As I was browsing for stuff about Ironman I came across this interesting piece ranking the 23 Ironman courses according to the average time to ride the 112 mile bike course. Guess what, ?Ironman UK came out as having the slowest average bike time and is therefore rated as the toughest bike course. There are, though, ?some problems with this analysis (some acknowledged by the author).

  • Ironman courses aren’t all exactly 180km long, a ?degree of difference from 180km is tolerated. This could mean up to almost 20km difference in length between the shortest and longest courses – maybe average speed would be a better measure?
  • The weather conditions when the averages were taken could vary considerably: Ironman Lanzarote is renowned for its wind, yet in 2010, raceday was unusually calm producing faster bike splits;
  • Some courses may have a higher percentage of beginners, thus increasing the average. And of course, the reverse is true, some tough triathlons may have a higher percentage of seasoned athletes taking part. This would undoubtedly account for the relatively fast average time for Ironman Hawaii, and possibly even Lanzarote which is often reckoned to be the toughest and therefore less likely to be on a newbie’s radar.

I think a better measure would be to take an average of the top few performers, say top 20, in each event. By doing this you would take out one of the biggest variables which is the calibre of the field – the top 20 in any Ironman are pretty much guaranteed to be top athletes thoroughly prepared for the event and would be likely to be performing consistently whichever Ironman they entered. And if you could produce an average over a few years it would tend to reduce the impact of unusual weather conditions in a single year. (note Aug 2011, since writing this I’ve discovered the original research and it seems they’ve taken factors such as weak fields into account, so maybe the tables don’t lie)

Still, it’s nice to know that I was faster than the average bike time on the world’s “toughest” Ironman bike course.

This table shows the averages based on overall finish times and IMUK is still well up on the table (7th). What this table does show quite clearly is that Ironman St George (in Utah) is clearly the toughest of the lot – and here, yet another variable comes in to play: altitude. The bike course peaks at nearly 5,000′ above sea level.


Edit, August 2011: here is another post examining this in slightly greater detail:?

And here is the original research:?