The Ironman distance triathlon is the ultimate feat of multisport endurance. Swimming 3.9km, cycling 180km, and finishing with a 42.2km (full marathon) run requires months of rigorous training, peak physical fitness, and mental determination.
There are numerous Ironman triathlon events worldwide. Some of these events are remarkable in their organization, support, and settings, making sure that you never forget the experience. In this article, we have gathered together 5 of the most popular Ironman events worldwide, including Ironman-branded and independent events.
Ironman Triathlon: Overview and History
First things first, what exactly is an Ironman triathlon? How did it start?
Overview. Organized by the World Triathlon Corporation, an Ironman Triathlon is one of a series of long-distance triathlon races. It consists of a 3.86 km (2.4-mile) swim, a 180.25 km (112-mile) bicycle ride, and a 42.20 km (26.22-mile) marathon run, raced in that order. It is generally considered as one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world.
Most Ironman triathlon events have a time limit of 16 or 17 hours to complete the race, course dependent. Typically, the race starts at 7 AM; the mandatory swim cut off for the 3.86 km (2.4-mile) swim is 9:20 AM (2 hours, 20 minutes), the mandatory cycling cut off time is 5:30 PM (8 hours, 10 minutes), and the mandatory marathon cut off is midnight (6 hours, 30 minutes. Any participant who manages to complete the course within the timeframe is considered an ‘Ironman’.
The name ‘Ironman Triathlon’ is also linked with the original Ironman triathlon which is now known as the Ironman World Championship. Held in Kailua-Kona, the Ironman World Championship has been annually held in Hawaii since 1978. Originally taking place in Oahu, the race was move to Kailua-Kona in 1981, where it continues to be held today. The Ironman World Championship has become well-known for its harsh race conditions, grueling length, and extensive television coverage
Brief History. The Ironman Triathlon was the brainchild of Judy and John Collins, a couple who moved from California to Hawaii in 1975.
The Ironman Triathlon was born out of John Collins’ desire to put an end to the debate about who was the fittest – swimmers, cyclists, or runners – by combining Hawaii’s 3 biggest endurance races. He combined the the Waikiki Roughwater Swim (2.4 miles), the Around-Oahu Cycle Race (115 miles) and the Honolulu Marathon (26.2 miles) – this became the Hawaiian Ironman.
With a nod to a local runner who was known for his difficult workouts, Collins said, “Whoever finishes first, we’ll call him the Iron Man.” Each of the racers had their own support crew that supplied them with food, water, and encouragement throughout the event.
In its grueling first year, and at a time without many of the technological enhancements of today, US Navy Communications Specialist, Gordon Haller, became the first Ironman, with a time of 11:46:58. US Navy SEAL, John Dunbar, led after the second transition and had a chance to win; however, he ran out of water on the marathon course and his support crew resorted to giving him beer instead.
With no further marketing efforts, the race gathered as many as 50 people in 1979. However, the race was postponed for a day due to bad weather conditions and only 15 competitors started off the race on Sunday morning. Tom Warren won with a time of 11:15:56. Lyn Lemaire, a championship cyclist from Boston, placed 6th overall and became the first ‘Ironwoman’.
Today, the Ironman Triathlon format remains unchanged, and the Hawaiian Ironman is still considered a prestigious triathlon event tow in worldwide.
5 Best Ironman Triathlon Events Worldwide
Since Ironman got started in 1978, events have been constantly sprouting up all over the world, creating a truly global series of over 150 races. So, whether you want to race in the Canary Isles, in South America, or in Australia, Ironman Triathlon events give you the chance to travel to new places you perhaps wouldn’t otherwise get the motivation or chance to visit. This also means that no matter the season or weather at home, you can pretty much always find a race somewhere warm – and a great place to spend a holiday afterwards.
Below, we list down 5 remarkable Ironman events around the world.
- IRONMAN Western Australia
- Swim: Busselton Foreshore, 2 laps
- Bike: Total Elevation Gain 338m/1109ft, 2 laps
- Run: Total Elevation Gain 184m/604ft, 4 laps
The Ironman course in Western Australia, Australia is the most popular for triathletes seeking a personal best, as it is one of the flattest Ironman routes on the circuit. You never go higher than 29m above sea level, so you can put your head down and achieve a great time. Plus, the coastal swim off of Busselton Jetty is absolutely gorgeous, and the residents of Busselton pull out all the stops to make it a truly unforgettable event. This is a great event for people who want to mix their exercise with tourism, as you will get the chance to explore one of the most beautiful holiday destinations in the world.
- Challenge Roth, Germany
- Swim: Main-Donau Kanal, 1 lap
- Bike: Total Elevation Gain 340m/1115ft, 2 laps
- Run: Total Elevation Gain 400m/1312ft, 1 lap
Challenge Roth is a triathlon race organized in and around Roth bei Nürnberg, Bavaria, Germany. It is held annually in July. If you are looking for full-distance or non-Ironman-branded triathlons, this is without a doubt the fastest course on the circuit. In 2016, Jan Frodeno set the record at this distance, with a time of 7:35:39. In 2011, the fastest female full-distance time was set by Chrissie Wellington with a time of 8:18:13. Participating in this course gives you the opportunity to pass through scenic villages, where everyone gets out to support you!
- Ironman UK, Bolton, UK
- Swim: Pennington Flash, 2 laps
- Bike: Total Elevation Gain 2559m/8395ft, 2 laps
- Run: Total Elevation Gain 312m/1024ft, 4 laps
Dubbed one of United Kingdom’s friendliest towns, Bolton is the home of England’s only full-distance Ironman Triathlon Event. This race is known for its iconic spectator support, amazing North West English bike course scenery, and impressive finish line in the heart of the town center. This course is often seen as a good event for Ironman beginners. The swim takes place in a calm lake, with a rest on land between laps, and the run segment is relatively gentle. However, the cycling section is quite challenging for both beginners and regular triathletes. The course changed in 2019, and there is now over 2,500m of climbing, so it’s a real challenge on the legs and the mind as there’s very little flat respite. The incredible support from the locals and the town center finish does make it all worthwhile though.
- Ironman Arizona, USA
- Swim: Salt River, 1 lap
- Bike: Total Elevation Gain 785m/2577ft, 3 laps
- Run: Total Elevation Gain 109m/358ft, 2 laps
The Ironman Arizona urban triathlon is a famous gathering point for the triathlon community to close off the season every year. Although the race occurs mainly within the buildings of Tempe, on the cycling section, you will head out into the Sonoran Desert where you get to see some stunning landscapes. This course is known for being fast and flat, often helped along the way by strong winds. In 2016, Lionel Sanders set an Ironman-branded triathlon record with a time of 7:44:29, before it was broken in 2017.
- Ironman Austria, Klagenfurt
- Swim: Lake Wörthersee, 1 lap
- Bike: Total Elevation Gain 1490m/4888ft, 1 lap
- Run: Total Elevation Gain 118m/387ft, 2 laps
Ironman Austria is known as one of the most beautiful races in the world. It is well-known, not only due to the incredibly high athletic standards of the participants, but also because of the unrivaled scenery on offer. Following the traditional gunshot, the swim starts at Strandbad Klagenfurt in the beautiful waters of Lake Wörthersee. After 3.8 km of swimming and a sprint to the finish through the Lendkanal waterway, it’s onto the saddles – the cycle route covers 180 km through the beautiful countryside and picturesque villages. The race culminates in a marathon which, with refreshment stations at regular intervals throughout the route, also leads Klagenfurt’s old town, providing the triathletes with a unique southern charm. The entire Ironman experience is enhanced by an enthusiastic, cheering crowd who welcomes triathletes back to where it all began: at the charming Wörthersee lakeside lido. With its scenic routes and cheerful crowd, it’s no wonder that more than 3,000 triathletes from all over the world come together each year.
The Bottom Line
Part of the fun of completing an Ironman Triathlon event is racing in fun, beautiful locations. So, why not take advantage of this perk and sign up for a ‘racecation’ in Western Australia; Roth, Germany; Bolton, UK; Arizona, USA; or Austria, Klagenfurt? Not only do these locations offer challenging Ironman routes, but it provides you with breathtaking sceneries as well. Make the most out of your Ironman event by checking out these locations. Good luck!