An Ironman Triathlon is the longest triathlon of a sequence of races set by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC). Ironman involves swimming 2.4-miles (3.86 km), cycling 112-miles (180.25 km), and then running a marathon of 26.22-miles (42.20 km). It is regarded by many as possibly being the world's most challenging one-day competitive athletic event.
Most Ironman events, depending upon the course, start at 7:00 am and usually have a cut off time of 16 or 17 hours to complete the race. You must be out of the water, having completed your swim by 2 hours 20 minutes after starting the race. Generally speaking, the mandatory cycle cutoff times vary between 10 hours and 10 hours 30 minutes from when athletes begin their swimming events. The deadline imposed for the run is typically between 16 and 17 hours from when the athletes started their swim.
Anyone who finishes the race within these time limits is considered an "Ironman."
All photos: James Mitchell Photography
Where Did The Ironman Come From?
The original Ironman took place in Oahu, Hawaii, before moving to nearby Kailua-Kona, back in 1978, and the event has continued in the same tradition ever since. Every year, countless athletes battle it out to be considered the Ironman champion.
Of course, we all know the Ironman World Championship for its extremes. It is a long, harsh race that is televised all over the world. You’ll find similar races that try to emulate it, but none will ever match the sheer power required to complete this race in the times required. Of course, there’s also the prestige of becoming an Ironman. The format has also remained the same since its original race in Oahu, so you have history to add to the mix. Put simply, it’s prestigious, and everyone wants to win.
In 1893, a system based on qualification was developed. In this case, athletes had to participate in another competition to qualify for the Ironman championships themselves. This ensured that only the very best made it through to the world championship stage.
Now, the race consists of open water swimming, biking, and a marathon. The swim section takes place in the bay of Kailua-Kona, while the bike section takes competitors across the lava desert, beginning at Hawi and returning back to the starting point. Finally, the marathon spans across the coastline from Keauhou Keahole Point and back to the original point at Kailua-Kona.
As you can see, the Ironman winner needs stamina, technique, and a lot of perseverance even to finish the course. Although it is a brand, other independent organisations put on iron-distance events, with the fastest time now being held by Kristian Blummenfelt with a superb 7:21:12 Ironman debut in Cozumel. Jan Frodeno previously held the men’s world record from Germany, who completed the course in 7 hours, 51 minutes, and 13 seconds and then beat it with a time of 7hr 35min 39sec at Challenge Roth in Germany in 2016. Daniela Ryf from Switzerland holds the world record for the women’s Ironman who completed the course in 8 hours, 26 minutes, and 18 seconds.
It’s possible for amateurs to qualify for the main event via a series of Ironman races. There is also the chance to qualify via a competition or promotion or through the charity auction that the Ironman Foundation puts on.
The Ironman Series allows qualification to the main event, and many take place worldwide. A points-based system allows professional athletes to qualify, and this is typically the top 50 male athletes and top 35 female athletes.
The Ironman Series
Amateur athletes can qualify by earning a slot that is allocated to specific age groups. To qualify, amateurs need to be in the top section at the end of the qualifying event.
Qualifying triathlons are no easy task! They require extreme physical and mental endurance and athletes need to train seriously over a period of time. Extreme commitment is required.
Official qualifying events must have the World Triathlon corporation stamp, aka WTC. Official events take place all over the World. In the UK, there is one in Bolton and another in Wales. It is possible to qualify for the main championships through these triathlon events.
Within triathlons, there are cut off points at various points throughout the event. For instance, athletes must complete the swim section within 2 hours and 20 minutes. The biking section must be completed within 10 hours and 30 minutes, and the whole race needs to be completed in 17 hours.
As you can see, anyone who chooses to enter these events needs to commit a huge amount of time to train. It can be difficult to find the time to actually consistently go to a pool or open water for the swim section training, especially if you don’t live close to one. Tools such as the ZEN8 Swim Trainer can solve that problem. In that case, you’re able to build your core strength, work on stamina, and isolate specific muscles to build strength and technique, all on dry land and in the comfort of your own home.
Those who choose to enter the qualifying triathlons will need to train for six months or more. Preparation is key, and that also means ensuring you have the right equipment and kit for the race. Those who don’t have the necessary equipment won’t be able to qualify.
On Average, How Long Does it Take to Complete an Ironman Triathlon?The Ironman is the most challenging, mainstream, one-day event around. The cut off time is 17 hours and for many, simply making it to the end is a huge achievement. The average time to finish the event varies, and it depends upon where the course is and the type of terrain involved.
However, an average finishing time would be around 13 hours for a man and about 14 hours for a female. These times would be considered high quality. However, the very best of the best, i.e. world champions, would be looking at around 8-9 hours completion time.