What is an Ironman?

We've all heard of Ironman, but what exactly is it? Here are the distances, race format and what exactly you will need to do to complete an Ironman.

What is an Ironman?

An Ironman is a long-distance triathlon race organised by the Ironman franchise. The term ‘Ironman’ has now become synonymous with races of this distance. A full Ironman has the following format: 3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42.2km run.


What does an Ironman consist of?

The first leg is a 3.8km open-water swim in the sea or a lake. Athletes will run from the water to the transition area (T1), where they’ll don their bike gear and jump on the bike for the 180km ride. Then, after preparing for the run in T2, the athletes will set out on a marathon (42.2km) for the final leg of the Ironman.

Not for the faint-hearted, an Ironman is widely considered to be the gold standard of endurance triathlon racing. Ironman is a household name across the globe and popular event locations include the famously hilly Ironman Wales, Lanzarote, Hamburg, Taiwan, Morocco… you name it.

What is an Ironman 70.3?

An Ironman 70.3 is half the distance of a full Ironman and ideal for those not quite ready for the challenge of a full. Popular British 70.3s include IM Weymouth, Staffordshire and UK. Top finishers of each event will qualify for the 70.3 World Championship which will take place in Utah for 2021 and Taupo, NZ for 2022. The full Ironman World Championship is always in Kona, Hawaii; the birthplace of the Ironman.

Interested in taking on an Ironman or half but not sure where to start? We’ve got you sorted, check out our training pages for all our top gear, nutrition and injury prevention tips!

Can anyone do an Ironman?

Yes, absolutely. Ironman races may be among the toughest triathlon events in the sport, but thousands of ordinary people make it to the finish line every year. As long as you’re prepared to put in the hours of dedicated long-course training, an Ironman should be doable.

In fact, you can even train for Ironman in a year, says coach Philip Hatzis. “It certainly depends on your starting point, but a year seems like a reasonable amount of time to prepare for an Ironman.” Find out more here.

How long does it take to complete an Ironman?

While the top pro male triathletes can complete an Ironman in less than eight hours and the women in under nine, those times are likely to be out of reach to us mere mortals. The overall cut-off time for many races is 17 hours, with separate cut-off times after the swim and bike.

For age-groupers in the 30-35 bracket, anything around 13 hours is a solid time for men, while 14 hours is a great time for women in that age bracket.