How to qualify for Kona

Got your sights on getting to the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii? Top age-grouper Charlie Pennington explains how to qualify

Credit: Sean M. Haffey / Staff / Getty Images North America

Kona is an enchanting place. The atmosphere is unlike any other race I have done and despite what is actually a pretty mundane course, it is such an iconic event that if you are vaguely interested in racing long distance triathlon then this has to be on your bucket list. Trust me on this. I can see why people go back year after year – it’s an addictive place.


How much does it cost to race Kona?

So what do you need to do to get there? First, and for those that don’t know, you need to qualify (unless you win one of the lottery places) by winning one of the slots available at the many qualifying Ironman events around the world. Not all events are created equal though and some will have more slots available than others so it is worth investigating the details of the event before you sign up. Numbers of Kona slots available can range from one to five dependent on age group.

Sorry to tell you but that’s the easy bit done. Now you’ve selected and entered an event, if you want to qualify you will need to snag one of the slots. Here you have a variety of approaches: either be bold and try to win your age group and thus remove any risk; or try to get yourself as close to the front as you can and hope that you get one of the slots during the roll-down ceremony. It’s a risky strategy but the one that a significant number of Kona qualifiers use. Regardless of which you take, you are going to need to do some training.

I qualified off 15 hours a week (4 swims, 3 bike sessions and 3 runs) on average so don’t think that you need to train all day every day (if you do take this approach you’ll probably injure yourself very quickly anyway) but consistent quality should be your mantra.

I’m not a coach so I’m not going to say anything more about training. There are some other things you can do to improve your chances of a good race though:

Reconnoitre the course beforehand. If you can cycle the bike course before the event it will be invaluable for race day. Even driving the course will help you.

Acclimatise. Get to the race venue in sufficient time to acclimatise, get over jet lag or travel and get used to the heat and/or humidity (you can do some of this at home too).

Don’t do too much the week before – certainly don’t think that it is appropriate to try and cram lots of training into the week!

Stay relaxed and calm during the race. Too many people get so stressed by the race and then when something doesn’t go to plan, they lose the plot. The race isn’t going to go to plan so accept that now.

Accept that you can walk through aid stations. If you think that you are going to run through every aid station, then good luck. If you tell yourself that it is ok to walk through them to make sure that you get enough food and water to fuel the rest of the run, then you are more likely to succeed.

Plan your race and race your plan. Don’t get carried away. You aren’t suddenly going to be 30 minutes faster than you have been in training. If you try to do this you are likely to find out about it during the run at least. 42kms is a long way to walk if you get the swim and the bike wrong.


Remember, it’s not easy or else everyone would do it. Good luck with qualifying for Kona. It’s an awesome race and well worth the effort to get there.

If you do qualify check out our guide to Kona: The Course