What is Ironman?


An Ironman Triathlon is one of a series of long-distance triathlon races organised by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), a subsidiary of the Chinese Wanda Group, consisting of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2-mile (42.16 km) run, raced in that order and without a break. It is widely considered one of the most difficult one day sporting events in the world.

Wanda bought Ironman Races for $650 million dollars in August 2015 and estimates it will bring in $185 a year. Ironman hosts 200 events in 27 countries and has approximately 250,000 registered athletes.

Most Ironman events have a strict time limit of 17 hours to complete the race. Any participant who manages to complete the triathlon within these timings becomes an Ironman.

Athletes range from 18 to over 80 and from all different walks of life and athletic backgrounds. The mind is a powerful element of triathlon and mental strength is vital. An Ironman triathlon is arguably the most difficult one-day sporting event in the world, but if you have an open mind and the drive, you can do it. Anything is possible!

The name “Ironman Triathlon” is also associated with the original Ironman triathlon which is now the Ironman World Championship. Held in Kailua-Kona, the world championship has been held annually in Hawaii since 1978 (with an additional race in 1982) and is preceded by a series of qualifying Ironman events. The Ironman World Championships have become known for their gruelling length and harsh race conditions,

Other races exist that are of the same distance as an Ironman triathlon but are not produced, owned, or licensed by the World Triathlon Corporation. Such races include The Challenge Family series, Challenge Roth and many other long course events that are now established as part of the racing calendar such as Race New Forest, Brutal Triathlons, Castle Triathlon, The Outlaw and Xtreme. The main rival to Ironman has been the Challenge Family. They organise 44 full and half distance triathlons worldwide. They are a smaller family company based in Roth, Germany.

So Ironman is a worldwide profit making company. It is an international brand. Your entry fee – (typically £240 for a 70.3 event and £450 for a full Ironman) is set at a commercial rate to make money for this company. Ironman also attracts sponsors. This year Sketchers are their shoe sponsor and Arena are their swim sponsor.

Nutrition is provided by PowerBar.

Powerbar are the nutrition sponsor

PowerBar are the nutrition sponsor

I think Fyffes must also be involved judging by the number of bananas that are given out.

So why is Ironman so successful? What does this brand do at their events that have athletes desperate to part with their hard earned cash to participate? Some popular events, which tend to be the easier flatter courses, sell out within 24 hours.

I have done quite a few triathlons mostly non Ironman events. The full distance event I did last September – i.e. Ironman distance in Weymouth was organised by Challenge. Compared to the experiences I have had as a competitor and spectator at Ironman events the Challenge Weymouth event was quite inferior in many ways. Ironman have now taken over the Weymouth full distance event so on September 11th 2016 it is Ironman Weymouth and Ironman 70.3 Weymouth. ( It will cost you £415 for the full Ironman and £249 for the 70.3. ) and I expect that the many problems with the 2015 event will be rectified.

So what do you get for your money? In short – a grand day out.

Ironman organisation is flawless. They are very experienced in putting on the events and have a depth of experienced personnel. Most employees are Ironmen! Many events have been going for several years so rolling it out every year is easier. Exmoor 70.3 in 2016 was it’s 11th year. All teething problems are long gone. There is attention to every detail to ensure that the athletes experience is as good as it can be. They aim to give every athlete a great day regardless of their time. At an Ironman event athletes can be fairly confident that basics like the courses being the correct distance are taken care of.

From the moment of registration Ironman takes care of everything. Once they have your money – they look after you and in my experience there are few problems. Information is accurate and available readily. They send you messages which have some individuality (computer generated I’m sure) but make you feel valued. Leading up to the event more information is sent and email from the race director is aimed to make the athlete feel involved. Car parking is taken care of (advance charge of £10 at Exmoor) and information is given to help your logistical planning on how to get to the venue and accommodation etc. Information on the bike and run routes and advice on the likely weather and road conditions together with the equipment you will need are given.

There is an online Athletes Guide, which contains many pages of information about the event. Everything you could possibly need to know is in there. There is also an extensive list of rules and the penalties that are incurred if the rules are broken. The rules are there to enhance safety and to make the race fair for everyone. Triathlon is an individual race and must be completed without any outside assistance.

In the sporting world the Ironman logo is immediately recognisable. At an Ironman event you enter a corporate world of red and black.

It's all about the brand.

It’s all about the brand.

The organisation is meticulous. Every minuscule detail has been thought about in advance and is sorted. The event schedule tells you clearly what you need to do on the day and when it has to be done. By 4pm on the day before Exmoor 70.3 every athlete had to have their bike racked in transition and their red run bag and blue bike bag on the numbered racks in the transition tent. You are encouraged to attend a race briefing. There is a separate more detailed briefing for 70.3 Ironman virgins.

To keep the party rolling, Ironman for the first time this year at Exmoor, organised IronKids races. There are races which range in length from 2km for Year 9 to 500m for the under 5’s. This takes place on Saturday afternoon and with all the music and razzmatazz that goes with Ironman. The IronKids event was fabulous and I’m sure it will continue and grow. The children had the experience of racing in front of a crowd and ran down the red carpet to finish just like the grown- ups. Cost £12 per child – rewards – t shirt, medal and a great experience.

As in all organised events the bottom line is everyone must be kept safe – athletes and spectators.Security is also very important.  Each athlete will bring with them thousands of pounds worth of kit. My bike is down towards the lower end of the range and is worth £2k. So security is vital.  Ironman have very strict security. Athletes can feel confident that their stuff is safe.

Transition – you won’t get past this guy without your wrist band!

Transition – you won’t get past this guy without your wrist band!

Many of the strict rules that athletes have to follow enhance  safety. Ironman are strict about their rules and disqualification is a real threat if rules are infringed. At Exmoor 70.3 in 2016, 7 athletes were disqualified – all for dangerous bike riding.

There is some tangible stuff that each athlete receives for their entry fee. All items strongly reinforce the Ironman brand. On registration each athlete gets a rucksack and their swim cap.

Race goodies

Race goodies

On completion each athlete gets a medal

Finisher's medal

Finisher’s medal

and a rather good finisher t shirt which is sponsored by Craft.

Finisher's t-shirt

Finisher’s t-shirt

Food and drink is copious at the aid stations on the bike and run and there is also lots of food after the finish – unlimited. For those who win their category there is a trophy –  25cm of plastic – re-emphasising the Ironman Brand.

Category winner's trophy

Category winner’s trophy

Overall my experience of Ironman is that although it is expensive – if I going to spend months training for an event, I would rather pay more money and participate in an event which is a safe as it can be with flawless organisation and lots of fun .

For non-athletes I can see why there is some incredulity that people pay £400 to suffer for a day.


2 thoughts on “What is Ironman?

  1. Barbara

    Triathlon is weird and wonderful and very theatrical. When you see someone walking around the supermarket in compression wear you know they are saying ‘ look at me – I’m a triathlete.’


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