The Ironman Legacy Program Will Change in 2024 – Here’s What You Need to Know
Looking to race at the Ironman World Championships without taking the standard qualifying route? The rules for Ironman's Legacy program will be changing next year.
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For as long as the iron-distance triathlon has been around, the allure of racing at the Ironman World Championship has captivated all levels of triathletes across the globe. While some amateur athletes may have a combo of skill and beginners’ luck that lands them a top spot in their age group and a ticket to the Ironman World Championship on their first-ever try at the 140.6 distance, most spend years chasing that elusive slot. Even then, earning a spot to race can be a challenge.
For those who rack up enough Ironman-branded iron-distances finishes without a standard Ironman World Championship qualification, there is still a path to that coveted start line: the Ironman Legacy program.
What is the Ironman Legacy program?
The Ironman Legacy program was created in 2012 by Ironman as a way for multi-time Ironman-branded race finishers to pave a path to the Ironman World Championship.
The Legacy program is application-based. Once you meet the criteria of the program, you can apply to become a Legacy athlete during a specific month-long period at the start or end of the year. If you are accepted into the Legacy program, your name is added to a waitlist based upon the date of acceptance to be chosen to race at the Ironman World Championship.
The current Legacy program, which is in effect until December 31, 2023 stipulates that athletes who wish to apply to the program must:
- Have completed 12 full-distance Ironman-branded races
- Have finished at least two full-distance Ironman-branded races in the two years leading up to their applications
- Be registered for at least one full-distance Ironman-branded race in their application year
- Never have raced at the Ironman World Championship
In 2021, Ironman announced major changes to the Legacy program.
The new Ironman Legacy program
The Ironman Legacy program has grown in popularity since its inception in 2012, so much so that athletes accepted into the program were at times spending years on the waitlist for their chance at the Ironman World Championship start line.
Ironman announced key changes to the program in 2021 to “allow athletes on the cusp of qualifying under the existing program time to do so” before the new stipulations come into effect on January 1, 2024, according to Ironman.
The new requirements mimic the old program, but with some time-bound changes:
|Old Ironman Legacy Program||New Ironman Legacy Program (2024)|
|Complete 12 full-distance Ironman-branded races in any amount of time||Complete 12 full-distance Ironman-branded races over a 12 year period (does not need to be consecutive years)|
|Complete two total full-distance Ironman-branded races in the consecutive two years prior to application to the Legacy program||Complete two total full-distance Ironman-branded races in the consecutive two years prior to application to the Legacy program|
|Be registered for at least one full-distance Ironman-branded race in the athlete’s application year||Be registered for at least one full-distance Ironman-branded race in the athlete’s application year|
|Never have raced at the Ironman World Championship (Hawaii or elsewhere) via standard qualification||Never have raced at the Ironman World Championship (Hawaii or elsewhere) via standard qualification|
The good news is that the clock starts ticking toward that 12-year mark as soon as you complete your first full- or half-distance Ironman-branded race. If you completed your first-ever full-distance Ironman in the 1990s, then took a 10+ year hiatus before racking up more finishes, you’re already at the 12-year mark and then some.
According to Ironman, “[The] demand and the number of athletes that apply for the Legacy program continues to grow. These updates [to the program] were made so that we could…ensure that Ironman World Championship slots are earned and granted through the program in the spirit in which they were intended…and also to aid in minimizing the number of years an athlete must be on the waitlist.”
While these changes may be welcomed by some, for those who may have adopted a strategy such as aiming to race two full-distance races a year for six years and will not have 12 races by the end of 2023, they are out of luck: Athletes will not be grandfathered into 2023 and prior rules. Athletes must meet Legacy program requirements by December 31, 2023, in order to apply under pre-2024 program rules. After that, all athletes are playing by the updated rulebook.
RELATED: Triathlete’s 2023 Guide to the Best Ironman and Iron-Distance Races in the U.S.A.
Ironman Legacy program changes: What athletes think
The Ironman Legacy program’s changes are an extra hot topic due to Ironman’s recent announcement of two-day, two-location Ironman World Championships by gender for the foreseeable future. Athletes who were hungry to race only in Kona may find themselves awarded a Legacy slot for a year when their gender is not toeing the line in Hawaii.
Atlanta-based Joseph McLeod is in the male 40-44 age group and is signed up for his 12th Ironman-branded full-distance race at Chattanooga in September 2023. McLeod did his first Iron-distance race in 2011, and so by happenstance will have met the 12-year requirement regardless. When asked about the impending 12-year requirement to apply to the Legacy program, McLeod wasn’t opposed.
“The term ‘legacy’ has a connotation of being older or having passed through a long time period,” McLeod said. “When Ironman first created the Legacy program, I noticed people racing four or more Iron-distance races a year to speed up their entry into the Legacy program…I think some sort of qualifying time period is fine.”
Even after the 12-year stipulation was announced in 2021, McLeod was in no hurry to fast-forward his Ironman career, because he achieved another important start line: being a first-time dad.
“My only interest is racing in Hawaii. If [my Legacy slot] is offered for one of the rotating locations, I’l probably pass on it,” McLeod said. “If I can race in Hawaii, I’ll do that and after, retire from the Iron-distance and focus on being a dad.”
Another Atlanta-area athlete, Margo Gregory, who is in the female 55-59 age group, raced in Kona at the 2022 Ironman World Championship as a Legacy athlete. Gregory benefitted from the soon-to-be defunct Ironman Legacy rules with no time stipulation and completed her required 12 qualifying full-distance races in five years. Even so, Gregory feels that the 12-year qualifying period is a benefit to the Legacy program.
“I knew the Legacy program could not be sustained [without a qualifying time period],” Gregory said. “There were athletes who applied to the program when I did and were given 2025 as their year to compete at the Ironman World Championship.”
When Gregory got her chance to toe the line in Kona, she soaked up every minute.
“I felt revered [as a Legacy athlete] while on the Big Island,” Gregory said. “Everything exceeded my expectations…I would say [the Legacy program] was very much worth all the sacrifice and hard work [it took to get to Kona].”
Both McLeod and Gregory advised that athletes pursuing the Legacy program focus more on the journey and less on the end goal of racing at the Ironman World Championship. As both say, racing at least 12 full-distance Ironman races is an achievement in and of itself – no matter how long it takes.
RELATED: 11 Triathlon Goals That Don’t Involve Qualifying for Kona