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Ironman Distances: What are the Distances In an Ironman Triathlon?

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Maybe you’ve been running some triathlons and are looking for a new challenge, or maybe you’re new to the sport and are just exploring its history and depths. Either way, welcome to the world of Ironman Triathlons.

Ironman Distances

Ironman distances are not for the faint-hearted. But for those who complete them, Ironman races are an immensely rewarding experience. The sense of achievement that comes from pushing your body to its limits is like no other, and the camaraderie among athletes is second to none. If you’re looking for a new challenge, or simply want to explore the depths of what the human body is capable of, Ironman Triathlons may just be for you.

Read on and see what group you fall into, and whether you might feel inspired to keep working towards what to many world-class athletes is the ultimate goal.

How Long is an Ironman Distances?

How Long is an Ironman Distances

An Ironman Triathlon consists of a 2.4-mile (3.9km) swim, a 112-mile (180.2km) bike, and a 26.3-mile (42.2km) run – a full marathon! 

To put this into perspective, competing in a full Ironman triathlon is like swimming the distance of the Kentucky Derby twice, biking about 40 times up and down Mount Everest, and running the length of the Panama Canal twice – all in one day!

Why is it Called an Ironman?

The history of the Ironman triathlon stretches back over almost 40 years. Although the introduction of the triathlon can be traced as far back as the 1920s, these races didn’t gain popularity until the 1970s.

Triathlon History

The first triathlon as we know it today was run in 1974. Judy and John Collins, a California couple who had relocated to Hawaii, had participated in one of these early events. In late 1977, they started thinking about a race targeted to endurance athletes, and proposed a course that made local athletes laugh at the ambitious distances. 

IRONMAN 40 Years of Dreams

This didn’t stop this couple, who are famously reported to have said, “If you’ll do it, I’ll do it… whoever finishes first we’ll call him the Ironman.”

In February of 1978, the first Ironman Triathlon was run. In 1980, the event was televised for the first time, on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, which led to an international phenomenon. 

What’s the Difference Between an Ironman and a Half Ironman 70.3?

An Ironman triathlon is one of the most challenging athletic events in the world, comprising a 2.4-mile (3.6km) swim, a 112-mile (180km) bike ride, and a 26.2-mile (42.2km) marathon run. A Half Ironman triathlon, also known as the ‘70.3 Triathlon’, is half the distance of an Ironman, comprising a 1.2-mile (1.8km) swim, a 56-mile (90km) bike ride, and a 13.1-mile (21.1km) run.

These races attract a wide range of athletes, from those who are working towards the full Ironman to those who have already completed it and just enjoy the challenge of triathlon. No matter what their background or experience level, all of these athletes share a common love of multisport and a willingness to push themselves to their limits. 

Ironman World Championship

Ironman World Championship

Ironman races are the ultimate test of endurance, strength, and willpower. And for most competitors, the ultimate goal is to qualify for the Ironman World Championship. Held annually since 1982 every fall in Kona, Hawaii – the birthplace of Ironman – this grueling race is the pinnacle of the sport.

To even be considered for a spot in the Championship, athletes must first complete one of dozens of qualifying races held around the world. The competition is fierce, and only a select few will make it to Kona each year. But for those lucky enough to secure a spot, the Ironman World Championship is the ultimate test of their skills. And it’s an experience they’ll never forget.

What is a Good Ironman Time?

Ironman races have a cut-off time of 17 hours. Many participants find themselves short of the time and walk away without the prestige of having completed. For men in their early to mid thirties, a time of 13 hours is the norm, and women in the same age group average 14 hours.

Ironman World Records

Some athletes have blown the average times out of the water, but believe it or not, there is no officially recognized world record. The inconsistencies of courses and lack of full certification don’t allow for a fair comparison of final times.

That said, the commonly accepted best time for a full Ironman is currently held by Norwegian athlete Kristian Blummenfelt, who finished the race in just under 7 minutes and 21 minutes.

Ironman Record Laura Philipp

The unofficial best time for women is held by Laura Philipp from Germany, who finished in just over 8 hours and 18 minutes. 

How Long Should Each Event Take?

The longest time spent in any triathlon is generally the cycling leg. The bike portion of an Ironman competition should take around 6 and half minutes. The swim averages up to two and a half hours, and the run to the finish is just under 5 hours.

What are the Rules for an Ironman?

The rulebook for an Ironman triathlon is a daunting 28 pages long. Most of it covers similar rules to any triathlon, such as ages, attire, drugs, and times. If you break a rule while racing, there are five different penalties you might incur. 

  • A yellow card gives you a 30 – 60 second time penalty, and might be earned by not wearing the appropriate race belts or other specific race requirements.
  • A blue card give you a 5 minute penalty, and might be given if you don’t properly dispose of your trash, or violate drafting regulations.
  • A red card will disqualify you from the race altogether, and would be given for minor cheating offenses, or ignoring an official’s instructions.
  • You will be suspended from multiple events for offenses such as intentionally course cutting.
  • The most significant penalty given in Ironman events is and expulsion for life from all future events. This penalty is given for drug infractions or major cheating incidents. 

A combination of multiple penalties in a single event can have a significant impact on your eligibility to enter Ironman races in the future. 

Ironman Cut-off Times

When it comes to Ironman races, the cut-off times are there for a reason – primarily for the safety of the athletes. But let’s be honest, they also help to keep the race running smoothly. No one wants to be stuck on the course all day, blocking off roads and tying up traffic.

So if you’re looking to do your first Ironman, it’s important to be aware of the cut-off times. They vary depending on the governing body hosting the race, but for Ironman sanctioned events, they include:

Leg of Ironman DistanceTime
Ironman Swim Cut-off Time2 hours 20 minutes after the start
Ironman Bike Cut-off Time10 hours 30 minutes after the start
Ironman Run/Finish Cut-off Time17 hours after the start

Keep these in mind as you’re training and planning for your race. And don’t forget, the cut-off times are there for your safety too. So make sure you’re aware of them and plan accordingly.

Tips and Tricks

This endeavor involves intense and specific training, an understanding of racing strategies, and a deep commitment to an athletic achievement most people can only dream of. 

  • Eat as many calories as you can while biking. You need fuel for this epic journey, and swimming and running are the worst times to get it. 
  • Pace yourself, more than you can even imagine. Go as slow as you can on your first 10km – your last 10km will thank you for it!
  • Pack as much gear as you can manage – extra contact lenses, upset stomach medication, socks, windbreakers – even if you don’t end up needing them, being able to gift them to fellow competitors in need can be part of what makes this race so epic.

Is Ironman for You?

This is not an undertaking for a new athlete or the weak of heart. Starting with smaller races and more achievable goals will help you to learn whether the enormity of this event is for you. Participating in triathlons at various levels is an impressive accomplishment. Keep trying and dream big!

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Ryan Jones

Ryan Jones is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 3 Certified Coach. Since graduating college, Ryan has coached over sixty triathletes, runners, cyclists, and swimmers. He focuses on helping them select appropriate goals and guiding them towards achieving them.

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