40 Things To Know Before The Ironman World Championship

A list of 40 helpful facts to know before watching the 2016 Ironman World Championship on Saturday, Oct. 8.

Photo: John David Becker

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A list of 40 helpful facts to know before watching the 2016 Ironman World Championship on Saturday, Oct. 8.

1. In 2014, Mirinda Carfrae set not only the run course record (again) with a time of 2:50:26, besting her 2013 marathon by 12 seconds, but she also overcame an incredible deficit off the bike—more than 14 minutes—to pass Daniela Ryf and defend her Kona crown. In 2015 Carfrae was forced to drop out during the race (after a minor car accident a few days prior) and Ryf earned her first Kona victory, but Carfrae will be back this year in top shape and looking to break her run course record again.

2. The average age of 2016 age-groupers is 43.

3. Disc brakes are a new-to-triathlon technology that’s suddenly making its debut this month on a slew of pro bikes. The technology is replacing rim brakes on aero bikes, as disc brakes are typically safer in both dry and wet conditions. They’ve been on mountain bikes and cyclocross bikes in the past and are on some road bikes, even though they’re not UCI-legal. Brands who have launched disc brake-equipped tri bikes in the last few weeks have been Cervélo, Parlee and Diamondback, and Cannondale’s professional athletes (Andy Potts and Michelle Vesterby) will be riding a bike with disc brakes, though the bike hasn’t been officially announced yet.

4. It will take more than 5,000 volunteers to make Saturday’s race happen.

5. 2012 Ironman world champion Pete Jacobs has had a tough couple of years since earning the world title for the first time. In 2013, he finished as the 32nd male pro, in 2014 he DNF’ed, and last year he withdrew from the race due to an illness affecting his training. He was back on the start list for 2016, but had to pull out at the last minute due to the flu.

6. In 2015, Switzerland’s Daniela Ryf broke a nine-year streak of either an Australian or British woman taking the Kona crown (Aussie Michellie Jones in 2006; Brit Chrissie Wellington in ’07, ’08, ’09, ’11; Aussie Mirinda Carfrae in ’10, ’13, ’14; and Brit Leanda Cave in 2012). Previous to Jones, Ryf’s countrywoman Natascha Badmann was the last non-Brit and non-Aussie to win the women’s crown.

7. Last year, in only his second year of Ironman racing, German Jan Frodeno became the first athlete to win both the Olympic gold medal (in 2008) and the Ironman World Championship title.

8. Great Britain’s Rachel Joyce won’t be on the Kona start line this year, as she took the season off to have her first baby (who was born in early August!). Joyce has been on the Kona podium the last three seasons (two runner-up finishes and one third-place finish), and she has yet to announce when she plans to get back into racing.

9. There are 17 Americans in the professional field, seven men and 10 women.

10. Past performance seems to mean a lot on the Big Island. In 18 of the last 19 years the men’s winner was a top-four finisher the year before. (For example, German Jan Frodeno finished third in 2014 before winning in 2015.) The top four finishers from last year were Frodeno, German Andreas Raelert, Americans Tim O’Donnell and Andy Potts.

11. This will be the largest athlete field ever at the Ironman World Championship with more than 2,300 athletes.

12. A mainstay of Ironman racing is announcer Mike Reilly, who has been declaring “You are an Ironman!” to every finisher of Ironman Hawaii since 1989—starting with Mark Allen the year of the legendary Iron War.

13. We’re still looking for another American who could win Kona (the last
was Tim DeBoom in 2002). It’s finally looking promising, though, as in both 2014 and 2015, there were two American men in the top four—Ben Hoffman was the runner-up in 2013, Tim O’Donnell was third in 2014, and Andy Potts was fourth both years.

14. For the third time, the race will feature separate age-group starts from the Kona pier. Last year the age-groupers were pushed back even farther from the pros and from each other. The male professionals will start at 6:25 a.m., the female pros at 6:30 a.m., then the male age-groupers at 6:55 a.m. and female age-groupers at 7:10 a.m. The change is intended to help have a fair race and prevent drafting on the bike.

15. Reigning Kona champion Daniela Ryf had an impressive 2016 season, the highlight of which was winning the famously fast Challenge Roth in Germany and then winning Ironman Switzerland one week later. However, as the defending two-time 70.3 world champ and a strong cyclist, she was favored to win the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Australia last month but didn’t break away on the bike—her signature move (she finished in fourth place). Kona fans are eager to see if that was a one-time fluke or a sign of overracing.

16. There will be 64 countries represented on the start line this year—it’s the largest international field in the race’s history.

17. On race day, you can follow the pro race online at Ironman.com with a video stream (with expert commentary) and live blog. (There are other ways to follow the action too.)

18. Internationally, Australia has the most athletes competing with 230, followed by Germany (195), Canada (137), Great Britain (124) and France (119). Athletes will also be coming from countries such as Turkey, Iceland, Slovenia and Denmark.

19. Caroline “Xena” Steffen is one Swiss athlete who, after multiple Kona podium finishes (second place in 2010 and 2012), has failed to earn the top spot. She’s always been considered a contender, but she won’t be racing on the Big Island this weekend—after a rough 2015 season plagued with injuries and illness, she switched from legendary coach Brett Sutton to her new coach Daniel Plews, and spent the 2016 season rebuilding with not so much travel and more 70.3 racing (including a fifth-place finish at 70.3 worlds). She plans to be back in Kona next year.

20. There are seven past Ironman world champions on the pro start list this year. On the men’s side are Frederik Van Lierde (2013), Sebastian Kienle (2014) and Jan Frodeno (2015). On the women’s side are Mirinda Carfrae (2010, 2013, 2014), Leanda Cave (2012), Daniela Ryf (2015) and Natascha Badmann (1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005).

21. Male athletes make up 70 percent of participants (1,683 athletes), while 30 percent (718 athletes) are female. That marks the largest female field ever at the Ironman World Championship—topping last year’s total number of women by 2 percentage points.

22. Until the last couple of years, Australia had been dominant in the men’s field, with six consecutive titles captured by Aussies Chris McCormack, Craig Alexander or Pete Jacobs. It now appears that we’re entering an era of European domination, as Frederik Van Lierde from Belgium, Sebastian Kienle from Germany and Jan Frodeno from Germany have won the last three titles.

23. The United States is the most represented country with 804 competitors, accounting for just over 33 percent of registrants this year. Athletes from all 50 U.S. states are represented, with the greatest number coming from California (153), Colorado (51), Hawaii (49), New York (46) and Florida and Texas (45 each).

24. The average high for the month of October is typically around 83 degrees F, with a low around 70 degrees. Weather.com forecasts the temperature to be a few degrees warmer than that for this Saturday, and on top of the black asphalt in the midst of black volcanic rocks, temperatures can exceed 100 degrees, especially in the infamous Energy Lab section of the run course.

25. At 83 years old, Japan’s Hiromu Inada is the oldest athletes in the field, and if he finishes, he could become the oldest competitor to ever cross the Ironman World Championship finish line. Last year, he missed earning a finisher’s medal by just 6 seconds.

26. There has been a huge push from both organized groups and passionate individuals for equality for the professionals on the Ironman World Championship start line. This year 57 pro men and 43 pro women will be racing.

27. Weather will play to the strengths—and expose the weaknesses—of each athlete and can have a big impact on how the race plays out. Varying levels of chop on the swim, potentially heavy tradewinds on the bike and heat and humidity on the run can all make or break race day. Of all of the possible condition variants, the notorious “Mumuku Winds” have the biggest potential to shake up the outcome. Within a matter of seconds, a light breeze on the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway can shift and create unwieldy headwinds and dangerous crosswinds that have been known to knock athletes off of their bikes. In recent years, race day has yielded relatively mild winds but many pros know what the island is capable of producing. You can bet the strongest cyclists—such as Sebastian Kienle for the men and Daniela Ryf for the women—will be hoping for some tougher conditions to break up the field.

28. There are several Kona rookies on the pro start list this year, but some names that stand out as having the potential to definitely shake up the top 10 (and perhaps even podium!) are American Jesse Thomas and Aussie Mel Hauschildt. Thomas is a six-time Wildflower Long Course champion who, until last season, had been focused on the 70.3 distance. However, he did earn an Ironman win over defending champion Jan Frodeno this summer at Ironman Lanzarote (also a hot, difficult course on a volcanic island). Hauschildt is a former 70.3 world champion who is actually undefeated at in an Ironman—she won the Ironman European Championship this summer, was second at 70.3 worlds and will be eager to race on the Big Island after injuries have kept her away the last few seasons. Also keep an eye on rookie Patrick Lange of Germany, who was the surprise winner of the Ironman North American Championship in his first Ironman race.

29. This was the second year that Ironman offered automatic qualifying opportunities for professionals at the five championship-level races. Athletes who won the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championships in Cairns (Tim Van Berkel and Jodie Swallow), the Ironman African Championships in Port Elizabeth, South Africa (Ben Hoffman and Kaisa Lehtonen), the Ironman North American Championships in Texas (Patrick Lange and Julia Gajer), the Ironman South American Championships in Florianopolis, Brazil (Brent McMahon and Liz Lyles) and the Ironman European Championships in Frankfurt (Sebastian Kienle and Melissa Hauschildt) all earned automatic Kona slots and did not need to worry about their Kona Pro Ranking.

30. Professionals are competing for a total of $650,000 in prize money, with each winner taking home $120,000. The majority of the athletes also likely have lucrative bonuses from sponsors available if they do well.

31. Former XTERRA world champion Olympic mountain biker Michael Weiss of Austria will be racing on the new Diamondback Andean and, as a strong cyclist, will try to break the bike course record with his new ride. Weiss is a somewhat controversial athlete in the triathlon world, as he served a two-year ban (from November 2011 to November 2013) for doping from his time as a mountain biker in 2005 (Weiss still claims innocence).

32. For as sleek-looking and aerodynamic as they are, disc wheels aren’t allowed on the Kona course—crosswinds on the bike course can reach 60 mph on race day.

33. While race day is a thrill to follow, it’s actually the NBC broadcast of the event (which airs a couple months later) that garners the most mainstream attention. It features both the pro races and inspiring age-grouper stories and has won several Emmy awards. This year’s broadcast—celebrating its 25th year—will air Saturday, Dec. 10, at 2:30 p.m. ET.

34. While Mirinda Carfrae has broken the women’s run course record several times (see No. 1), the men have struggled to come close. Despite deeper pro fields and constant advancements in bike and run technology, the men are still chasing after the elusive run record on the Big Island—a record that has stood for 26 years (and counting). Mark Allen’s 2:40:04 marathon from the 1989 “Iron War” race has not been touched.

35. This is the first year that the Ironman World Championship won’t have any participants who entered through the Kona Lottery program—in 2015, the Department of Justice deemed the lottery program as not compliant with lottery and gambling laws. Previously, athletes paid to enter the lottery and then paid the registration fee if they were one of the 100 athletes selected. Ironman discontinued the program and redistributed the entry slots, in addition to paying out $2.7 million to the government.

36. American Linsey Corbin will be returning to race in Kona for the 10th time this year. Due to a 2015 season filled with injury and illness, last year had been the only year the five-time Ironman winner hadn’t raced in the Ironman World Championship since 2005.

37. The youngest athlete in the field will be Japanese athlete Hiraya Shun, who is 19 (athletes must be 18 years old to compete).

38. The sunrise for Saturday will be at 6:16 a.m., less than 10 minutes before the pro men are scheduled to start. The sun will set at 6:05 p.m., and after that, athletes still on the course will be handed glow sticks for safety, and many also wear reflective clothing or tape.

39. The water temperature in Kailua Bay is typically around 79 degrees F, making it too warm for athletes to wear wetsuits—you’ll see most athletes either in just their kits or in swimskins. The water depth ranges from only 20 to 90 feet for the 2.4 miles (and more than half of it is just 20 feet).

40. The final hour at the Ironman World Championship has long been considered one of the most magical parts of the sport of triathlon. Hundreds of spectators and race finishers, as well as local musicians and dancers, gather at the finish line to welcome the race’s final finishers. While it traditionally is a midnight cut-off at an Ironman race, for the third time, male and female age-groupers will have different cut-off times at the finish line because of the change in start times (see No. 14). The men will have a cut-off of 11:45 p.m. and the women will have until 12 a.m. (which also means the athletes have less than 17 hours to finish).

Jan Frodeno Reflects on His Final Ironman World Championship

Immediately after finishing 24th place at his final Ironman World Championships, the Olympic medalist (and three-time IMWC winner) explains what his race in Nice meant to him.