Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ironman Races Ranked By Finish Times

How tough an Ironman race is subjective.  A lot of  factors come into play when making that call.  Albeit all boast the same distance, 140.6 miles (2.4m swim, 112m bike, 26.2m run), conditions and courses vary, making each course unique in its challenges and degree of difficulty.  Even within the same race, at different times, the course may seem more or less difficult than in years past.

So how do you rank the races by degree of difficulty?

Raymond Britt, a veteran Ironman triathlete and Boston Marathoner, has researched and ranked the top 25 toughest Ironman Races based on average "finishers time".  His results, and detail explanations of the research, can be viewed in detail here.

In the mean time, here are a few snapshots of his findings.

 This image shows the average finish time of the 25 ranked Ironman Races.

This image shows the average finish time for the 2.4 mile swim course.

This image shows the average finish time for the 112 mile bike course.

This image shows the average finish time for the 26.2 run course.

I have always contended that:  If you start choosing a race because of degree of difficulty, swim course, bike course or run course, because of historical weather conditions or because of any other factor you may think proper and important, you're never going to find the "perfect" race.

Just pick the one you want to do, for whatever reasons you may have.  Make sure these reasons are yours and yours alone, then train for the worst and hope for the best.

I have my reasons for choosing Ironman Louisville as my Ironman of choice.  And to be brutally honest with you... I hate swimming in the ocean!  I have heard everything from "you're nuts, crazy, out of your mind" to "I love that course" and everything in between.  Again, everyone has their own opinions.

Choosing a "tough" race doesn't make it any harder.  140.6 miles are 140.6 miles in any language, any venue, any country...any way you look at it.

Happy Training!
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  1. One big factor that may have been overlooked (or not adequately corrected for) is the audience. Certain races attract better competitors either because they have been around longer or because they are better know. A related issue is that there is less data for newer races such as St. George.

    I have done many of these races and my personal scale does not match well with what is presented. Not that that means much as my experience is obviously just one highly biased data point (I could have been in poorer shape, or conditions that year could have been different, etc.) but still I did expect a higher level of correlation.

  2. Great post. Unfortunately I was hoping to see that the bike course for Louisville would be so much faster/easier than Wisconsin...I need all the help I can get on the bike...but your perspective on the relative ease of a race is spot on. I didn't pick IMKY based on any factor except this - I decided to do another one and it was still open.

    Could turn out to be the best experience ever. We'll see! Thanks for the post.

  3. Frank...I think it would be impossible to come up with a formula that takes into account all points of view and opinions. Like you said, personal opinions are highly biased, therefore a ranking based on finishers time is probably the best that can be accomplished.

  4., I guess I'll see you in Louisville? I'm going to train to make this the best experience ever!

  5. I wrote a similar (briefer) post on this subject here: My main issue with the anlaysis is the quality of the field: i.e. Kona is bound to have a much faster average simply because of the calibre of the athlete entering. I'm guessing that Ironman UK, for example, might have a higher percentage of first timers than, say Lanza, and therefore appears artificially higher up the list. My idea was to analyse a sample of each race, e.g. the top 20 finishers to try and eliminate as far as possible the quality of field issue. I wonder how the results would look then?