Having now completed both sprint triathlons, I can now objectively assess which is the best one for you*.
The Ballwin course is roughly a 300m swim, 9-mile bike ride and a 3.5ish mile run. The swim portion is done in heats and you stick to the same lane. The bike route is a loop you do twice and has a steep incline about a fourth of the way in and some inclines here and there, but is relatively flat. The run has a few sizeable hills and makes its way through a neighborhood.
The Tour de Kirkwood course is approximately a 400m swim, 12-mile bike ride and a 3-mile run. The swim here is a serpentine swim, meaning participants start at one end of the pool, one after another in 3-second intervals, swim a complete lap, duck under the lane barrier, and so forth, until they reach the other end of the pool. This involves knowing a bit more about your swim pace, but is pretty easy if you surround yourself with like-bodied individuals. The bike route is also a loop you do twice and has a few inclines, one huge hill in the middle and a grueling long climb in the middle portion. The run is a course you run twice, which means you tackle the steep hill at two different times.
So which is the better course? It all depends what you’re looking to do.
If you’ve never done a sprint triathlon before and want to ease into it, I recommend the Ballwin. It doesn’t have as much time in the water, has a good bike course and actually has a more interesting and scenic run course with not a lot of hills throughout.
But if you’re looking to tackle a challenge or kick it up a notch, the Kirkwood is the Tri to, um, try. It’s still relatively accessible to the casual athlete, but still has challenges for the more serious (I saw a few aerodynamic cycling helmets).
Of course, there’s a third option. Since the two are pretty much two weeks apart, why not do both? Use the Ballwin to prepare for the Kirkwood. I mean, if you’re putting in the time to train, you might as well get the most lung-straining, sweat-pouring bang for your buck.
*You being people who are interested in doing triathlons.