Which Ironman Race Should I Do?
I’m often asked this question by athletes so I thought now would be a good time to pen my thoughts on the different Ironman events throughout the Oceania region. I’ve given each race a total score out of 60, which is broken down into categories.
Ironman New Zealand
This is the longest running Ironman race in the Asia-Pacific region. Based at Taupo, on the North Island, it is everything you would expect from New Zealand. It’s a combination of stunning scenery, friendly locals and a range of weather conditions.
- Location: It’s a fantastic place for an Ironman race. Taupo is based near the centre of New Zealand’s North Island, about a 3.5hr drive from Auckland. The scenery is beautiful and the locals really get behind the event. There is also plenty of accommodation to choose from. Rating 9/10
- Course: The fresh water lake swim is great for athletes and spectators alike. It’s a challenging bike course with a mixture of flats, hills and wind. The road can be a bit rough on the ride but it’s a good honest bike course. The run is along the lake and through the town, with lots of spectators. Overall, it is a good honest tough course offering solid support during the swim and run. Rating 9/10
- Logistics/travel: While you have to travel to get there, a flight to New Zealand from the east coast of Australia is only 3-3.5hrs. You can fly to Taupo from Auckland or choose to drive. Once you’re in Taupo, everything is central and close. If you stay in the heart of Taupo and fly there, you won’t need a car. Rating 8/10
- Weather: Early March in New Zealand can mean anything with regards to the weather. You can pretty much guarantee strong headwinds on the bike and cool mornings for the start of the race. Average temperatures are in the low to mid 20s for that time of the year. In years gone by, they have cancelled the swim on one occasion and on others, the lake has been quite rough due to winds. However, most years it is a flat lake swim, windy on the bike and cool to start before running in temperatures hovering around the mid 20s. Rating 8/10
- Atmosphere: The Kiwis put on a great event. The overall organisation and support is top notch. Family and friends get to see a lot of the race which means plenty of support on course. It’s such a nice part of the world to visit and race. Rating 9/10
- Timing of the season: For Australian athletes, it means training through summer and the Christmas holidays. So, it’s not great from that perspective, especially in terms of getting the longer rides and runs completed in the heat. There is a number of lead up races to choose from to test your form. Rating 7.5/10
- Overall rating: 50.5/60
Based at Port Macquarie, this race started in 2006 after the event was moved from the town of Forster. Many would argue that this the is home of Ironman racing in Australia.
- Location: Port Macquarie is about half way between Sydney and Brisbane, so approximately a 6-hour drive from either location. It is a pretty coastal town on the NSW coast with multiple accommodation options available. It’s also easy to fly to Port Macquarie from any major city in Australia. Rating 8/10
- Course: The river-based swim can be quite tidal as you have to cross a weir twice to complete the 3.8km distance. The bike course is a mixture of short steep hills, some rolling inclines and flat very rough roads. The condition of the roads makes it a challenging ride. The run is pretty much flat the whole way with one short incline and a route through town offering lots of support. Rating 7/10
- Logistics/travel: Once you’re in Port Macquarie, everything is accessible including race HQ, accommodation, great beaches and cafes. Getting there is reasonably easy and not too expensive if you’re travelling from Sydney or Brisbane. Rating 8/10
- Weather: The early May temperatures in Port Macquarie sit around the mid 20s with cool mornings. It can be a little warm once you’re on the run but conditions for the swim and bike are usually perfect for good racing. You can always expect a decent headwind on the bike. Overall, in terms of the weather, it’s a great time of the year to race. Rating 9/10
- Atmosphere: The locals get behind this race and it is also the Ironman Club Championship which means a large number of club tents on the course. It is a two-lap bike course and three laps for the run so athletes have lots of support and spectators can easily follow the action throughout the day. Rating 9/10
- Timing of the season: The early May date is good if you don’t like to do your hard training through Christmas. You’re doing the bulk of your hard work through Autumn when training conditions are more ideal. If you like resting in winter, this is also perfect time to race. Rating 9/10
- Overall rating: 50/60
The Asia Pacific Champs this race also has the most Kona qualification spots available with 80 on offer for the 2018 race. As such it always attracts a strong and big field.
- Location: It is hard to beat the location of this race. One of Australia’s premier tourist locations, Cairns is the capital of far north Queensland. Obviously, you’ll need to fly there unless you’re a local but it is a fantastic location for an Ironman event. Rating 9/10
- Course: The course has changed a bit over the years as organisers look for the perfect balance between running a major race and having it not impact on the city of Cairns. I think they have done that now with the swim at Palm Cove, the ride to Port Douglas and back, and then the run in and around Cairns’ waterfront. The swim can be rough, the ride offers spectacular scenery but is often windy, and the run is flat but with lots of support. Rating 9/10
- Logistics/travel: The biggest challenge with this race is the two different transitions. T1 is located at Palm Cove, 20km north of Cairns where T2 is located. It does mean some extra planning pre-race day. Travel-wise, Cairns is easy to get to and you may not need to hire a car depending on where you’re staying. Organisers provide multiple buses to Palm Cove and back, leading into and on race day. Rating 7.5/10
- Weather: Cairns in June is typically still quite warm and fine, with temperatures in the mid to high 20s. In the last few years however race day has provided wind, rain, cloud, high temps and is anything but predictable. Rating 7.5/10
- Atmosphere: The interesting thing about this race is the multiple major transitions, as well as the involvement of local townships. The morning start in Palm Cove buzzes, while the bike turnaround in Port Douglas is always full of excitement. The run and T2 in Cairns is hard to beat with athletes tracking along the waterfront and past café/bars a number of times. This means plenty of support during the swim, run and at the major turnaround in Port Douglas. Rating 9/10
- Timing of the season: An early June race is often the perfect way to finish your season. The majority of your training is done in Autumn and it’s perfect if you like your winter sleep-ins. It also allows you to race later in the year once you have had a break. There are quite a few lead-in races for athletes to choose from. Rating 9/10
- Overall rating 51/60
Ironman Western Australia
The final race in the calendar year in early December, this event in Busselton is marketed as a course to go to if you want to go fast. It’s completely flat on the bike and history shows that fast times on foot are also possible, but anything can happen in regard to conditions.
- Location: Busselton is around a 3hr drive south of Perth in the Margaret River region of Western Australia. It is a nice coastal town in a very pretty part of Australia. Accommodation is not as good in comparison to options at other events however it is a great place for an Ironman as the community gets behind the race. Rating 8.5/10
- Course: It’s a spectacular ocean swim around the famous Busselton Jetty, and a pancake flat ride of two laps which can be a little boring. Even though the bike and run are flat, it doesn’t always mean they’re easier. Hills often break things up nicely. It is also normally quite windy on the bike and waterfront run where there is plenty of support. Rating 8.5/10
- Logistics/travel: For athletes on the east coast, it is a big day of travel to get to Busselton. It can take up to 9 hours of flying and driving. It is perfect however for WA athletes. Once you’re in Busselton, everything is central and easy to get to. Rating 7.5/10
- Weather: The average temperatures in Busselton for this time of year are in the mid 20s and it is often windy. However, there are years like this year where on race day it’s 35 degrees with little wind. Rating 8/10
- Atmosphere: The atmosphere is fantastic for the swim start, transitions and during the run. Athletes and spectators alike clearly enjoy the event. The bike ride, when outside of town, is a little dull compared to other Ironman events due to the landscape. Rating 8/10
- Timing of the season: It’s a great way to finish the calendar year, especially if you like to take time off over the holiday season. The hard training is done through spring when the weather is nice for training. Rating 9/10
- Overall rating:5/60
I think we’re very fortunate to have four fantastic Ironman events to choose from in the Asia-Pacific region. Every person will have their favourite race for different reasons and with all four events now including 70.3 races on the same day, it only adds to the occasion in my opinion.