Elbaman triathlonElba, Italy 1 of 10
Twitter / @mattimatti89
I still remember the first time I stepped off the ferry that brought me from mainland Italy to the island for the race. The island is a paradise and the race isn't bad, either. After an extremely calm swim in the bay, the bike course takes you for one or two laps (depending on whether you opt for the full or half distance) around sweeping coastal vistas along the seaside cliffs. The run is a four-time out-and-back, with tons of locals and families lining the course and cheering all day. It's got all the excitement of Challenge Roth or Kona, guaranteed.
PPD Beach2Battleship triathlonWilmington, N.C. 2 of 10
Twitter / @trihabitat
Can you say 'pancake'? Though it can get a little cold and rainy some years, this is easily one of the fastest long-distance triathlon courses in the U.S. The finish line is the WWII-era battleship USS North Carolina, and there's plenty of other historical sites to see in Wilmington. If history isn't your thing, I strongly recommend checking out the local dueling piano bar.
Great Floridian TriathlonClermont, Fla. 3 of 10
Twitter / @greatfloridian
If you have to take the family to your next race, make it the Great Floridian. You're within a taper ride distance of great attractions, and the race atmosphere is definitely more low-key than your usual hyper-competitive affair. Still, the bike course is challenging with several hills, and it can get warm in the afternoon. Although it doesn't have strong winds, you can still consider it a good train-up for Kona.
Savage Man triathlonDeep Creek Lake, Md. 4 of 10
Twitter / @savagemantri
OK, so technically, the 100-mile distance race isn't an iron-distance. Forget about it, you don't go to this race for the mileage. You go for the gradient. There is serious glory for anyone who can make the four-block climb that features an average grade of 25 percent and has a max grade of 31 percent. If you can get all the way to the top without putting a foot down, the race directors will carve your name into a brick on the road. They will literally chisel your name in stone if you can get up that stretch. Yeah, it's that difficult. That's what makes it savage. And being savage is what makes it awesome.
Michigan Titanium TriathlonPlainfield, Mich. 5 of 10
Twitter / @ashleyslink
There can't be just one tough race on this list. Voted by Triathlon Business International as one of the toughest races in the world, this is a must-do for those seeking a challenge. What makes this race especially magical is the community of athletes who put it together. The people who produce the race are athletes who wanted an Iron-distance event and got tired of waiting for the big companies to come their way. It's a real "of the people, by the people, for the people" event. Given that's something many triathletes say is missing in the Iron-distance these days, it's a great reason to go.
HITS Napa Valley triathlonNapa, Calif. 6 of 10
Twitter / @drdmann
Two words: Napa Valley. Do you really need more reasons than that
Challenge Cedar PointSandusky, Ohio 7 of 10
Twitter / @challenge_amer
Maybe it's cheating to call Challenge an "off-brand" race, but I can't help still thinking of it as Rev3 Cedar Point. Though Challenge bought them out, I always had a soft spot for Rev3 and their events. Besides, being close to a theme park means triathletes with families can still race without dragging the kids somewhere that will leave them bored to tears (like Chattanooga).
Como Lakeman TriathlonBellagio, Italy 8 of 10
Twitter / @alpenround
The Como Lakeman triathlon is by far the most challenging and rewarding iron-distance race I've ever done. The lake swim is gorgeous, but the bike course is utterly brutal. Whether you sign up for the half or the full, you'll have to ascend the famous Madonna del Ghisallo before hitting T2. In case you weren't up on your cycling trivia, the top of the mountain is named for the patron saint of cyclists. The chapel is dedicated to cycling and has a bronze statue of a cyclist as a monument to all the riders who've died on the descent. Don't be too scared, though. It is manageable (make sure your brakes are in good condition before race day) and the views along the way are totally worth it. The run winds through town in some pretty hilarious ways, too. It's definitely a workout, so splurge on the gnocchi at any one of the magnificent restaurants in the local area for your pre-race carbo load.
Mango Monster TriathlonKona, Hawaii 9 of 10
Twitter / @mangomonstertri
You want to go to Kona? You want an exclusive event? You want something really magical that gets to the heart of the Iron-distance? Then do this race. Limited to 100 people and essentially following the traditional IRONMAN World Championships course, the Mango Monster triathlon is an open-course race that uses support crews instead of aid stations. It's more similar to the original IRONMAN format before the sport got big and too many athletes entered the race for support vehicles to be safe. After spending years around the ultra-endurance race crowd, one of the things that makes those events so special is the bond between athlete and crew. You'll get a much more personal experience with the local volunteers who make IRONMAN Hawaii happen every year.