Advanced, Podcast, Racing

Kona qualification: what it takes (in hard numbers) with Russell Cox | EP#76

 November 16, 2017

By  Mikael Eriksson

Kona qualification: what it takes (in hard numbers) with Russell Cox | EP#76

What does it take to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona? Coach Russell Cox has put together detailed Kona qualifying statistics to help answer that question in actual numbers and race times.

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • How qualifying slots are allocated between races
  • General trends in how the competitiveness of qualifying is changing
  • Are there easier and more difficult races to qualify for?
  • Results required to qualify in some example age groups
  • Results required to win, place in the top-20, and median times at the
  • World Championships themselves if you manage to get there

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How qualifying slots are allocated between races

04:24 -

  • The total worldwide number of slots varies a little from year to year. The overall number has gone up in the last 7 years.
  • Right now, there’s  a couple of thousand slots spread out around the world.
  • These are broken down into 80 slots for championship races like in Frankfurt, South Africa, and Texas. Normally it’s 40 for other races.
  • Sometimes newer races will come in at a lower number. There’s one or two next year which have 25-30 slots. Ironman Philippines and two Chinese 70.3 races are examples.

What is the allocation per age group?

  • It will vary with races. There are around 10 age groups each for men and women.
  • The distribution of slots is not equal per age group. It’s in relation to the number starting in each age group.
  • For women looking to qualify for Kona, there would typically be one or two slots for your age group available.
  • In championship races where more slots are available, it might go up to 3-5 slots depending on the number who have entered in your age group.
  • For men, there are more slots available because the majority of athletes in Ironman are male. There are at least 2 slots. If there are 40 slots in a race, it can go up to 4-5. It can go up to 10-12 slots for the biggest age group in championship races.

What are the most important things that you track in your Kona qualification reports that are useful for those who want to qualify?

08:31 -

  • This all started when I was racing and trying to qualify for Kona. One of the things I would do is look at the past results of the race I’ve entered to qualify.
  • Then I would try to find out what sort of times people qualifying were doing. So, I would at least have an idea if it’s realistic.
  • This is such a common question. If I want to go to Kona, what time do I need to do?
  • The one that people can go to quickest of all the stats is the final qualifier or automatic qualification time. Basically the idea is that if there are 5 slots in your age group, the 5th place in your age group gives you the time that you would need to automatically qualify.
  • This does vary from year to year. One of the things that I do on my site is I look at multiple years of race data where I can give averages.
  • I also look at the historical data of those final qualifiers. Then I break it down into the different splits that made up the qualification times.

More detailed reports

General trends in how the competitiveness of qualifying is changing

11:18 -

  • Broadly, if you’re in between the ages 30 and 50, this is when qualification is the most competitive.
  • Below 30 years, the younger age groups tend to be a little less competitive. They tend to have one or two particularly good athletes, but without much density or depth to the field.
  • Whereas once you get to the 30s or 40s, there’s a greater density of athletes with the potential to qualify. The times get tighter around qualification.
  • As you get older, you will obviously start to see declining overall times with the occasional exceptional outlier.
  • There’s more competition for women because there are only one or two slots available.
  • Whereas with bigger age groups, there’s a buffer because there are 6-10 slots available.
  • In terms of overall times, the big change here is while the number of slots has increased, the number of competitors has also increased.
  • The spread of slots over more races has thinned out the number of slots available in each race.
  • The narrowing of available slots means that you’ve got to be right in there to qualify.
  • The number of slots you might be competing for in any given race is smaller than it used to be. This means that the competition is much stiffer.

Is there a bigger depth or is it roughly the same as it was 7 years ago?

  • Generally, the depth remains the same.
  • One of the biggest trends I’m seeing in the results data as a whole is that there’s more separation now between your front of pack potential qualifiers and top age-groupers in each age division and the middle to back of the pack.
  • Even though the entry numbers have gone up, it hasn’t impacted as much the front of the pack in terms of making it grow in size. What it seems to have done is fill out that middle to back of the pack.
  • What I tend to see is that the fastest times the top age groupers perform is in similar ranges to what I’ve seen before.
  • There looks to be a slight slowing of the overall median time because there’s more weight towards the back.

Are there easier and more difficult races to qualify at?

15:47 -

  • There are variations between different races. There are certainly ones that I would encourage an athlete to pick over others.
  • Generally, timing and location are the big factors that determine how a race might pan out as a qualifier.
  • This means that if it’s an unusual time of the year, or it’s very close to Kona, or if the location isn’t the most convenient for a lot of people, or it doesn’t draw in much competition, it is a very big help.
  • A common one I would recommend for athletes who are close to it is Ironman UK. Generally, it’s not the most competitive but not an easy qualifier either. It’s a different experience compared to Frankfurt which has a lot more slots that attract more competition.
  • If you spot what you think is an easier qualifier, you can be sure that a few other people have thought that as well.
  • An example is Ironman South Africa which at one time was considered a slightly easier choice to qualify. It’s a championship race so it has 80 slots and it’s mostly a local field racing.
  • In one of those years, there has been a big influx of European and American athletes who have come to get a slot. The slot and qualification times came down that year.
  • It might have appeared to be an easier choice because the times looked relatively manageable but then a lot of other people saw it and went there.
  • Suddenly those times went down. The density at the front of the race increases and it isn’t what you expected.
  • Some races in hotter and humid climates like Ironman Malaysia can look a lot less competitive because the times look a lot slower.
  • If you’re a fast athlete and you can handle heat and humidity well, they may be a very good choice for you. But for a lot of athletes, it really wouldn’t work well at all.
  • The biggest factor in terms of slowing a race down is always the heat. If a race has a particularly hot or humid year, you would see that it will immediately affect  the results that year when you compare it with previous years.

Results required to qualify in some example age groups

20:23 -

More detailed reports

  • Let’s use Ironman Frankfurt as a basis. It’s a fast race. It’s a championship race.
  • Typically in the 30-34 age group for men, there are 8 slots. The 8th place for the last 2 years has been 9 hours 1 minute. An average over 10 years of data is 9 hours 14 minutes.
  • For women, they get 2 slots even at a championship race. This year the time was 10 hours 7 minutes for the 2nd place. Last year it was 9 hours 55 minutes. An average over 10 years of data is 10 hours 7 minutes.
  • For the 45-49 age group for men, there are 12 slots. The time this year was 9 hours 39 minutes. The previous year was 9 hours 28 minutes. The average is 9 hours 51 minutes.
  • For women, the time this year is 10 hours 25 minutes. The previous year was 10 hours 6 minutes. The average is 10 hours 54 minutes.

Results required to win, place in the top-20, and median times at the World Championships themselves if you manage to get there

24:09 -

All age-group results from Kona


30-34 age group

  • 1st place – 09:04:38
  • 20th place – 09:27:55
  • Median – 11:01:56

45-49 age group

  • 1st place – 09:18:43
  • 20th place – 09:49:53
  • Median – 12:04:23


30-34 age group

  • 1st place – 10:08:50
  • 20th place – 10:47:01
  • Median – 11:01:56

45-49 age group

  • 1st place – 10:17:31
  • 20th place – 11:12:17
  • Median – 12:04:23


40-44 age group (Men)


  • Median – 01:05:34
  • Fastest– 00:48:32
  • Slowest – 1:55:57


  • Median – 05:17:57
  • Fastest – 04:43:43
  • Slowest – 08:07:48


  • Median – 03:59:31

Rapid-fire questions

32:24 -

Favorite book, blog, or resource related to triathlon or endurance sports:

Favorite piece of gear or equipment:

  • Power meter, and multisport watch on his athletes' wrists

Personal habit that helped achieved success as an athlete

  • Patience

Links, resources and contact

Links and resources mentioned

Connect with Russell Cox

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Hi! I'm your host Mikael,

I am a full-time triathlon coach and an ambitious age-group triathlete. My goal is podium at the Finnish national championships within the next few years.

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