Kona: maturing in a fast way

Swiss research reveals how top Ironman pros have changed over the past two decades


When you watch the whippets racing the Kona course, don’t think that it’s just a young-kids-on-the-block event. Not only are there some amazing age-group times posted every year, but new analysis of race results shows the top 10 are like a good cheese: maturing nicely.


Research from a Switzerland-based team (Gallmann et al 2013) who looked into the top performers’ times since 1983 indicates that the best of the sport at the Kona World Champs, both male and female, have been getting not just older but faster too.

Looking at the top 10 finishers’ data showed that the average age of the top women increased from 26 to 35 years of age, while the top 10 men’s average age increased from 27 to 34 years of age. So the mid-twenty-year-olds have been superseded by the mid-thirty-somethings. 

There is no one factor or explanation, but like many sports involving prolonged endurance, Ironman racing favours the slightly older racer who has done their apprenticeship over the race distance, improving such things as race experience, pacing and tactics.

Since 1983, average time of the top 10 has improved from 9hrs 43mins to 8hrs 29mins for the men, a 1hr 14min speed improvement. Meanwhile the women have sped up from 11hrs 11mins to 9hrs 26mins over the 29 years. So, women got a whopping 1hr 45mins quicker over the past two decades. 

The average women’s time of the top 10 is now faster than the men of the 1980s. Much of that improvement is down to the greater numbers of competitors, improved bike technology, greater feeding provision and improved training understanding by more athletes. 

The bottom line:? If you want to break into the top 10 then don’t hang around, its getting faster every year.


Photo: Rich Cruse