Like every person who participates in long course triathlon, I have (had) an aspiration to qualify for and participate in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.  Unfortunately, I do not suffer from delusions of grandeur and I have come to realize that with the proliferation of WTC Ironman races and the limited number of spots available on the Kona pier, qualifying for Kona is probably not in the cards for me. 

Once upon a time, each Ironman race had 72 Kona slots to allocate to finishers.  The way slot allocation works is that prior to race day, WTC tentatively allocates at least one slot to each age group category (both male and female). If you have someone in every age group from 18-24 up to 70-74 that’s 22 slots.  WTC then determines final slot allocation on race day based on the number of official starters. If there are no starters in a particular age group, then that slot will be moved to the next calculated Age Group within the gender. So if 8% of the age group starters are Female 30-34, then 8% of the slots are allocated to the Female 30-34 category.

Problem is the total number of slots allocated to any one race has gone down dramatically and the number of transition spots on the Kona pier has remained constant at about 1800.  Once upon a time (pre-2007) there were only 16 full distance Ironman races worldwide, today there are 27 (and rumor has it that two more will be added in 2013).  Here’s the history of slots available at Ironman Lake Placid:

Kona Slots Available – Ironman Lake Placid

2008 – 72 slots
2011 – 65 slots (addition of Ironman Texas and Ironman Saint George)
2012 – 50 slots (addition of Ironman New York City and Ironman Mont Tremblant)
2013 – ??? (rumored addition of Ironman California and Ironman Norway)

So from 2008 until 2012 the number of slots has been reduced by 30%.  The numbers are even worse for 70.3 races (although WTC probably has room to grow the 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas if it chooses to do so because of the wave start).  In 2011 most 70.3 races have been allocated 40 Vegas slots, in 2012 that number goes down to 35. 

So, how does this affect me?  When there were 72 Kona slots available the Female 30-34 age group generally received 3 to 4 slots (as it represents about 4% – 6% of the total number of starters).  With only 50 total slots available that number likely goes down to 1 or 2 slots (remember one slot has to be allocated to each age group before additional ones can be distributed so in reality there are only 28 “additional” slots available after a slot has been allocated to each age group).  What this means is unless I think I can win my age group (which I can’t — there’s way too many REALLY fast girls who have qualified to be pros but still race as age groupers in the 30-34 age group — I’m just not that good) there’s no realistic chance of a Kona slot for me.  For guys, its going to mean that its harder to qualify for Kona than it is to podium (no more Kona slots going 8 deep). 

What will be interesting to see is whether competition gets diluted because of the number of races on the calendar.  In 2006 there was one race in North American in August — Ironman Canada.  In 2012 there will be four — Ironman Canada, Ironman Louisville, Ironman New York City and Ironman Mont Tremblant

I don’t think I’m going to stick around long enough to find out.  I have three WTC races on the schedule at the moment — Lake Placid and Florida this year and then Texas next May.  I’m not signing up for any more WTC Ironman races in 2012 and depending on how well I do this year, I’ll figure out exactly what I want to do next year, one thing I do know is that in the near future Kona is not part of the plan.

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Kelly Burns Gallagher

mccarter english employment litigator / oiselle team runner / coeur sports triathlete / sonic endurance coach & race director / writer / dartmouth '02 / emorylaw '05

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