1. Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon -- San Francisco, California
Because who else gets to swim from Alcatraz? The course is dynamic. The 1.5-mile Bay swim is different every year depending on the currents. The bike course covers 18 miles of hills, flats, a few technical turns and beautiful views. The 8-mile run course that has a little bit of everything, from wide, flat trails, wooden stairs through the park, a tunnel, soft and hard sand, ups and downs and, of course, the infamous sand stairs, which kill but are so rewarding. All that and the race organization is world class. You can't beat the experience.
2. XTERRA World Championships -- Maui, Hawaii
First, it's Maui. Second, the XTERRA crew and athletes know how to have a great time. One highlight of my race was on the mountain bike course. It is on private property and at one point a few of us had to stop on the course to let a herd of deer pass by. I was not in contention for the overall standings, so I got to enjoy every second of being out there!
3. Carlsbad 5000 -- Carlsbad, California
It's billed as The Worlds Fastest 5K. I've done this race eight times. Two things make this event a must do. First, the course on the southern California coast is beautiful and lined with cheering spectators. Second, the quality and quantity of the participants lifts everyone up to their best, in body and mind. All thanks to the awesome race management of Elite Racing.
4. Snowshoe the Bear -- Big Bear, California
A 5K and 10K snowshoe race near Big Bear Lake. I'll admit, I have yet to do this race, but I've seen the highlights. I got into snowshoeing this past year and I love it! Especially since anyone can do it! Talk about a bit of cross-training to keep things fun and combine a new challenge with the great outdoors. Next year this race is on my schedule.
5. Renegade Off-Road Triathlon -- San Dimas, California
I'm a recent fan of the off-road triathlon. I don't know why it took so long for me to get into it. There are no cars! I just did this race the other day. It was in a gorgeous park just outside of Los Angeles. The lake water was pristine. Nearly every hill I crested on the bike opened up to bright blue sky and views of the mountain ranges in the distance. And well, OK, the run was hard, but gotta love the challenge!
6. New York City Marathon -- New York, New York
Everything you've heard about it is true. There is so much going on along the course that the mile markers seem to come faster than normal! I did it in 2008.
7. Muddy Buddy -- various locations around the U.S.
This event is a crazy (literally) mix of entertainment, energy and deep-seeded competitiveness all wrapped up into one. It's for absolutely everyone, whether you want to get a great workout in with friends and/or family, get M-U-D-D-Y and take a few hilarious photos, or you just want to watch your loved ones do it. My whole family rallied for this one. My sister and I teamed up against my dad and brother. They won, but I've requested a rematch. Great times!
8. XTERRA Trail Running Race Series -- various locations around the U.S.
The courses are off-road and extreme. I get a full body workout from all the twists, turns, uphills and downhills that make up the route. Super hard. So worth it. And they make scrambled eggs fresh on the spot for all competitors!
9. ITU World Triathlon Championships -- various locations around the world
I competed in 1999 and 2000 with Team U.S.A. as an amateur. I loved being a part of a team of all ages and representing the U.S.A. around the world. If you get the opportunity, go for it!
10. Wildflower Triathlon Festival -- Lake San Antonio, California
The Woodstock of Triathlon. What makes this race special is the weekend experience of camping, cooking, canoodling with compadres and competitors, and then racing your butt off on one of the tougher courses in the world.
Jessi Stensland is a professional triathlete who races all types of endurance events. She's also a video producer and an expert on the subjects of movement efficiency and true athleticism as it relates to endurance performance. Learn more about her adventures on her website, GoJessi.com.