Ironman South Africa 2016: Results and Analysis

Stats time again, with the Ironman African Championship (Ironman South Africa) taking place on Sunday. As a championship event, South Africa offer a large pool of 75 Kona slots to age group athletes and is usually one of my favoured qualifying spots. It’s never been a fast race, but changes to this year’s bike course have brought splits and overall results down. 2016 was a faster year in Port Elizabeth.

Distribution of Finisher Splits at Ironman South Africa 2016 Compared with 2007-2015

It’s quite clear from the split distributions that the 2016 swim was par for the course. It’s equally clear that there was a jump in bike times with the new bike route. The shift is consistent from front to mid pack athletes although there’s less noticeable change as you move further back. There were also benefits on the run with a small improvement in times probably brought on by lower bike fatigue from the new course. With bike and run splits trending faster the overall results naturally do the same.

DNS and DNF Rates at Ironman South Africa
Listed Athletes Swim Finish Swim DNS/DNF Bike Finish Bike DNF Run Finish Run DNF Overall DNS/DNF
2007 1572 1366 13.1% 1324 3.1% 1305 1.4% 17%
2008 1567 1432 8.6% 1420 0.8% 1403 1.2% 10.5%
2009 1520 1408 7.4% 1390 1.3% 1305 6.1% 14.2%
2010 1654 1614 2.4% 1590 1.5% 1548 2.6% 6.4%
2011 1733 1584 8.6% 1553 2% 1505 3.1% 13.2%
2012 1635 1580 3.4% 1429 9.6% 1384 3.1% 15.4%
2013 1784 1615 9.5% 1592 1.4% 1541 3.2% 13.6%
2014 2374 2084 12.2% 2012 3.5% 1883 6.4% 20.6%
2015 2032 1741 14.3% 1690 2.9% 1586 6.2% 21.9%
2016 1856 1664 10.3% 1638 1.6% 1566 4.4% 15.6%

Allowing for inaccuracies in recording and reporting in the results, Ironman South Africa has been consistent in it’s DNF and DNS rates. While the previous two years have been at the high end of the range this year showed a more average rate of attrition over the course.

Median Splits by Age Group at Ironman South Africa 2016
Median Splits by Age Group at Ironman South Africa 2007-2015

We also largely see improved times when looking at age group median splits. As we might expect the bike is the major element of these changes, we see the biggest shift in those splits. The swim remains largely the same and the run shows smaller and less consistent improvements. Still there is a clear shift in results with the new bike course.

Changes in Male Age Group Finishing Times by Place at Ironman South Africa
Changes in Female Age Group Finishing Times by Place at Ironman South Africa

The last time we saw comparable results in South Africa was in a 2013 where favourable conditions helped deliver a good day of racing. The bike course was changed after that yielding slower times in 2014 and 2015. It’s close run, but this year’s course changes may have delivered the fastest race yet for the age group field.

Ironman South Africa 2016 Kona Qualification Times
  Slots Winner Average Kona Qualifier Final Qualifier
M18-24 2 9:36:07 9:39:18 9:42:29
M25-29 4 9:53:48 9:58:40 10:05:30
M30-34 8 9:17:13 9:30:09 9:39:12
M35-39 9 9:17:00 9:33:43 9:44:10
M40-44 12 9:05:58 9:35:20 9:51:16
M45-49 10 9:28:25 9:54:16 10:03:36
M50-54 5 9:52:07 10:10:49 10:24:44
M55-59 3 10:22:49 10:33:07 10:43:11
M60-64 2 11:00:03 11:22:09 11:44:16
M65-69 1 13:21:29 13:21:29 13:21:29
F18-24 1 11:52:18 11:52:18 11:52:18
F25-29 2 10:47:58 11:00:03 11:12:08
F30-34 2 10:12:04 10:28:57 10:45:51
F35-39 3 10:16:38 10:22:39 10:28:07
F40-44 3 10:10:32 10:39:32 11:01:29
F45-49 2 10:21:00 10:29:56 10:38:53
F50-54 2 11:17:12 11:27:17 11:37:23
F55-59 1 11:41:31 11:41:31 11:41:31
F60-64 1 14:50:24 14:50:24 14:50:24

The table above summarises my estimates for Kona slot allocation in South Africa and times that were required to achieve automatic qualification at the event. You can compare it with previous year’s results at my 2016 Ironman World Championship Qualification page.

Top Twenty Male Performances and Kona Qualification by Age Group at Ironman South Africa 2016
Top Twenty Female Performances and Kona Qualification by Age Group at Ironman South Africa 2016

If we focus on the largest male and female age groups, those ranging between 30 and 50, then this year’s Kona qualifying times were in advance of previous years. Those age groups are always competitive, this year is no different. Outside of that, while the picture is more mixed, results still tend towards average or better at the front of the age group field. This can largely be explained by the updates to the bike course. The difference between first, tenth and twentieth times follows similar trends to previous years in most of the age groups suggesting levels of competition were broadly comparable.

You can access a spreadsheet of the full results and splits from Ironman South Africa 2016 on my Google Drive.

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  • Mathieu Davy

    Hi Russel, not sure that’s important with regards to the way you produce the stats, but for info, there were 10 sots in M35-39 and I was 10th with 9:45:52. (I don’t think you do roll-downs, but if so, it went down to 11 – 9:46:26 – in M35-39)
    Thanks for the amazing stats! Always very useful.

  • The slot numbers are produced based on the start list (assuming all present actually started) and my version of the allocation algorithm. I don’t factor roll downs because, like the qualifiers, they’re rarely published. It’s only when people like you tell me I know exactly what happened.

    It means that the allocation is a bit of an estimate given the start list may or may not include athletes who registered, but didn’t turn up and at the time my algorithm didn’t perfectly match Ironman’s. I’ve improved the algorithm since seeing a picture of the spreadsheet used to determine slots, but that was after this race. Hopefully my allocations will be spot on now.

    Thanks for letting me know and well done on qualifying.

  • Mathieu Davy

    Thanks for clarifying, I wasn’t sure about the data. Interestingly I had myself calculated 8 initially, then estimated 9 on awards morning given the non starters in older categories, but only got to know the real numbers when they allocated them. Nothing published anywhere indeed.

    I thought Ironman had published their algorithm somewhere. But even with that, I’m sure there’s still some guess work to do!

  • The only thing Ironman has ever published is a description of the allocation method. However that description doesn’t match the actual process. Someone posted a picture of the spreadsheet from South Africa and it was pretty easy to produce the correct algorithm from that.

    While I can understand them not publishing their algorithm to some extent (it’s a detail most people aren’t bothered about). Not publishing the qualifying times and roll down info after each race makes no sense to me.

  • Stuart

    Hi Russell,

    You produce fantastic statistics and other info that you are generous to publish for data junkies like me! This is one race that I’m considering doing to try to qualify for Kona next year. I was wondering if you could offer me a bit of advice before I embark on on fairly expensive and long trip from Oz? Are you familiar with Using that tool, it says I can do the IMSA bike course in ~5.10 hours (power of 4w/kg), and I’m pretty sure I can do the swim and run in 1 and 3.5 hours respectively. That would give me a time of ~9.50 and a potential Kona spot in the 45-49 group. Of all the courses in the world, this seems to be my best shot. In other races I’ve looked at, I have a chance, but not as good as SA (e.g. I have a shot at Cairns, however it’d be close and I’m worried about the humid conditions as I’m from Melbourne). Given your experience of the race, is there something about the course that makes the overall times relatively slower that I’m not factoring in?

    Cheers and thanks for considering my question. Keep up the good work!


  • Hi Stuart,

    I’ve had a number of athletes race on the course over the last few years. It has changed slightly this year (new bike course) and is slightly faster for it. It’s still not the fastest course out there though.

    One of the reasons it’s a good qualifier is it gets a championship number of slots (75), but my feeling is the level of competition at the race tends to be slightly lower. It has a very high level of local entries and it appears the local competition doesn’t have the depth to dominate the available slots. That leaves a number open for visiting athletes to grab.

    The challenges of the course tend to be – the sea swim, the wind, rough road surfaces and the heat. For Europeans heading there early in the year the heat can be a big factor as it’s our winter. Similarly there’s probably less sea swimming experience on the European side.

    So while 90% of the athletes are South African, there are a number of others there, often to chase slots. I’d expect it to be a good fit for you though – you’ll be better prepared for the heat and have more opportunity to work on sea swims. It’s definitely one of the better qualifying choices at this point in time.


  • Stuart

    Hi Russ,

    Thanks a lot for your reply and great advice. Looks like I might seriously consider this one. A couple of factors you brought up (sea swim and heat) I hadn’t really thought about. I do quite a few ocean swims over summer so I’d be fairly well prepared for that. And the heat wouldn’t be too much hotter than Melbourne (I think!). It’d be fun too, to go to SA. The biggest negative I guess is the travel time (almost 24 hours) and the fatigue that that brings, but I guess I could manage that by going early.

    Really appreciate your time to reply – it’s surprisingly hard to find good info on the Ironman courses.



  • Pascal

    Hi Russel,
    in 2017 the race will keep 75 Kona slots ? Thank you for your reply

  • Currently, there’s nothing on the website to confirm the number of slots, but as a Championship event I would assume it will retain the 75 slots. That said, Ironman have changed slot allocations at races between years and during qualification seasons so this could change. Sorry I can’t say with more certainty.