It’s been four years since Japan hosted an Ironman, but the series returned on Sunday with a new race based at Lake Toya. Ironman Japan was also the first qualifier for the 2014 Ironman World Championship offering 50 slots to race in Kona. Being a new course the requirements for Kona qualification and the level of age group performance that could be expected was always an unknown. From the results it appears that Japan is a tough addition to the Ironman Calendar.
The heavy right skew of the distribution of splits at Ironman Japan (top) is a good indication how relatively slow the race is. The peak bike split falls between 7:00-7:15 while the run is more broadly spread after it peaks at 4:15-4:30. I’ve not compared to previous Ironman Japan results due to the change in course (and being in the middle of a house move), but placed alongside generalised results from North America or Europe we can see how Ironman Japan is at the slower end of the scale.
The small field present at Japan, roughly 1350 athletes started the race, may have had an effect. A race this late in the season likely attracts a mix of early Kona qualifiers (for 2014) and less competitive athletes rather than the strong fields of some of the more established, major races. Even so the main contributor to these slow times has to be course and conditions, particularly the hilly bike.
As is usually the case the median splits for each age group reflect the patterns observed in the finisher distributions. Swim times are comparable with many other races, but bike times and to a lesser extent run times are slower. This is across the board – both age groupers and professional athletes – again suggesting the course played a major role.
I’ve frequently complained about the lack of information available on the Ironman site, but it seems things are changing: for the first time, in what I hope is a trend for 2014, Ironman.com has published a list of the Kona qualifiers at an event. This opens up the potential for some new analyses and a better understanding of slot distributions and roll downs across the series. Naturally I’ve begun to implement tools to better utilise this data as in the table below.
|Division||Slot Count||Rolldown Count||Fastest Qualifier||Slowest Qualifier||Average Qualifiying Time|
There were almost no roll downs at Ironman Japan, it only happened in the male 70-74 division. There are huge advantages to qualifying this early – it allows an entire year to prepare without the pressure of chasing a slot. Race choices can be optimised for performance in Kona and an athlete can go in far fresher than one who has spent a season qualifying. It’s not surprising that slots were quickly taken up.
Another additional use for the Kona qualifying data is to accurately mark the qualification times on the charts of age group top twenties. The front of pack largely reflects the slowness of this race. Qualifying times are generally slower than we’ve come to expect although the competition for them is as strong as usual. In the women’s field the drop off in finishing times is particularly significant, probably a consequence of the relatively small field present.
If this first race is anything to judge by the course is tough. Tough is good – I like challenging races and having wanted to race the old Ironman Japan the new one will be added to my to-do list. From an analysis perspective I’m pleased to see Kona qualifier details released, something I’ve long said should be made available. The data should open up some new ways to examine qualification in the year ahead.
I’ve upload a spreadsheet version of the full results and splits from Ironman Japan 2013 to my Google Drive.