A common question from the newly qualified is what sort of times should they expect in Kona in comparison with their qualifying race. The quick answer, unless they happened to qualify somewhere like Lanzarote or Wales, is slower. The long answer is, it depends.
It depends on gender and age group and where you raced and what that race was like this season. It also depends on conditions in Kona for the given year. Nor should we forget that it depends on the athlete and their preparations. All these elements make it unpredictable, but that doesn’t stop athletes from trying. So, for the curious, how much slower was Kona this year?
Quite a bit. Male or Female, almost every qualifying race produced quicker splits than Kona itself. Lanzarote, well known for it’s tough course, is the only race that proved slower for both men and women. Most others proved significantly faster, only a small group falling within 30 minutes of Kona times. You can consider that group to be the slower and potentially tougher events on the Ironman calendar.
There are a couple of absentees on the list. Florida is listed, but no times are given; the swim was cancelled at the 2014 event making it harder to compare differences in overall time (but you can check bike and run times further down this article). Lake Tahoe was also cancelled last year, it would likely have been one of the few races slower than Kona.
For contrast, the chart above shows the results of the same comparison performed in 2013, an unusually fast year on the island when a number of age group records fell. It’s an old chart that doesn’t split by gender, but what’s clear is times were much closer between qualifier and championship that season.
What does this tell us? Although we can’t predict Kona times we know that on average athletes are slower in Hawaii than at their qualifier. While times are fast at the World Champs, Kona is a tough course in comparison to most of the other Ironman races. A like-for-like performance in Kona will generally be slower than another race.
Performances are not always like-for-like at the World Champs either. For some the focus has been on qualifying and turning in a second peak performance in the year, particularly on short notice, can prove tough. For some simply racing on the island can be enough. Of course many are focussed on performing their best at the World Champs, but will still have the added challenges of heat, humidity and jet lag to factor in.
Prior to the race I don’t think there’s anything to gain trying to predict Kona times from qualifying splits, but after the event it’s interesting to see how you compare with the averages. Alongside the overall times above I’ve also produced charts for the individual splits below.
You might even consider this a rough guide to which races have tougher/slower courses at each stage. Broadly speaking tougher courses do see times close to or slower than Kona. I wouldn’t stand by it as a ranking of difficulty though, that’s a much bigger problem to solve.