There are a handful of events that make me wish I was racing again, this weekend’s Ironman Western Australia is one of them. Home of my two fastest Ironman performances and my second Kona qualification, it’s the atmosphere and the venue that really made the race special. When – it remains a when – I return to Ironman racing Western Australia will be high on my to-do list. For now though it’s a good excuse to dip back into the data to examine the type of race Busselton is and what sort of finish time a Kona qualifier might need.
I’ll start by looking at finisher distributions, they give us some indications of speed and quality of the field. With results back to 2005 on ironman.com (2004 is listed, but data is absent) we have a decent number of races to examine. It might also be worth looking at my two year comparison of all Ironman races to see how Western Australia compares to others.
While the course has changed over the years one thing remains constant: Busselton is flat, you have to ride a long way to find a hill. This does not mean easy, without downhills there is no reprieve in effort and there is always the potential for strong winds or high temperatures. I would describe it as less punishing to middle-of-the-pack athletes than many, but for those chasing times or slots it is equally challenging. There is little to divide good athletes over the course of swim, bike or run.
The swim around Busselton’s jetty is one of the most straightforward sea swims on the Ironman circuit; sighting is simple, just keep the jetty on your left-hand side. On the bike you should be sure you’re comfortable in the aero position because this is where you’ll be spending the next few hours. It rewards those who can maintain a consistent effort over 180km, but worth noting that the wind tends to pick up as the day goes on and the final lap can be more challenging. On the run heat can be the biggest issue, I remember chucking ice down my shorts at every aid station to keep myself going in 2009.
Ultimately we see a fair number of left skews in the distributions above, mostly in the swim. The race is fast. Not always, such as in 2009 when the run in particular shows much less of a leaning towards quicker times (the heat was an issue that year). While I regard this as one of the faster courses and feel the competition is strong, the distribution of overall finish time is, with the odd exception, less clear. What about Kona qualifiers and podium finishers? There are clearly fast athletes here, but not quite as deeply as at Hawaii or Germany for example.
Generally there is a broad range of finish times from fastest to slowest. I can see, for example, that my qualifying finish time in 2009, coming second in the male 30-34 age group was slower than the second place average, but by no means the slowest. Some years have been considerably faster, even requiring sub-9 hours to crack the top 5. The wide spread from minimum to maximum finish time for any given placing, often in excess of an hour, makes it hard to make strong conclusions about qualifying targets. As before for each age group the average line probably reflects the minimum you should be comfortably targeting if you want a chance of that position and potentially a slot. Of course race plans should be based on fair assessments of your training, not times picked from a graph of past finishers.
There are few slots available in Busselton. Potential qualifiers will be looking to at least podium in the main male age groups, probably win in most female age groups. Even if the overall field isn’t the fastest, you need to be quick to qualify especially if it’s a day that draws out a collection of age group sub-9s. I’ll check in at the weekend around sleep – most of the race occurs during the UK night – and of course retrieve and examine the new set of results when everything is done.