Everyone has their own reasons for competing in an Ironman distance race. You might have time goals you want to complete, you may just want to finish, you may have specific targets along the way, or maybe you want one of the few spots for the World Championships in Kona each fall.
Getting one of those World Championship spots depends on a variety of factors that are outside of your control. Each race is given a certain number of slots. This averages about 40 for the Ironman races that I have completed (I imagine each race is given a different number depending on different factors including the number of competitors). These are then divided among age groups based on how many competitors are in the race groups.
For this upcoming race in my age group, there are 44 females aged 35-39 who are registered to start. There are 2 slots for the World Championships. It looks like your best bet, not taking into account skill of course, is to be a male aged 75-79. There are two men registered who fall into this age group category and there is 1 World Championship allocated to that slot!
But, even if one isn’t automatically qualified based on the pure numbers, they may still be able to snag a spot. The day following each Ironman race, there is something they call a roll down. They start with the top people in the age group. You must be present to go. If you’re name is called, you are present, and you want to go, then you can go up and pay the entry fee right away to secure your spot. If that person called isn’t present or doesn’t want to go, then they continue to move down the list. Thus, even if you are maybe 10th or 15th, there could be chance for a World Championship spot if it just so happens that a bunch of people are not interested. Occasionally no one in a group wants to go. If that happens, then those spots are allocated to the next age group, which could mean even more chance for you potentially!
Still, even though you don’t have to be one of the very top for a spot, there are very few spots and most of us are not competing for one. I assure you that I will not stand a chance until I reach my senior years and the rest of my competition has simply aged out. This means that for most of us, it truly is our own race, to do the best we can do! To prove to ourselves what we have in us!
So why would someone cheat? Why would you even want to get to Kona if you didn’t earn it? And how in the heck could you feel good about yourself, Kona or not, if you knew that you hadn’t actually finished the course?
I don’t think it happens often, but apparently it has happened.
For my upcoming race, Ironman New Zealand, we are given arm bands to mark our laps along the course so that volunteers can help direct us on where to go and when to enter that delightful finish shoot (two on the bike, three on the run). At our race briefing, the race director said he couldn’t tell us the colors of the bands we would be given because one year someone went out and bought similar-looking bands and shortened his race.
With timing mats and cameras, he didn’t get away with it.
Hopefully, in two days time, we will all be out there sticking to our own race and trying to compete fairly – for ourselves as much as anything.