Roughly 3 weeks to go until the Ironman World Championship in Kona and without any other race results to examine I thought I’d take an early look at past results from Hawaii. Kona is one of the tougher Ironman courses – hot, humid, windy – it is by no means fast, but this is countered by the strong field drawn to the World Championship and whittled down by qualification. The majority of athletes racing in Hawaii will have already proved their ability with a top finish in an Ironman race, whether they sustain that form under the pressure of the World Champs is another question. Enough do that every year we see the fastest field in the Ironman Calendar competing in Kona.
The distribution of splits seen at the Ironman World Champs over the last 10 years shows an incredibly clear and distinctive skew towards faster finishers. This is emphasised when placed next to the averages from North America and Europe in 2012. Qualification has removed the slow tail of other Ironman fields bringing only the fastest and the result is the heavy skew. The closest to this outside of Kona are the likes of Ironman Frankfurt or Ironman Melbourne.
Of course selectivity means that we see the exact same trend when looking at median splits among the age groups. Kona is faster by some measure. Even in the rough, non-wetsuit swim we have faster splits at Kona; you don’t have to be a great swimmer to qualify, but those who do tend to be better than average. It’s worth paying attention to the professional splits where the differences are smaller and less clear cut. As a more homogenous group than age groupers the difference in field strength between races is smaller so pro times probably better reflect the course and lack the skew of the amateur field.
Podium spots not qualification slots are chased in Kona and as the two charts above show competition is steep for those podium places. Fast finishing times and relatively small differences between first and tenth are reminiscent of the fastest qualifying events such as Ironman Frankfurt. Conditions in Kona are highly variable though and this is reflected in the wide range of finishing times seen for each place.
Out of curiosity I’ve added the average times for each place over the 2013 Ironman Calendar. A slightly different approach to normal – taking an average time over a diverse group of races. I wouldn’t read too much into this (it’s another side effect of the selection method), but it’s interesting how there’s convergence of times at the very front of the field and that while Kona is on average faster for each place, it’s not necessarily by much (particularly among the male age groups).
What can we expect from Kona this year? A competitive and, barring the worst conditions, fast race. It’s impossible to guess at age group times, that will come down to the heat and the wind, but clearly we can expect them to be up there and tightly packed at the front of the field.