMAN Western Australia in her age cat [Photo credit: Korupt Vision for IRONMAN]

Best IRONMAN 70.3 and middle distance triathlons for a fast time

From the laidback vibes of Melbourne to the historic culture of Samarkand. We’ve scoured the wide range of half IRONMAN and middle distance triathlons on offer to bring you a selection of the fastest courses in Europe, North America and the rest of the world. Go for the personal best, stay for the post-race vacation. Get ready for your triathlon bucket list to get that little bit longer.

As with long distance triathlon, Europe offers such a variety of middle distance racing that there really is an event for all tastes. But to secure that fast finish time, we’re taking you on a tour of France, Italy and Slovakia.

Challenge Vieux Boucau

The middle distance race at Challenge Almere-Amsterdam is perhaps the most obvious choice when it comes to a fast European Challenge Family event. But for a late season French getaway, Challenge Vieux Boucau is a great alternative.

Vieux Boucau might be a surfers playground in the summer months. But the sheltered marine lake swim combined with the fast, flat bike and run courses makes this vibrant French coastal resort prime personal best territory when the triathletes roll into town in the autumn. Alongside the flat course profile, the single loop bike course means you’ll encounter far less congestion and plenty of opportunity to push the pace without disruption.

AG Finish Time AV.
5h
25m
Swim
Saltwater Lake
Course profile
Flat
AV. AIR TEMPerature
21°C / 70°F
Challenge Vieux Boucau Noodt Margirier sprint finish
The fast course at Challenge Vieux Boucau set the stage for this legendary sprint finish between Mathis Margirier and Mika Noodt in the pro race in 2023.
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Challenge Šamorín 

Home to Challenge’s flagship ‘The Championship’ race, you’d expect some quick times from the qualification-only event at Challenge Šamorín. But take a look at the average age-grouper’s time in the open middle distance event and you’ll get a feel for just how fast this course is. A straight-forward canal swim is followed by an uber flat bike course. Just watch out for the changing terrain on the run course, which weaves around the x-bionic sphere location. Add a bit of off-road running into your training routine and you’ll be in a great place to nail that personal best time.

Challenge Family
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Šamorín might seem like a bit of a road less travelled destination for a race-cation, but visitors will find a surprising amount of culture, history and stunning landscapes to explore.

AG Finish Time AV.
5h
26m
Swim
Canal
Course profile
Flat
AV. AIR TEMPerature
22°C / 72°F
India Lee wins the Challenge Championship in Samorin 2023 [Photo credit: Activimages / Challenge Family]
[Photo credit: Activimages / Challenge Family]
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IRONMAN 70.3 Venice-Jesolo

The final stop on our European tour of some of the fastest middle distance triathlons going takes us to Italy. Situated a short journey along the coast from Venice you’ll find the se aside retreat of Jesolo. Athletes start their day with an ocean swim – with the close-to-shore course limiting the chances of chop or swell impacting their swim times. Long straight sections on both the bike and the run will give you plenty of opportunity to pick up some speed. And the temperate early May weather means heat shouldn’t be too much of a factor.

AG Finish Time AV.
5h
46m
Swim
Ocean
Course profile
Flat
AV. AIR TEMPerature
21°C / 70°F

From Montreal to Monterrey. Those looking for a fast half IRONMAN or middle distance triathlon in North America need look no further! With plenty of races on the North American circuit offering up notoriously fast swims, choosing just three races was a challenge. But taking age-group finish times into account, here’s what we’ve come up with.

Challenge Esprit Montréal

With 40 years of history, Challenge Family are set to take the torch as they bring Triathlon Esprit de Montréal into its next chapter. A calm swim and a flat run in iconic venues from the 1976 Olympics lay the groundwork for fast middle distance finish times. But what really makes this new addition to Challenge Family’s portfolio special is the bike course. Taking place on the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, famous for hosting the F1 Canadian Grand Prix, the bike course at Challenge Esprit Montréal provides athletes with the perfect stage for some seriously high octane racing.

AG Finish Time AV.
5h
44m
Swim
Lake
Course profile
Flat
AV. AIR TEMPerature
21°C / 70°F
Challenge Esprit Montreal
Enjoy calm waters and a fast bike course at an iconic Olympic venue at Challenge Esprit Montréal [Photo: Challenge Family]
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IRONMAN 70.3 Monterrey

Next on our virtual tour of quick middle distance triathlon courses is IRONMAN 70.3 Monterrey. The second largest city in Mexico, this race starts with a toasty warm river swim (wetsuits are unlikely to be required) which brings participants right into the heart of the city. With less than 500m of elevation, expect a fast bike split – helped by the straight-forward out and back nature of the two-lap course. A couple of stairs heading out of T2 will be one way to find out if you’ve got your run legs with you or not. But once you’re out on the course you can look forward to paved surfaces and a flat profile to help you on our way to a PR half marathon split.

Less experienced swimmers might want to practice some non-wetsuit open water sessions to get acclimatised. And with the water temperature typically matching the average air temperature of 25 degrees – hydrating well will be a must to reach your potential.

AG Finish Time AV.
6h
11m
Swim
River
Course profile
Flat
AV. AIR TEMPerature
25°C / 77°F
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IRONMAN 70.3 Oregon

The fast flowing Willamette River of Salem, Oregon makes this IRONMAN 70.3 a firm favourite with PR seekers. Go with the flow – literally – and you’ll have plenty of energy left after a speedy swim split to tackle the rolling bike course. Heading out of T1, you can expect fast and flat sections on the bike through the valleys, with a few rolling hills to keep things interesting. The run will take you along the river and through nature reserves, offering up some shady sections to help keep you cool in the typically warm conditions.

AG Finish Time AV.
6h
15m
Swim
River
Course profile
Rolling / Flat
AV. AIR TEMPerature
27°C / 81°F

We’ve already talked about IRONMAN Western Australia for it’s reputation as a go-to race for personal bests. And needless to say, the 70.3 offering in Busselton is just as rapid as it’s full distance counterpart. But outside of that, there are a few other speedy alternatives – whether you’re planning a trip to Australia or looking to explore somewhere new.

Challenge Samarkand

Situated in the south east corner of Uzbekistan in Central Asia, Samarkand – one of the world’s most ancient cities – provides the backdrop for a fast, flat middle distance triathlon. In fact, out of all the middle distance races we’ve looked at across the world, Samarkand is in the top three for fastest average age-group finish time. Combine the chance for a fast time with the opportunity to explore a city packed full of ancient culture contrasted against new world-class modern amenities. Challenge Samarkand is a race those looking for something a little off the beaten track should definitely add to their triathlon bucket list.

AG Finish Time AV.
5h
41m
Swim
Lake
Course profile
Flat
AV. AIR TEMPerature
22°C / 72°F
Cyclist passes stunning architecture at Challenge Samarkand
The bike course at Challenge Samarkand takes you on a tour of some of the area’s most stunning architecture, with little in the way of elevation to distract you.
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IRONMAN 70.3 Melbourne

Taking place in a laidback seaside suburb of Melbourne, St Kilda, this late season race offers up scenic sunsets… and super-fast race splits. Your day will begin with a rolling swim start in the typically-18 degree waters of Port Phillip Bay. After a short run to the transition zone in Catani Gardens, you’ll head off on the bike for a fast out and back 2-lap course. Finish your day with a scenic waterfront run, offering up great views of the Melbourne Central Business District, before you cross the line with a new personal best to take away with you.

AG Finish Time AV.
5h
45m
Swim
Ocean Bay
Course profile
Flat
AV. AIR TEMPerature
17°C / 63°F
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IRONMAN 70.3 Bahrain

Bahrain is a popular end of season race with the pros. And for age-groupers searching for a quick middle-distance finish time it’s a great way to finish off your triathlon year. A bay swim kicks off the action, followed by a single lap bike course past iconic landmarks with little in the way of elevation to disrupt your rhythm. A three lap run course takes athletes out towards the Financial Harbour before heading back to Reef Island in the heart of the city. With a full summer’s worth of training ticked off, 70.3 Bahrain gives you the opportunity to make the most of your hard work and end the year on a high.

AG Finish Time AV.
5h
49m
Swim
Ocean Bay
Course profile
Flat
AV. AIR TEMPerature
22°C / 72°F

It goes without saying: a fast race course is only one part of the equation. Now you’ve found your race, it’s time to nail your training to get that personal best in the bag. Check out our triathlon training plans and get set for your best race season yet.

Jenny Lucas-Hill
Written by
Jenny Lucas-Hill
Jenny Lucas-Hill is a writer, content creator and communications professional. A long-distance triathlon enthusiast, she has three full Iron-distance finishes to date & also loves watching the sport.
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