The Ironman World Championship is inarguably the Holy Grail of the sport of triathlon. Many are first exposed to the idea of swim/bike/run through the NBC broadcast of the event and then, after competing in a race or two, quickly make it a goal to someday make it to the Big Island to compete. Back in the day, decent athleticism and a solid training plan would be enough to give athletes a shot at qualifying for Kona at another Ironman or 70.3 event. If that didn’t work, you could pay $50 and play your odds in Ironman’s lottery program. Now, with the competition greater then ever (in the 30-34 men’s age group at 2016 Ironman Arizona, only athletes who went under nine hours qualified) and the lottery system gone, earning one of the 2,200 slots can feel tougher than winning the actual lottery. Thankfully, there are a few alternative paths to Kona that don’t involve age-group wins. Though we wouldn’t consider any of these options an easy ticket, they at least give those of us with average abilities a chance to experience Kona glory.
1. Enter the Ironman Legacy Program
Now in its sixth year, the legacy program awards Ironman’s most loyal athletes. Athletes who have competed in at least 12 full Ironmans (and at least one in both 2015 and 2016), plan to compete in one in 2017 and have never competed at the Ironman World Championship were eligible to apply. The legacy pool has been doubled this year, with a total of 200 athletes earning the start. The 2017 winners have already been announced, but if you fall under the previously mentioned criteria it’s worth keeping an eye out for the 2018 call for entries (traditionally in early November).
2. Travel to China
OK, traveling to China (home of Ironman owner, Wanda Sports Holding) won’t give you an automatic entry but it does increase your odds dramatically and provides the rare opportunity to quality at a 70.3 event. Ironman 70.3 Lioshou (April 1) and Ironman 70.3 Qujing (Aug. 27) will each offer 30 qualifying slots.
3. Compete in Ironman Canada (If You’re from Japan)
In what is surely the most random way to punch a Kona ticket on this list, there are 20 Ironman World Championship slots up for Japanese nationals at this year’s Subaru Ironman Canada race, which will be allocated based on the athlete’s age-group ranking at the end of the race.
4. Register for Ironman 70.3 Hawaii
Thanks to a partnership with with the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, Ironman is offering 10 Kona slots to athletes who register for the 2017 Ironman 70.3 Hawaii (set for June 3) by May 1, not including relays. The Kona entries will be given away based on a random drawing.
5. Register for Specific Ironmans
This year bonus slots were randomly awarded to registrants of a couple of specific races—including Ironman Boulder and Ironman Australia. Those specific winners have already been chosen, but Ironman hints at a similar upcoming promotion for Ironman Maastricht–Limburg in the Netherlands (race date set for Aug. 6).
6. Enter the Kona Drawing Benefiting the Ironman Foundation
This year, The Ironman Foundation is offering 10 Kona slots through a drawing, with a suggested (tax deductible) donation of $50 to benefit the Foundation. The drawing will finish on Friday, March 24, 2017, at 12 p.m. ET. Selected athletes will be announced on March 31.
7. Enter the Physically Challenged Division Drawing
If you’re a physically challenged athlete, you’re eligible to enter the Physically Challenged Open/Exhibition Division Drawing for a chance to win one of five slots.
8. Bid in the Ironman Foundation Auction
It’s mostly true that you can’t pay your way to Kona—but there is one exception. For the 15th consecutive year, the Ironman Foundation will put four slots up for auction to benefit the Ironman Community Fund. A fifth slot will also be auctioned off to specifically benefit Women For Tri. Beginning on April 1, one slot will be auctioned off each week for five weeks on eBay. All slots are tax deductible, minus the race entry fee. Here’s the kicker—all slots start with a minimum opening bid of $25,000.
9. Apply to Represent Women For Tri
Ironman’s Women For Tri organization is looking for one inspirational woman to tell her story, raise support and inspire other women to give triathlon a chance. In addition to sharing her story, the selected athlete will be responsible for raising $25,000 for Women For Tri.
10. Join the Ironman Executive Challenge
The Ironman Executive Challenge has again been allocated 25 slots for the Kona race. Athletes (who are “executives”) must first apply to be part of the Executive Challenge, and then pay a large fee (Ironman Texas, for example, is $7200) to receive a “race weekend experience” that includes entry, accommodations, VIP treatment and a chance to earn one of the coveted Kona slots. The Ironman World Championship entries will be awarded to the athletes who have the best % finish (versus starters in their traditional age group).