9 best Ironman/full distance triathlons in the world

The Full or Ironman distance triathlon is the ultimate feat of multisport endurance. Swimming 3.9km, cycling 180km, and finishing with a 42.2km (full marathon) run will require months of training, peak physical fitness, and steely mental determination.

Some of these events are spectacular in their settings, support, and organisation, making sure that you never forget the experience. Here, we’ve gathered together 9 of our favourite full distance triathlons, including Ironman-branded and independent events, from flat and fast routes to the world’s most challenging courses.

Image via Bike List

1. Western Australia, Australia

Swim: Busselton Foreshore, 2 laps; Bike: Total Elevation Gain 338m/1109ft, 2 laps; Run: Total Elevation Gain 184m/604ft, 4 laps

Ironman Western Australia swimming section

This course is most popular for those seeking a personal best, as it is one of the flattest Ironman routes on the circuit. You never go higher than 29m above sea level, so you can put your head down and achieve an incredible time. The coastal swim off Busselton Jetty is breathtaking, and the residents of Busselton pull out all the stops to make this an unforgettable experience. This is an amazing event for those wanting to mix their exercise with tourism, as you’ll get to explore one of the most beautiful holiday destinations in the world, including forests, whale-watching, and wine-tasting.

2. Ironman Arizona, USA

Swim: Salt River, 1 lap; Bike: Total Elevation Gain 785m/2577ft, 3 laps; Run: Total Elevation Gain 109m/358ft, 2 laps

Ironman Arizona, bike section

This urban triathlon is a gathering point for the triathlon community to close off the season each year. Although the race takes place mainly within the buildings and buzz of Tempe, on the bike leg you’ll head out into the Sonoran Desert for some stunning landscapes. The course is known for being flat and fast, often helped along the way by strong winds. Lionel Sanders set an Ironman-branded triathlon record there in 2016, in a time of 7:44:29, before it was broken in 2017. 

3. Ironman Mont-Tremblant, Canada

Swim: Lake Tremblant, 1 lap; Bike: Total Elevation Gain 1800m/5906ft, 2 laps; Run: Total Elevation Gain 772m/2534ft, 2 laps

Ironman Mont-Tremblant, bike section

This race is best enjoyed for its scenery, from crystal-clear waters in the swim section to forests and mountains during the bike and run. There are a couple of challenging climbs along the way, especially at the end of each bike lap, but you’re rewarded with some stunning descents where you can make up for lost time. The setting in the Tremblant Resort allows for your supporting friends and families to do a range of activities, such as hiking, kayaking, and golf. 

4. Challenge Roth, Germany

Swim: Main-Donau Kanal, 1 lap; Bike: Total Elevation Gain 340m/1115ft, 2 laps; Run: Total Elevation Gain 400m/1312ft, 1 lap

For full distance or non-Ironman-branded triathlons, this is undoubtedly the fastest course on the circuit. The world record at this distance was set by Jan Frodeno in 2016 in a time of 7:35:39, and the fastest female full-distance time was set by Chrissie Wellington in 2011 in 8:18:13. You’ll pass through villages where everyone gets out to support (crowds in the past have exceeded 250,000) so you won’t be lacking inspiration. 

5. Ironman UK, Bolton, UK

Swim: Pennington Flash, 2 laps; Bike: Total Elevation Gain 2559m/8395ft, 2 laps; Run: Total Elevation Gain 312m/1024ft, 4 laps

Ironman UK, bike section and supporters

This course has often been seen as a good event for Ironman beginners. The swim takes place in a calm lake, with a rest on land between laps, and the run section is relatively gentle and having 4 laps is good for the morale. However, the bike section poses a real challenge for beginners or regular triathletes. The course changed in 2019, meaning there is now over 2500m of climbing, so it’s a real test on the legs and the mind as there is very little flat respite. The local support, including masked Mexican wrestlers, and town centre finish make it all worthwhile though. 

6. Ironman Copenhagen, Denmark

Swim: Amager Strandpark lagoon, 1 lap; Bike: Total Elevation Gain 1302m/4271ft, 2 laps; Run: Total Elevation Gain 246m/807ft, 4 laps

Ironman Copenhagen, bike section

This is one of the only Ironman events to take place in a capital city, and as a result it is hugely popular for its tourism opportunities. There’s no better way to take in the city’s historic landmarks than by cycling or running past them on your way to an incredible life achievement. After the race, you’ll be able to enjoy the most ‘hygge’ recovery, so it’s the perfect excuse to invite your friends to join a European weekend escape. 

7. Ironman Austria, Klagenfurt

Swim: Lake Wörthersee, 1 lap; Bike: Total Elevation Gain 1490m/4888ft, 1 laps; Run: Total Elevation Gain 118m/387ft, 2 laps

Ironman Austria, Klagenfurt

This is one of the most beautiful Ironman courses going, with crystal-watered lakes, a scenic bike ride through Carinthia, and a run route surrounded by alpine mountains. It’s no wonder that over 3,000 triathletes from all over the world come together each year. Spectators will be cheering you on all the way up to the emotional finish, even staying to support the final finishers just before midnight. 

8. Full X, Ambleside, UK

Swim: Lake Windermere, 2 laps; Bike: Total Elevation Gain 3700m/12000ft, 1 lap; Run: Total Elevation Gain 1450m/4923ft, 1 lap

Full X, Ambleside

Often seen as the world’s toughest full distance triathlon, the Full X is not for the fainthearted. The cycle route follows the Fred Whitton Sportive course, which on its own is one of the toughest cycling routes in the UK, let alone in the context of a triathlon. The run section then takes you to the top of Scafell Pike, England’s tallest mountain. Complete this race, and you will have bragging rights over almost any other sports person you’ll meet. 

9. Zalaris Norseman, Norway

Swim: Hardangerfjord, 1 lap; Bike: 1 lap; Run: 1 lap. Total Course Elevation Gain: 5235m/17175ft

Zalaris Norseman finish line, Norway

This is the only race that can challenge Full X’s crown as the toughest full distance triathlon in the world. The total elevation gain is fairly identical, but the swim here takes place in bitingly cold waters. It has grown in popularity since welcoming 21 competitors for the inaugural edition in 2003, and now has an oversubscribed ballot for its 250 spaces. For all your effort, you’ll be rewarded with an epic finish at the summit of Mount Gaustatoppen.

List of Best Ironman/Full Distance Triathlons in the world:

  1. Western Australia
  2. Ironman Arizona
  3. Ironman Mont-Tremblant
  4. Challenge Roth
  5. Ironman UK
  6. Ironman Copenhagen
  7. Ironman Austria
  8. Full X, Ambleside
  9. Zalaris Norseman
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Back in 2016, Steph swapped her skis for the bicycle and hasn't looked back since. She then joined a triathlon club in Edinburgh, and only a couple of years later came 21st in 2019 Ironman 70.3 World Champs. Since then, she's taken on a number of ultra running and cycling challenges, most notably the infamous 'everesting' cycling challenge. Steph is currently sponsored by Le Col, 2XU, and SunGod.

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