6. ITU World Championships — Varies from year to year
I love the fast-paced racing of International Triathlon Union (ITU) events. This multiple-loop, draft-legal format is a kick to watch, and my favorite courses feature big hills on the bike and maybe the run, too. These events showcase athlete speed, tactics and guts. These events are the path to the Olympic Games -- and I'm a Games addict.
Amateur (age group) athletes around the world go through a qualification process within their nation to travel to the ITU World Championships to represent their respective countries. In the U.S.A. the process to qualify for Team U.S.A. is listed on the USA Triathlon website. As an athlete representing your country, you march in a parade of nations modeled after the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games.
I felt extremely patriotic racing in my nation's colors, in my team uniform and in the parade. A bonus for age groupers is watching the Elite ITU World Championship event that contains multiple current and future Olympians. If you can't travel to the Olympics, perhaps you can race yourself and watch the Elite ITU World Championships with an Olympic-quality field.
7. Winter Park Mountain Bike Race Series — Winter Park, Colorado
In particular, my favorite course is the Tipperary Creek event known as "King of the Rockies". This course was the beginning of mountain bike racing for me, and the King of the Rockies used to be a stage race. I like the idea of mountain bike stage racing and miss that aspect of the event; but I still like this course. It begins on a wide service road and allows the group to get spaced out before heading up a wide-track climb.
This climb further separates racers so you can really enjoy the single-track. You ride through lush green meadows and forest. The trail hosts roots, rocky sections, a few areas of technical challenge and water crossing. The water can be deep and spectator pleasing. Organizers have expanded over the years to host eight events within the series. There is plenty of fun to be had over the entire season.
8. BolderBOULDER 10K — Boulder, Colorado
In true Boulder style, this race has top elite racers, fast age groupers, those just trying to finish and the costumed group. In 2009, the event attracted more than 54,000 racers. The on-course entertainment has grown so big that it has its own page on the website. Not listed are the numerous belly dancers, costumed people and only-in-Boulder characters.
All runners finish in the University of Colorado's Folsum Field, and many hang around post-race to watch the elites run in a separate wave after the citizen's race. By the time I ran into the stadium (fast runners are staged first), the place was packed so it sounded like the entire stadium was cheering for me. You gotta do this race at least once.
9. USTS Indianapolis — Indianapolis, Illinois
The last two events on my list are now extinct. I'm hoping that by showcasing them here perhaps it will somehow bring them back to life.
This particular event was part of the U.S. Triathlon Series of events, sponsored by Bud Light. The best part of this event was that I got to ride my bike on the Indianapolis 500 Race Track. This race track is rich in automotive and racing history. I recall riding past the light tower that is used to start the race. I had to slow down just to get a full look at the tower, it is so enormous.
Who wouldn't ride fast on the Indy track?
10. Scott Tinley's Dirty Adventures — Ft. Collins, Colorado
Tinley's Dirty Adventures used to be a national series. Though my local Colorado Tinley's race no longer exists, Tinley's Adventures continues to thrive in southern California. I loved this event because it offered shorter, easier courses for beginners and tougher courses for advanced racers. You could race one event or more events over the course of three days.
Those that wanted extra challenge could enter the "Toughest Competition," which was essentially multisport stage racing. My race began on Friday with a mountain bike time trial. The second day was an off-road triathlon and the third day was an off-road duathlon. Great fun!
It is worth mentioning that Scott Tinley's contributions to the sport of triathlon and to dirty fun are recognized in the XTERRA Hall of Fame.
It took me forever to write this column because I kept recalling more great races and experiences. Memories of training time with friends, road trips and moments of doubled-over, tear-producing laughter filled my thoughts. There are loads of great events for you to do near and far, just get active and soak-up the joy ride.
Gale Bernhardt was the USA Triathlon team coach at the 2003 Pan American Games and 2004 Athens Olympics. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Games in Sydney. She currently serves as one of the World Cup coaches for the International Triathlon Union's Sport Development Team. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow cycling and triathlon training plans. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.