A standard triathlon includes swimming, bicycling and running. Contestants in an Ironman triathlon perform the same three events, but for longer distances: a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle race plus a 26.2-mile run. Despite the name, the Ironman event isn’t just for men, as numerous women worldwide compete in triathlons every year. At the 2011 Ironman World Championship, for example, 476 women finished the event within the time limit.
It takes much, much longer to train for an Ironman triathlon than to compete in the one-day event. According to the Ironman World Championship website, athletes train for 18 to 30 hours per week for about seven months to compete in the annual event, which is held in Hawaii. Athletes swim an average of about 7 miles, bike 232 and run 48 miles per week for the biggest event on the Ironman triathlon calendar.
The best swimmers among female Ironman triathletes complete the swimming portion of the event in 50 minutes to an hour. At the World Championship, the cutoff time for all competitors is two hours, 20 minutes. Any participant who fails to complete the 2.2-mile swim within that time is eliminated from the competition. Different Ironman competitions may establish different cutoff times.
Ironman triathletes must complete the bicycle course at the World Championships in 10 hours, 30 minutes. The top women, however, will finish the bike race in about half that time. As with the swimming cutoff, failure to achieve the bicycle cutoff time eliminates the triathlete from the event.
Ironman triathletes finish their competitions by running a full marathon race. There is no cutoff time for the run itself at the World Championship, but there is an overall cutoff of 17 hours for the entire event. So an Ironman athlete who takes the maximum allowable time to finish the swim and bike segments will have roughly four hours to run the marathon race, depending how long she takes to transition between events. The top female triathletes will complete the running segment in a bit less than three hours.
The top women typically finish the Ironman World Championship in around nine hours. In 2011, for example, the women’s champion finished in eight hours, 55 minutes, while the final woman finished in just less than 17 hours. Depending on whether you competed hard enough to win the event, or just did what you had to do to finish, it may take a month for your body to recover fully from an Ironman triathlon.
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