Triathlon Magazine Canada - - TRANSITION - BY KEVIN MACKIN­NON

It is con­sid­ered the world’s tough­est one-day en­durance test. Dreamed up by a bunch of Navy Seals to de­ter­mine who the world’s fittest ath­lete might be, the Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship got its start in 1978 when 15 men took on a course that com­bined the Waikiki Rough Wa­ter Swim (3.8 km), the Around Oahu Bike Race (180 km) and the Honolulu Marathon (42.2 km). They short­ened the bike por­tion by two miles so they could start things back at the beach, and voila, the Iron­man dis­tance was born. Within a few years the Iron­man would be­come one of the most pres­ti­gious one-day en­durance events in the world. Less than a decade later qual­i­fy­ing races started to spring up around the world as more and more peo­ple wanted to take on the Iron­man chal­lenge.

WHEN IT COMES to di­al­ing in qual­i­fy­ing num­bers, no one is more on top of the game than Ray­mond Britt. A 29-time Iron­man fin­isher, Britt’s com­pany an­a­lyzes Iron­man races across the globe to see how peo­ple get to the big show in Kona ev­ery year. We asked Britt to come up with some num­bers for us on just how the pier in Kailua-kona gets filled up ev­ery year.

So, is it harder now to get to Kona than it was 10 years ago? You bet it is. The num­ber of Iron­man qual­i­fy­ing events around the world has gone from 19 to 41 in the last decade, although in that same time frame the to­tal num­ber of Kona slots has in­creased from around 1,900 to 2,300 (See chart above).

As a sign of just how pop­u­lar the sport has be­come, to meet with the de­mand of ath­letes want­ing to do an Iron­man event, World Triathlon Cor­po­ra­tion (WTC), the com­pany that owns the Iron­man name, has more than dou­bled the num­ber of Iron­man qual­i­fiers around the world in those 10 years. As the num­ber of full-dis­tance events has risen, there’s also been a huge in­crease in the num­ber of Iron­man 70.3 races ev­ery year (over 90 in 2015), but the num­ber of 70.3 races of­fer­ing world cham­pi­onship slots has de­creased dra­mat­i­cally (there was only one that had Kona qual­i­fy­ing slots for 2015) and even the num­ber of pros, lottery slots and media en­tries has de­creased dra­mat­i­cally (dur­ing some years that num­ber was up to 17 per cent of the field) to al­low for more qual­i­fiers to fit on the pier in Kailua-kona.

With the news ear­lier this year that Iron­man’s lottery was de­clared illegal by the U.S. gov­ern­ment, “av­er­age” Iron­man ath­letes will likely be left to Iron­man’s legacy pro­gram to get them­selves a chance to race in Hawaii. The Legacy pro­gram was cre­ated a few years ago as a kind of “re­wards” pro­gram for mul­ti­ple Iron­man com­peti­tors. Once you’ve com­pleted 12 full-dis­tance Iron­man events you be­come el­i­gi­ble for the Legacy lottery draw and are guar­an­teed a chance to race in Kona at least once.

But what if you don’t want to do 12 Iron­man races to try and get to Kona? Are there eas­ier races to qual­ify at than oth­ers? Yes and no. The huge in­crease in the num­ber of qual­i­fy­ing races has lev­elled the play­ing field to some ex­tent in terms of the num­ber of qual­i­fiers at each race. Be­lieve it or not, there was a time when Iron­man Canada of­fered 150 slots for Kona – as did races like the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship (the Iron­man Ger­many event that used to take place in Roth). Those days are long gone. Of the 41 full-dis­tance Iron­man races this year, two have 25 slots (one of those is Kona, where age group cham­pi­ons are given a spot for the fol­low­ing year), one 70.3 race of­fered 30 Hawaii slots, eight had 40 slots (many of those are li­censee races) and most of the oth­ers had 50 qual­i­fy­ing slots. To pro­mote the re­gional cham­pi­onship sys­tem it’s put in place over the last few years, WTC has in­creased the num­ber of qual­i­fy­ing slots at those races to 75. (See charts above and op­po­site.)

Where does that leave an ath­lete try­ing to fig­ure out which race will give them their best chance of qual­i­fy­ing? It comes down to the num­ber of ath­letes in the race. This year’s best bets are likely to be two new ad­di­tions to the cir­cuit – our very own Iron­man Muskoka and Iron­man The Nether­lands, where 4.9 and 7.1 per cent of the field will be Kona bound.

Easy, right? Get that en­try in for Muskoka or The Nether­lands and book the place in Kona. Oh, that it were so sim­ple. Qual­i­fy­ing for Kona is never go­ing to be easy as the level of age group com­pe­ti­tion has sky­rock­eted over the last decade. Then, at each race, some slots may roll down to the age groups with the most com­peti­tors if there aren’t any fin­ish­ers other age groups.

Let’s use Iron­man New Zealand from this March as an ex­am­ple. That event had 50 qual­i­fy­ing slots, with each age group al­lo­cated at least one spot. (See chart on p.52) Based on the num­ber of spots al­lo­cated, and

the num­ber of com­peti­tors, your chances of qual­i­fy­ing for Kona var­ied from a low of 2.4 per cent if you were in the men’s 40 to 44 cat­e­gory to 33.3 per cent if you were in the men’s 75 to 79 age group. (See chart on p.52) Adding to the fun of fig­ur­ing all this out is the fact that a num­ber of slots rolled down to other cat­e­gories. Since there were no fin­ish­ers in men’s 65 to 69, for ex­am­ple, there ended up be­ing a to­tal of five slots avail­able in the men’s 45 to 49 cat­e­gory. (See chart on p.52)

Have we com­pletely con­fused you yet? If not, we’ll leave you with one fi­nal bit of in­for­ma­tion that will hope­fully help you fig­ure out what your best shot for Kona might be. Once all was said and done at the Iron­man New Zealand Kona roll down cer­e­mony, Britt was able to de­ter­mine the qual­i­fy­ing times re­quired for each age cat­e­gory from Iron­man New Zealand. (See chart on p.52) In case you’re think­ing that we’ve fi­nally got to the magic num­ber, though, it’s not quite that sim­ple. Let’s say you’re in the men’s 45 to 49 cat­e­gory and feel like you’re a sub-10 hour guy. Look­ing at the 9:57 num­ber might get you think­ing about book­ing that flight for New Zealand next March. The ques­tion is, are you a sub-10 hour racer in New Zealand, or in Frank­furt? The cour­ses are prob­a­bly fairly sim­i­lar in terms of to­pog­ra­phy, but dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent in terms of times. The rougher roads in New Zealand make for much slower bike times than those seen on the pris­tine pave­ment you’ll ride for much of the Frank­furt course. The con­di­tions can even vary dra­mat­i­cally year to year. This year in Frank­furt the age group field was dec­i­mated by the heat, mak­ing for much slower times than pre­vi­ous years.

Which brings us around to where we started. Get­ting to the Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship is not easy. But that’s ex­actly the way those who get in want it to be.

The growth of the sport since we started pub­lish­ing Triathlon Mag­a­zine Canada 10 years ago has been un­prece­dented. While the sport has un­der­gone in­cred­i­ble change, it is the world of Iron­man that has un­der­gone the most growth. As we head into next Oc­to­ber’s Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship in Kailua-kona, Hawaii, we de­cided to not only preview the ath­letes to look for this year, but also to have a look at the cur­rent state of Iron­man rac­ing.

The bot­tom line? It’s never been harder to make it to the big show in Kona. Here’s why.

The tran­si­tion zone at Kailu­aKona pier


NUM­BERS Age grouper Philip Hatzis races to the fin­ish of the 2014 Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship in Kona


An­gela Naeth races the Iron­man 70.3 Cal­i­for­nia Ocean­side

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