November 12, 2015

Ironman World Championship: A Primer

The NBC coverage of the 2015 Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii will air on Saturday, November 14, from 1:30 to 3 p.m. ET. The Ironman World Championship special is a condensed version of the eight-hour pro race, and also focuses on inspiring stories of age-groupers and celebrity participants. You can read more about this telecast at How to Watch the Ironman World Championship

Of course, the most memorable moment of the Ironman World Championship goes all the way back to 1982, when race leader Julie Moss collapsed just yards from the finish line. Ultimately, she was passed for the title, but crawled to the finish to take second place. You can watch the famous finish on YouTube. After watching this special, many people have been motivated to train for their first triathlon and ultimately race an Ironman.

Ironman began way back on February 18, 1978 on the shores of Waikiki, when 15 competitors met to decide who the toughest endurance athletes were when combining swimming, cycling, and running. Back then, no one would have ever conceived of what the Ironman franchise, and the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii in particular, would become. So, let’s look at 6 things you need to know about the Ironman World Championship and what you need to know to get there.

  1. An official Ironman race is comprised of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile ride, and a 26.2 mile run. The term “Ironman” is a registered trademark, and the owners of that trademark defend it aggressively. Also, the “Iron” part of the name is trademarked when used in reference to a triathlon event, while the “man” part of the name is not. Therefore, you can have events such as Silverman, Eagleman, etc.
  1. Like the Boston Marathon, you have to qualify and it’s not easy. There are four ways to earn a slot in Kona. First, you can qualify at a designated Ironman-branded event, placing high enough in your age group to snag one of the available slots. If someone opts not to take that slot or has already qualified, that slot then moves down to the next finisher in that age division. Next, you can qualify by paying a fee, entering the lottery, and being selected. However, the courts have ruled that the existing form of the lottery is illegal, so that method will be changing for 2016. Third, you can get in through the Ironman Legacy program. Finally, there are a limited number of slots available through the Ironman Charitable ebay Auction. Also, slots cannot be sold or exchanged. 
  1. A question that is often asked is how much training goes into racing the Ironman World Championship. While there is no set answer, athletes train an average 7 months, broken down into 13 – 30 hours per week, and have average training distances per week are: swimming – 7 miles, biking – 232 miles, and running – 48 miles. In other words, training for an Iron-distance event can be a full-time endeavor. 
  1. Not only does a lot of time go into training for an Ironman, but a lot of money is required, as well! The entry fee for the 2015 Ironman Championship race was $850, plus additional fees associated with registering online. That does not take into account the cost of flying to Hawaii, housing, food, transportation, etc. Also, those same costs go along with doing a qualifying race somewhere. The costs associated with just being in the sport of triathlon include a triathlon bike which can cost well over $10,000, a wetsuit, race suit, running shoes, bike shoes, sunglasses, etc. There is a good reason the average triathlete is over 30 years old; you need to be established in a career in order to be able to afford being an ironman triathlete!
  1. Even if you qualify and compete at the Ironman World Championship, there are still time cutoffs you must meet in order to continue the race. You must complete the swim by 2 hours 20 minutes after your designated start time, the bike by 10 hours and 30 minutes after your designated start time, and you must cross the finish line by 16 hours 50 minutes after your designated start time. Along the way, of course, there are aid stations with nutrition and hydration, and medical tents for those needing immediate attention. 
  1. If I complete a “full distance” event (an event that also has a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run) that is not an official Ironman, can I still call myself an “Ironman?” This is a point of much debate. Purists will argue that unless you complete an Ironman-branded event, you cannot call yourself an “Ironman.” Extremists will go so far as to say that unless you complete the Ironman World Championship race, you are not really an Ironman. I will leave that up to you.
  1. Finally…the finish. One of the best parts of finishing the Ironman World Championship race in Kona is having Mike Reilly "The Voice of Ironman" call out your name over the loudspeaker, “John Doe…you are an Ironman!” Also, if you have completed an Ironman, you may wish to commemorate the occasion by getting an M-Dot tattoo. For many, this tattoo is the ultimate badge for the endurance athlete.!

So that is an overview of what the Ironman Championship in Kona, Hawaii is all about. Good luck to you if are willing to take on that challenge. Stay tuned for more informative articles here at Check out our blog for half-marathon training article and the first 5-week block of our training plan at StrideTek Half-Marathon Training Plan.

Larry LaHodny has a B.S. in Physical Education, with Emphasis in Sports Medicine from Willamette University and an M.B.A. from National University. Larry has over 20 years’ experience coaching runners, including at the youth, high school, and adult level. Larry has trained National Champions, All-Americans, State Champions, and Boston Marathon qualifiers.