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Best triathlon swim courses – our top 5 triathlons for an epic start to race day

Whether you're looking for stunning scenery or an epic atmosphere to get the adrenaline pumping. Start race day right with our round-up of the 5 best triathlon swim courses across long and middle distance races.

Writer & Long Course Triathlete
Last updated -

The swim might be the shortest part of a triathlon – whether you’re ticking off 400m in a super sprint distance triathlon or the full 2.4 mile swim in an Iron-distance event. But it’s still an important part of your overall race experience.

Whether you’re looking for a fast swim split heading into T1, a tough swim course to make the most of your swimming abilities. Or just the most scenic way to start race day. We’ve compiled a list of the 5 best triathlon swims worth adding to your bucket list.

Patagonman Xtreme Triathlon

Location: Patagonia, South America
Race distances: 3.8km swim / 180km bike / 42.2km run
Swim location: Aysen Fjord
Why it makes the list: a next-level challenge that rewards those who dare to take it on with incredible scenery

Patagonman swim start
[Photo Credit: Patagonman]

The prospect of leaping off the back of a passenger ferry into icy cold water might not sound like the nicest way to start a triathlon. But after speaking to Laura Siddall about her experience at Patagonman Xtreme Triathlon in 2023, the swim sounds like a pretty special experience.

“I turned 360 degrees to look back at the boat,” said Laura as she reflected on her race day experience. “I was presented with this iconic image of the opening of the boat, and the athletes jumping into the water. The sky had cleared, and the sun had just started to rise. I could see the stars, and the mountains behind the boat. The first light of the sun was just starting to hit the whites of the snow caps, giving them this pinkish glow. That was all I needed to see. It was such a magical image, that will be in my head forever.”

If you can get past the cold water, and momentarily forget about the incredibly challenging bike and run that await you once you get back to dry land. The swim at Patagonman sounds like an amazing way to start a long day of swim-bike-run.


IRONMAN California

Location: Sacramento, USA
Race distances: 3.8km swim / 180km bike / 42.2km run
Swim location: American River
Why it makes the list: One of the fastest full-distance triathlon swims on the race circuit

Dr Dan Plews wins IRONMAN California in new age-group record
Coach to top PROS Dr Dan Plews set a new age-group record in California in 2023. [Photo Credit – Donald Miralle/IRONMAN]

From an extreme triathlon, to a triathlon with an extremely fast swim course. Taking place in Sacramento, IRONMAN California is one of the favourite full distance races in the USA with age groupers thanks to its super-fast down river swim – backed up by a PR-ready bike and run.

According to IRONMAN, the average swim time here in 2023 was just shy of 1 hour 6 minutes. So if you’re looking to set a new fastest IRONMAN time. Or – like many of us age-groupers – the swim is you’re least favourite part of a triathlon and you just want to get it over so you can hop on your bike and get to the ‘fun part’. IRONMAN California is one of the best full distance triathlon swims going if you’re looking for a fast time.

Dubai T100

Location: Dubai
Race distances: 2km swim / 80km bike / 18km run
Swim location: Crystal Lagoon, District One
Why it makes the list: Unique opportunity to swim in the world’s largest manmade lagoon

Dubai T100 swim course Sam Renouf
T100 have just announced the course locations for Dubai T100, including the exclusive Crystal Lagoon, District One.

Taking place in November, Dubai T100 will be the penultimate stop in the organisation’s triathlon world tour, before the world’s top PROs battle it out for the top spot in the rankings in the World Championship Final later in the month.

The 100km race in Dubai will bring together the world’s best elites and age-groupers to swim, bike and run on a course that takes in some of Dubai’s most iconic locations. And the swim is no exception. Come race day, the athletes will have a unique opportunity to swim in Crystal Lagoon, an exclusive – and huge – manmade lagoon in Dubai’s District One. As you might guess by the name, the water is crystal clear. And with the imposing – but impressive – view of Dubai’s skyline in the background, this is set to be a truly epic swim course with huge bucket list potential.


The Lakesman

Location: Keswick, UK
Distances: 1.9km swim / 90km bike / 21.1km run
Swim location: Derwentwater lake
Why it makes the list: UNESCO World Heritage-listed scenery and crystal clear water

Taking place in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Lake District in the UK, The Lakesman triathlon offers up a middle distance race, plus swim-bike and bike-run options. With a backdrop of rugged fell mountains and sweeping valleys, participants will make their way through the 1.9km swim in the crystal clear Derwentwater lake – often cited as the most scenic of the lakes in the area.

If the city sights of Dubai aren’t calling to you, The Lakesman is a strong contender for one of the most naturally beautiful triathlon swim courses on the race calendar.

Challenge Roth

Location: Roth, Germany
Race distances: 3.8km swim / 180km bike / 42.2km run
Swim location: Main-Danau Canal
Why it makes the list: Spectator-lined swim course makes for the ultimate atmosphere

Challenge Roth swim course
Thousands of spectators line the swim course at Roth every year. Making it one of the best triathlon swim courses for atmosphere.

The single-lap swim course in the Main-Danau Canal at Challenge Roth might not be the most challenging or scenic. But it more than makes up for that with its incredible atmosphere. Every year, spectators line the swim course in crowds 4 or 5 deep wherever you turn. And the only thing to break up the noise of the roaring crowd, is the iconic sound of the canon firing as more athletes enter the water.

Challenge Roth is one of the best supported triathlon swims you’ll find. Setting the tone for the rest of the day which is essentially the Tour de France of triathlon, where the energy from the crowds who line the course all race long will have you flying all the way to the finish line.

Looking for more inspiration to get your race calendar sorted? Check out our round-up of the fastest triathlon courses, or our ultimate top 10 bucket list triathlons.

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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