The Countdown to Kona

The swim start at 2011's race

(Photo: Bakke-Svensson/Ironman)

'Macca'- Chris McCormack on the bike leg in 2011 (Photo: Bakke-Svensson/Ironman)

2011 winner Chrissie Wellington is taking a year off from racing this year (Photo: Bakke-Svensson/Ironman)

Next Saturday 13 October all eyes will be on Kona, Hawaii for the headline event in the triathlon endurance racing calendar: the Ironman World Championship.

The race

Held since 1978, the annual Ironman World Championship or ‘Ironman Hawaii’ is the culmination of a number of international Ironman qualifier races from the preceding 12 months, including in Great Britain, Ironman Bolton and Ironman Wales.

Any Ironman is tough – ridiculously so, but the temperatures make Hawaii Ironman even more gruelling: buoyancy-helping wetsuits are banned in the 2.4 mile swim in the bay of Kailua-Kona, strong cross winds are common in the 112-mile bike ride across the Hawaiian lava desert, and the marathon leg along the coast is a run in often sweltering temperatures. Training for the event alone is a mission and conditions at Kona always make for an unpredictable and edge-of-the-seat race.

Ones to watch

The women: High drama is promised in the women’s race as 2011 winner and world record holder Chrissie Wellington takes a year off from racing. 2010 winner Mirinda Carfrae from Australia is a favourite, but she’ll face tough competition from Switzerland’s Caroline Steffen, ‘Xena’, who claimed victories in Ironman Melbourne and Frankfurt this year, plus the ITU World Long Distance Championships. The US’s Mary Beth Ellis is another one to watch, while British hopes lie with Leanda Cave, who came third in 2011, and Rachel Joyce, who has successively placed sixth, fifth and fourth positions in recent years.

The men: Three-time Ironman World champ Craig Alexander – aka Crowie – claimed the world record in 2011 with a time of 8:03:56 and the 39-year-old Aussie will be out to retain his crown on Saturday. Crowie will face tough competition from Belgium’s Marino Vanhoenacker and Germany’s Sebastian Kienie and Andreas Raelert, though his biggest threat could come from closer to home in the form of fellow Antipodean Chris McCormack, ‘Macca’, who added the ITU long distance World Championship to his CV this year and will be ready to take his third Kona title.

Closer to home: Amateur Ironman

Despite the hefty challenge, entry to Ironman events – both official Ironman and non WTC-sanctioned full-distance events - has never been more popular and the past 12 months has seen sign up figures from amateur athletes soar. In the UK, Outlaw triathlon in Nottingham sold out within just six days of opening (it took until the December to reach capacity in the previous year) and Outlaw’s organisers have recently announced a new middle distance race for 2013 in response to the high demand. In August, entries to Ironman Bolton opened and are filling up in record time. The event had over 1,000 entries within the first seven days of opening, with over half of the early entrants signing up to their first IM distance.

The Pirate Ship of Fools from our forum

Racing is a career for the pros at Kona. But why on earth would anyone with a ‘regular’ life of working, commuting and kids want to swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles and top it all off with a marathon? We thought we’d ask our very own forumites and Pirates, who between them have racked up hundreds of Ironman races, how they got the Ironman bug. If you’ve completed an Ironman or perhaps are contemplating one amid all the excitement of Kona, let us know why – you can post a comment below.

“I started triathlon 11 or 12 years ago ... always with IM in mind after watching it on Trans World Sports. It has take me from a depressed 19st 8lb'er and a heart attack waiting to happen to someone who feels comfortable and happy (mostly) in their own skin. There were a few set backs on the way to my first IM which finaly took place in 2006 IMDE and since then there has been no looking back. No mater how hard races get, the joy of finnish, the comradery of the pirates and the smile on my wife's face, always make it worth while.” – WildWill

“I'm a first timer and have entered the outlaw next year. Just wanted a different challenge. Born out of constant injuries as well, brought a bike and learnt to swim properly this year and before you know it I've entered an ironman. The advice from this forum has been brilliant, very supportive and informative. I was also in bit of a rut, entering the same races seeing the same faces etc..guess I was bored with it all. Now I'm really up for the training and I'm really motivated, something I haven't been for months..I've done 2 sprints and have definitely got the bug... So glad I took the plunge!” – ET7

“Think it was a bit of a natural progression for me.  Started off with the Race for Life back in about 2001 and gradually worked my way up to IMW in 2011!  I really don't think I'd have got to IM though without this forum. I’ve done IMW and Outlaw now and I like all the build up and focus it takes to get you from filling in that entry form to crossing the finish line…. The whole pirate thing is awesome.  I can’t imagine doing one without all the support and friendship that comes with it.  It was so lovely meeting up with all the IMWalers at Outlaw again and then meeting a whole load more.  Fab.  It is quite addictive though, after Outlaw I really missed having something to focus on ... so now have Lanza to look forward too.. and erm, then Outlaw again but then I may retire...” – Iron Pingu

“I have yet to do a triathlon but am entered for the Outlaw next year. I have always been interested in endurance events and It's always been at the back of my mind that I would like to attempt an ironman but the swimming has always put me off in the past, that and also the cost of getting set up with a road bike. Early this Summer after seeing how my Wife's swimming had improved after she took adult improver swim lessons I also signed up to do the same, as soon as i could swim a proper front crawl then triathlons became a possibility. I am very much enjoying adding swimming and cycling training to the running i was doing previously, the variation means I can spend more time training without feeling I'm overdoing it.” - HONK

“For me the ironman is the new marathon. I did my first marathon aged 40, and made good progress until I pulled a couple of injuries and ran out of motivation. Two years later, aged 50 or something, I met Prince Siegfreid and realised that I was much fitter than he was, so how hard could it be? The new mantra is to Complete, not Compete. So I've had to learn how to swim more than 25m, and am trying to fit biking, running and swimming into a programme that includes a family and a job with significant travelling. My first try-a-tri was late this summer. I've now entered Challenge Henley. Wife, children, parents, they all think I'm somewhere between mad, stupid and irresponsible. Meanwhile, the Pirate kit is on order. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar!” – Blisters

“I retired from playing rugby last season, so wanted something to fill the void. I have done a little running so thought that I wanted a little bit extra. I love the variety that training on the bike, swimming or running gives you. I have done 2 sprints and an oly this year and love the friendliness of the other people taking part and the spectators. I am signed up for Outlaw next year and will be doing IMWales next year too.” - BrokeButTri’ng

"I love the fitness training for IM gives me, and it gives me a goal.
I love the challenge (How far do I need to swim!!!! 6 hrs on a bike !!!!, a marathon!!!!) and I love being able to still run when others are in severe difficulty - competetive..?? me - hell yes   

Finally I love the whole age group philosphy of triathlon. Its so encompasing / accepting of people still doing their best / trying their best despite different fitness levels. Lastly the pirates as a friendly accepting bunch of people....  They are gold.” - O.rangeCannon – Extravalanza-ing

“I did a sprint to raise money for charity last May (my son is autistic so did it for NAS), enjoyed it so did two more sprints and a 10k run. Decided to enter an IM for the same charity this year (oddly enough raised less money!!) and ended up doing 2 half irons to help with training, two half marathons. Joined the pirates after my IM as two of them (thanks!) helped me with cramp as I went to get my post race food! I enjoyed doing the long distance and will keep on with this distance now- the training is the hardest part- time consuming, up early, living off energy gels lol!” – Red_dog_chris