CoachCox

Sub-10 Hour Ironman: Where and How

Two of the most popular posts on this site review my training diaries and data to examine what I did in preparation to break 10 hours at Ironman. There are a lot of triathlete’s interested in breaking that barrier – despite being 3 years old those posts remain some of my most read. I’m going to visit the topic from a slightly different angle today – utilising the mass of Ironman results data to examine where and how age group athletes go sub-10 at Ironman. This will not tell you anything about the training involved, but it might help advise race choice and give some indication of the splits required.

Top level figures from the Ironman results dataset
Number of Race Years Examined Total Number of Race Finishers Total Number of Sub-10 Finishers Percentage of Sub-10 Finishers
Arizona 8 15629 453 2.9
Australia 9 11498 763 6.6
Austria 9 18382 2040 11.1
Brazil 8 8462 557 6.6
Cairns 2 1852 90 4.9
Canada 9 20437 352 1.7
Coeur d’Alene 10 19298 358 1.9
Cozumel 4 6121 224 3.7
Florida 10 21225 1034 4.9
France 8 13516 511 3.8
Frankfurt 9 17882 2247 12.6
Japan 4 1814 75 4.1
Lake Placid 10 20348 254 1.2
Lanzarote 6 6588 157 2.4
Los Cabos 1 830 11 1.3
Louisville 6 12193 164 1.3
Melbourne 1 1372 233 17.0
Mont-Tremblant 1 2086 62 3.0
New Zealand 9 9718 554 5.7
South Africa 7 9752 198 2.0
Sweden 1 1317 233 17.7
Switzerland 8 13022 1261 9.7
Texas 3 5970 115 1.9
UK 6 6710 121 1.8
Wales 2 2288 62 2.7
Western Australia 8 7591 667 8.8
Wisconsin 10 20396 203 1.0
World Championship 10 15847 2527 15.9
Overall 179 292144 15526 5.3

The table above shows the top level details for this analysis: the races examined, the number of years I’ve looked at in each case, how many athlete results and the proportion that are sub-10 finishers within that. Probably the most interesting statistic is that proportion – certain races stand out for having distinctly more sub-10 finishers. There are many factors that come in to play in determining that percentage, both the course and the quality of the field. A third highest 15.9% at the Ironman World Championships reflects the qualification criteria more than the nature of the course. Races like Sweden, Melbourne, Frankfurt and Austria produce high percentages through some combination of the two – fast courses with a good field.

A small aside on the data used – Ironman results are far from standardised and in such a large data set there are many errors. I have done my best to remove erroneous data from consideration and clean up obvious mistakes. Some may have slipped through. I have made choices to exclude one or two instances of races where the best way to clean the results was unclear. Ironman Melbourne 2013 is a good example – I’ve excluded that race due to the significantly shortened swim. Races do vary in exact distances and as we’ll see this is reflected in the average splits; I’ve not adjusted this as these small variations reflect what may be encountered at that race.

The Average Sub-10 Splits at Ironman Races
Average Swim Time of Sub-10 Athletes Average Bike Time of Sub-10 Athletes Average Run Time of Sub-10 Athletes Average Overall Time of Sub-10 Athletes
Arizona 1:02:07 5:04:40 3:27:45 9:41:13
Australia 0:56:59 5:12:48 3:28:03 9:40:44
Austria 1:02:38 5:00:07 3:26:05 9:36:16
Brazil 0:58:47 5:07:34 3:29:47 9:41:22
Cairns 1:01:04 5:03:06 3:27:54 9:38:58
Canada 1:01:09 5:12:48 3:26:57 9:46:40
Coeur d’Alene 1:02:52 5:13:47 3:22:19 9:44:41
Cozumel 1:00:10 5:06:18 3:27:48 9:39:45
Florida 1:02:34 4:59:30 3:28:02 9:38:02
France 1:00:30 5:15:43 3:19:05 9:43:09
Frankfurt 1:00:36 5:04:20 3:27:06 9:37:54
Japan 1:01:42 5:32:30 3:22:45 9:41:41
Lake Placid 1:00:48 5:20:24 3:20:33 9:48:51
Lanzarote 0:58:51 5:22:50 3:15:01 9:45:16
Los Cabos 1:02:14 5:21:19 3:20:12 9:43:40
Louisville 1:02:57 5:10:47 3:23:54 9:45:13
Melbourne 1:01:00 4:59:42 3:27:41 9:35:22
Mont-Tremblant 1:01:37 5:12:19 3:23:57 9:45:01
New Zealand 0:57:37 5:11:12 3:26:21 9:42:07
South Africa 1:01:34 5:04:08 3:27:57 9:39:36
Sweden 1:05:13 4:52:23 3:26:39 9:30:19
Switzerland 1:02:48 5:07:01 3:24:46 9:38:36
Texas 1:03:11 5:00:53 3:28:00 9:38:39
UK 0:58:23 5:27:16 3:12:03 9:43:30
Wales 0:55:11 5:33:16 3:06:29 9:46:05
Western Australia 0:59:06 5:00:28 3:31:58 9:35:30
Wisconsin 1:01:24 5:14:51 3:20:13 9:45:05
World Championship 1:03:56 5:06:58 3:22:07 9:39:42
Overall Average 1:00:58 5:10:41 3:23:59 9:41:11

I’ve seen many discussions of the optimal splits required to break 10 hours. Put simply it will depend on the course. The table above offers the average sub-10 splits seen at each race. As I said it won’t tell you how to achieve them, but it gives a sense of the common requirements for those looking to break the 10 hour mark. You can also observe indications where a race may have a tough bike and so require faster swim and run splits (Lanzarote) or a faster bike that takes the pressure off the run (Austria). We might note that Wales appears to have an unusually fast run split largely the result of a short course in the 2012 edition, although with a challenging bike a fast run is required.

At a very simplistic level you could take the average splits and use them as rough performance benchmarks. I want to break 10 hours at Austria (a good choice for it) then I need to be capable of close to an hour in the swim, low 5 hours on the bike and around 3:30 for the run. There are also transitions to consider, but if you’re chasing sub-10 you shouldn’t be spending much time in there. However – time goals on an unknown course tell you little about the actual performance required. Be aware that a 5:30 bike in Lanzarote is a very different beast to a 5:30 bike in Austria.

The Fastest Sub-10 Splits at Ironman Races
Fastest Swim Time of Sub-10 Athletes Fastest Bike Time of Sub-10 Athletes Fastest Run Time of Sub-10 Athletes Fastest Overall Time of Sub-10 Athletes
Arizona 0:47:00 4:28:16 2:59:55 8:50:21
Australia 0:44:41 4:40:42 2:51:46 8:32:52
Austria 0:47:16 4:23:27 2:48:52 8:31:37
Brazil 0:43:05 4:38:49 2:58:43 8:40:27
Cairns 0:49:13 4:34:35 2:59:36 8:44:03
Canada 0:47:44 4:45:29 2:56:12 9:04:10
Coeur d’Alene 0:48:50 4:43:27 2:55:35 8:53:00
Cozumel 0:44:25 4:31:28 2:55:52 8:32:24
Florida 0:50:09 4:24:53 2:53:50 8:37:10
France 0:44:17 4:30:03 2:47:23 8:46:30
Frankfurt 0:44:17 4:31:53 2:51:33 8:33:54
Japan 0:53:57 4:38:28 2:56:24 9:08:25
Lake Placid 0:49:53 4:53:59 2:56:13 9:16:02
Lanzarote 0:48:17 4:54:35 2:53:10 9:13:44
Los Cabos 0:52:58 5:04:19 3:03:41 9:24:48
Louisville 0:49:31 4:42:07 2:54:03 9:07:25
Melbourne 0:49:12 4:42:02 2:50:42 8:48:35
Mont-Tremblant 0:49:58 4:52:28 3:07:35 9:06:34
New Zealand 0:47:33 4:32:38 2:54:51 8:58:14
South Africa 0:48:48 4:35:26 2:58:40 8:34:35
Sweden 0:48:41 4:27:27 2:51:43 8:24:27
Switzerland 0:47:51 4:33:43 2:52:27 8:38:59
Texas 0:49:24 4:32:18 2:59:40 8:51:45
UK 0:47:00 5:02:15 2:48:57 8:56:13
Wales 0:45:12 5:14:20 2:51:48 9:16:23
Western Australia 0:46:58 4:17:25 2:56:03 8:39:43
Wisconsin 0:49:41 4:50:54 2:52:19 9:06:56
World Championship 0:46:50 4:30:12 2:48:30 8:40:43
Overall Minimum 0:43:05 4:17:25 2:47:23 8:24:27

The Slowest Sub-10 Splits at Ironman Races
Slowest Swim Time of Sub-10 Athletes Slowest Bike Time of Sub-10 Athletes Slowest Run Time of Sub-10 Athletes Slowest Overall Time of Sub-10 Athletes
Arizona 1:20:44 5:35:06 4:01:08 9:59:59
Australia 1:17:54 6:18:00 4:03:47 9:59:59
Austria 1:35:41 5:32:32 4:16:14 9:59:59
Brazil 1:30:20 5:48:11 4:13:24 9:59:59
Cairns 1:12:50 5:25:37 3:53:06 9:59:14
Canada 1:17:30 5:34:03 4:07:38 9:59:54
Coeur d’Alene 1:22:55 6:27:21 4:01:18 9:59:59
Cozumel 1:20:59 6:15:05 4:01:21 9:59:59
Florida 1:19:10 5:28:08 4:13:18 9:59:57
France 1:20:22 6:38:40 3:44:35 9:59:59
Frankfurt 1:25:49 5:36:25 4:04:29 9:59:56
Japan 1:14:55 6:38:56 3:56:26 9:59:45
Lake Placid 1:22:30 5:44:33 3:52:59 9:59:58
Lanzarote 1:11:53 5:44:43 3:42:18 9:59:30
Los Cabos 1:12:18 6:13:27 3:38:58 9:58:15
Louisville 1:20:23 5:32:54 3:47:10 9:59:42
Melbourne 1:17:01 5:28:34 4:03:47 9:59:39
Mont-Tremblant 1:15:17 5:39:18 3:39:08 9:59:56
New Zealand 1:10:58 5:43:10 3:59:48 9:59:57
South Africa 1:23:42 5:35:27 3:57:49 9:59:53
Sweden 1:30:43 5:40:19 4:15:35 9:59:39
Switzerland 1:25:28 5:42:39 4:04:56 9:59:58
Texas 1:20:25 5:25:10 3:50:52 9:59:45
UK 1:12:53 5:47:37 3:38:28 9:59:53
Wales 1:04:45 5:55:41 3:25:36 9:59:48
Western Australia 1:16:30 5:39:42 4:15:55 9:59:57
Wisconsin 1:28:46 5:38:37 3:44:10 9:59:51
World Championship 1:35:24 5:42:54 4:10:45 9:59:59
Overall Maximum 1:35:41 6:38:56 4:16:14 9:59:59

To round out this fairly brief, but data heavy post here are the fastest and slowest splits seen from sub-10 athletes at each race. Here we see how a strong swimmer, cyclist or runner can skew the splits to suit their strengths and still make the goal. I’ll admit we are also likely to see signs of a few errors within the data; I put in a lot of work to clear mistakes, but some may have slipped through. These are the outliers – the 1:35 swimmer who can bike a 4:30. Typically performances lie far closer to the averages, but it is interesting to note that there are many ways to achieve the same goal.

My database of Ironman results is largely complete – all but a few results sets available on Athlete Tracker are imported. It opens up examinations of performances like this and the potential to dig further. At the very least I will examine how splits distribute for sub-10 athletes to build a more precise picture of performances at these races. It may help an athlete gauge which race to choose for their sub-10 goal. And potentially there’s more I can do – some work with the TrainingPeaks API could allow me to mine the diaries of sub-10 athletes I coach to build a better picture of typical performances and training for example. I can now expand beyond the sample of one that formed the basis of my original articles.

Ironman Training Library

From nutrition to pacing - a collection of CoachCox blog posts focused specifically on Ironman training and racing.

Comments

  • Chris Ashford

    Hi Russ, really insightful information!
    I was just wondering on how you could take this information forward to think about how it could be used for Kona Qualifying?

    I completed Frankfurt this year in sub 09:30 (<1hr swim, <5:30hr bike, <3hr run). So as a strong runner and weak cyclist should I be looking for a quick run course – to maximise my strengths, or a quick bike course – to limit the effect on my weaknesses? Just interested to get your thoughts?

    Chris

  • Chris,

    Interesting question – the tables as shown probably can’t help too much in terms of picking Kona qualifiers (I am working on a variety of other approaches that may help with this). In reference to Ironman Germany the graphs in my analysis of the results might help more: Ironman Frankfurt 2013: Full Results and Analysis. Cut 20 minutes off your bike and you are getting in range of a slot there.

    Having checked your results from the race. I’d say in terms of race choice you’re going to have to bear in mind you’re in one of the major male age groups which means you tend to get more slots (but not as many as 40-44), but also more athletes capable of racing for them. I would consider slot numbers when picking a race, but also perceived level of competition – it’s riskier going to the major European races to qualify where competition is very stiff. The US could be a good choice for you, or even Bolton. I’d generally say avoid the toughest bikes, but equally avoid the easiest runs. Don’t make things harder for you on the bike and easier for other runners.

    Big thing though – work on that bike over winter! Put it on par with your run and you’ll be in with a very good shot.

    Russ

  • Fredrik Lennartsson

    Thanks for very interesting information! I’m also interested in the question of where to attempt to qualify for Kona. I guess information on how qualifiers from different places do at Kona would be a good indicator. Do you have data on what qualifiers that do worst at Kona? (which should be a good indicator of where it is easiest to qualify from)

  • Fredrik,

    If you’ve looked at my Ironman stats page you can access analysis for most races on the Ironman calendar. This includes a look at finishing times, and also the times for the top 20 places (with Kona slots where possible) which gives some insight for a given race as to the likely requirements for qualification. What you’ll also find is that with varying conditions it’s very hard to determine race times required for Kona – this season has seen races that were far faster than expected and also far slow. So with any attempt to pick out good Kona qualifiers be aware it comes down to your preparation, conditions on the day and who else turns up.

    I have just posted a piece looking at the difference in times between Kona and other Ironman races for qualifying athletes. Again it’s worth noting that this year with a fast race in Kona the difference was smaller than last. It also won’t tell you the level of competition for slots at each race, a slower race could have fewer slots or simply a tough course with lots of competition and so be very difficult to qualify at still.

    Hope that’s some help though,

    Russ