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The World Ironman Championship 2017

By Kevin Cain

Do you know what the World Ironman Championship is all about? Perhaps if you are aware that it is run and organised by the World Triathlon Corporation you might be able to take a better guess.

The event was first held back in 1978 and Hawaii was selected as the perfect place for the athletes to compete. Although the actual Islands of Hawaii have changed as host, the Championships are still held there today.The disciplines of the Triathlon are tough, with an endurance swim, a marathon and a bike race.In 1978 fifteen competitors arrived in Waikiki to take the inaugural Ironman Challenge, their instructions were to to swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles and run 26.2 miles. The Championship moved in 1981 from Waikiki to Big Island and its formidable lava fields of Kona. The athletes have to battle not just the lava desert terrain but the infamous 45mph “ho’omumuku” crosswinds and thirty five degrees of baking temperatures.

This October over 2,000 athletes are expected to descend upon Hawaii to try to endure the 140.6 miles of tortuous competition. The World Ironman Championships will present the ultimate triathlon test of body, mind and spirit and only the strongest will prevail. This year the Championship will once again take place on the Big Island of Hawaii in Kailua-Kona. The first discipline is the swim which begins and ends at Kailua Pier, then the second segment the cycle race will see competitors cycle north on the Kona Coast through scorching lava fields and then along the Kohala Coast to the small village of Hawi, and then returning home by the same route.The last segment is the marathon, and the course takes the runners through Kailua-Kona and on the same road as the cyclists. The runners then make their way back down Ali’i Drive to the winning post.

On average most competitors have to train for at least six months to attempt the World Ironman Challenge and will put around 25 hours a week into their training of the three disciplines.The only age requirement for competitors is that they be eighteen or over although they must compete in their Age Group division. This is laid down by the International Triathlon Federation and the USA Triathlon’s Age Group Competition rule.

All competitors have a time limit of seventeen hours to complete the three events, and cut-off times are applied to each segment. The competition is also separated into divisions: Professional, Age Group, Handcycle, Open and Military.

So how do the athletes qualify for this most prestigious of triathlon’s? There are actually three ways of qualifying, by earning a slot at one of the qualifying events held worldwide, or by being selected in the Ironman Legacy program or finally by winning a place through the Ironman Charitable eBay Auction. Previous champions from the prior year will also receive an invitation if they won either the Professional, Age Group, and Handcycle events.

The current Ironman course record is 8hrs, 3 minutes and 56 seconds which was set by the Australian Craig Alexander. The ladies record is held by Swiss athlete Daniela Ryf which she set in 2016 at 8hrs, 46 minutes and 46 seconds.Last year Jan Frodeno from Germany won the Gold a repeat of his victory in 2015. In fact in 2016 Germany took a clean sheet of Gold, Silver and Bronze and highlighted the modern German dominance of men’s triathlon events.

Previous to that for the main Australia has dominated the men’s event in the 2000’s, whilst Great Britain’s ladies have been highly dominant in the same period.Up to 2015, athletes could actually enter a $50 lottery to enter the Ironman World Championships but this is no longer the case due to legal implications over charging money for a lottery.

Since its inception the USA has won the Men’s Championship 20 times, Australia 7, Germany 7 and Belgium and Canada 3 each. In the Ladies competition the USA have 10 wins, Switzerland 8, 5 a piece for the UK, Canada and Zimbabwe, 4 for Australia and New Zealand 2. Although this may seem like a USA landslide, it should be noted for the first 6 Championships only the USA took part. Since then other nations have gradually had success and now it is truly a worldwide competition.

Outside of the World Ironman Championship there are other triathlons that appear on many athletes Bucket List: Escape From Alcatraz - situated in San Francisco Bay is an iconic race that commences with the competitors jumping off the Francisco Belle Ferry into the icy waters near Alcatraz Island. This is followed by a one and a half mile swim in 55 degree waters, followed by a short run and an 18 mile cycle before a final road race of 8 miles through Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Challenge Roth - is the fastest iron-distance course in the world. The main swim takes place in the Main-Donau Canal and is followed by 112 mile bike ride and and marathon around the tiny German town of Roth. The support is fanatical for this race and an estimated 220,000 fans attend the event. Wildflower - situated roughly 20 miles from the Central Coast of California in the small town of Bradley is the famous Wildflower Race. This is one of the longest run triathlons on the circuit and begins with a swim in Lake San Antonio. The run is particularly tough with 60% off road and on trails. Wildflower is nicknamed the Woodstock of triathlons as it has a very laid back experience and has a festival feel to the whole affair.

These other triathlons rank among the best in the world, but there is only one true World Ironman Championship, and that takes place later on in the year in Hawaii in October. It might be a bit late to train for the 2017 competition, but you could always start to prepare for next year’s event !