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Top 5 first time Ironman races

We've ranked these 5 Ironman races as the "easiest" for North American triathletes. But beware - the full distance is challenging no matter what the course looks like.

Ironman Mont-Tremblant race day
Ironman Mont-Tremblant

— By Michael Liberzon

There are no “easy” Ironman races, but some are better for first-timers — or those looking for fast and flat courses — than others. These five events rank as our top options for North American triathletes looking take on the gruelling full distance

Ironman Florida, Panama City Beach FL – Early November.

Perennially fast. Ironman Florida gets top billing among the first-timers are PR-seekers.

    • The swim is in the Gulf of Mexico, and as with any very large body of water, may present some chop.
    • The bike is almost entirely flat, making for some speedy average splits. The course does see some wind.

The run is along the Panama City beach and is also quite but often gets quite warm. Still, at this time of year the sun sets early cooling things off toward the end.

Ironman Texas, The Woodlands TX – Late April

Texas is an early season favourite for those gunning for a Kona spot – or just a first crack at an IM distance. It’s a spring race, so be ready for long indoor trainer sessions.

    • The IM Texas swim takes place in the sheltered waters of Lake Woodlands. Swimmers stay close to shore on this point-to-point course, easing open water anxiety and helping with navigation and sighting.
    • The newly-redesigned bike course retains the mostly-flat elevation profile of its predecessor, and ought to yield similarly fast times.
    • The Texas run is contained entirely within The Woodlands planned community and mostly sticks to the shores of Lake Woodlands. Runners see virtually no elevation gain, for a flat and fast end to their race.

Ironman Arizona, Tempe AZ – Late November

This course saw Lionel Sanders set an Ironman mens’ record this past year. So yeah, it’s fast.

    • The swim at IMAZ is a straightforward, single long loop in the Tempe Town Lake. Swimmers are never far from shore, and the waters are calm – if a bit murky.
    • The three-loop out-and-back bike at Arizona is fast. There is a gradual, false flat-like climb on the way out of town, but there are no substantial grades here. Wind is a potential factor in the desert, but the nature of the course means that it will help as often as it hinders.
    • The two-loop run is flat enough to be manageable, and rolls enough to keep things interesting. It is also superbly spectator friendly for that key bit if encouragement when things get tough!

Ironman Mont-Tremblant, Mont Tremblant QC – Late August

This is the hometown favourite for Canadian triathletes from the eastern half of the country. Stunning scenery, perfect roads, and a phenomenal athletes’ village experience are all great reasons to make IMMT your first.

    • The swim is a single loop affair in the clear waters of Lake Tremblant.
    • The bike leg is certainly the most challenging of the five events listed here, but the effort is well worth it. The roads are very well maintained, and the climbs (as steep as 8%) are rewarded by the thrilling descents.
    • The run follows a rolling, but not overly tasking course that is typically well-shaded.

Ironman Maryland, Cambridge MD – Early October

Maryland is one of the newer IM-branded races in North America. It boasts flat bike and run courses for a fast overall experience.

    • The swim at IMMD is two loops in the Choptank River. The swim here is not without challenges: the tide can effect currents and bring in unwelcome jellyfish.
    • The bike is flat and fast! Given the proximity of the course to open water, it can be quite breezy.
    • The three-loop run is similarly flat, with no significant elevation to challenge those tired legs.

Remember to enjoy the journey. Training for an Ironman is a big deal and carries with it its own rewards – like amazing aerobic fitness and butt (in the saddle) endurance.

Michael is an NCCP trained triathlon coach, certified personal trainer, and kettlebell instructor. His degree in mechanical engineering supports his evidence-based approach to coaching.

Michael is also the owner and head coach of the X3 Training Lab in Toronto.