The Kona Ironman World Championship race is one of the most sought-after races in the world. Similar to qualifying for the Boston Marathon for runners, the Kona Ironman race qualifications are the holy grail for triathletes. It’s your chance to be crowned an Ironman World Champion! Every year, amazing, dedicated athletes from all over the globe vie for a chance to compete in the grueling event that takes place on the Big Island of Hawaii.
When is Ironman Kona 2023?
For 2023, the IRONMAN Group announced that the Vinfast Ironman World Championship races will be on two separate days, however only one of those days will be in Kona.
In 2023, women (both professional and age group women) will have a focused women’s race day in Kona on Saturday, October 14, 2023. This dedicated women’s race day will be the only race in Kona in 2023.
The men’s race date (men’s pro race and men’s amateur races) for the Ironman World Championship will now be on Sunday, September 10, 2023, in Nice, France.
For 2024, the opposite will occur – women will race in Nice, and men will race in Kona. This will flip-flop every year between men and women.
Nice, France is slated to host the 2nd Ironman World Championship race until at least 2026.
Why is the Ironman World Championship Split Between Kona and Nice?
Some residents of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii were unhappy with the disruption of having two full days of racing in their town. Kona is a small town, and doubling the size of the event to two days with the road closures was too much for some residents.
Ironman had to think outside the box to alleviate this stress and the outcome was to split up the locale for men and women. Ironman Nice is a very challenging course so will be a worthy world championship location.
Men and Women will literally be racing on opposite sides of the earth each year, but about a month apart. There will be the Kona World Champs course and the Nice World Champs course.
All the Ways to Qualify For the Ironman World Championship
While the Kona Ironman course is hard, the race can be equally hard to qualify for, but it is possible. Below are all the known ways athletes can earn a spot at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
1. Win your age group in a full-distance Ironman Triathlon race
You are fast and you know it. Typically 1 to 5 spots are available in each age group per qualifying race. Certain races have additional spots (North American championship, Asia-Pacific championship, Ironman Switzerland, Ironman Mont-Tremblant, etc.). Each race website should display how many slots are available. Pick one that favors your strengths and get it done.
Ironman Cairns and Ironman Frankfurt offer double the amount of other races – 100 slots total for each race.
NOTE: Some men had previously deferred their Kona qualification from 2023 to 2024 (prior to the announcement of the Nice World Championship venue). Due to previous Covid deferrals, and the deferral of these men’s qualifying entries to 2024, there are actually fewer age group Kona spots available in many remaining 2023 races and upcoming 2024 races for males. This is estimated at approximately 50% fewer sports. Ironman Arizona and Ironman Wisconsin have only 20 sports total for men in 2023.
2. Target a Race With More Slots For You
Starting in 2023, Ironman is aggressively wanting to get many more female competitors to the World Championships. Plus, with women having their own day in Kona, they’ve literally doubled the spots available to women. The World Championships has always had more men than women, so Ironman is offering more slots for women in many qualifying races than for men. The slot breakdown is here:
Many age group categories reportedly had 75% of finishers get a Kona slot.
3. Win your age group in the previous year’s Kona Ironman
If you participated in the Ironman World Championships and won your age group, you get to do it again next year.
4. Hawaii 70.3 age group winners
This is one of the few 70.3 distance races that reward its athletes with a Kona Ironman qualification. A total of 45 slots are allocated to the World Championships through this race.
5. Hawaii resident drawing
If you are a resident of Hawaii, and you compete in the Hawaii Ironman 70.3 event, there are 26 additional slots just for you. Considering that most competitors are not residents of Hawaii, you have an excellent chance of qualifying for the Kona Ironman just by racing in this 70.3.
6. Women for Tri Inspiring Woman Entrant
Female athletes can apply to be selected to represent Women for Tri at the Kona Ironman. All selected athletes must raise at least $25,000 in support of Women for Tri charitable programs.
7. Be a Gold-Level All-World Athlete
This year Ironman sent certain Gold All-World athletes an email inviting them to participate in the World Championship. This particular invitation was for the St. George version, but a World Championship is still a World Championship. My guess is that they were trying to add to the participant count since it was a unique venue and most people have Kona aspirations. Nonetheless, it’s a way in.
8. Become a Celebrity
If you’re famous, this is your way to Kona. Ironman is always trying to broaden its marketing reach so ask them for entry. In the past, they’ve given priority to NBC-related celebrities such as past contestants on the show The Biggest Loser. Other recent celebs participating include chef Gordon Ramsey, ex-NFL MVP Hines Ward, and actor Sean Astin.
9. Special invites
The Ironman committee can grant a Kona slot to athletes that are deserving and have done something amazing recently like winning an Olympic medal (the 2021 triathlon gold medalists were each extended an invitation). These invitations are at the discretion of the Ironman committee, so don’t hold your breath waiting for yours.
10. Ironman Foundation
The top fundraiser for Team IMF gets a Kona slot.
11. You Almost Qualified at an Earlier Race
Ironman began sending emails out around July 15th to people who placed high in various races earlier in the year but missed qualifying. Ninety days is enough lead time to train for Kona, right?
12. Ironman Xclusive Challenge
Ironman created the Xclusive Challenge (formerly the Executive Challenge) which has its own Kona slot allocations. If you want to experience VIP treatment at certain Ironman races, you can apply at https://ironmanxc.com. Athletes are separated into two age groups – 49 and under, and 50 and over. New for 2023 is that women will have their own divisions separate from men.
There are typically 5 to 20 athletes total per race, and they routinely hand out up to 5 Kona Ironman slots. One Kona slot for each age group winner (male and female), and then a special PR slot for the person who improves their PR by the greatest percentage. This is a very cool setup but be aware – these athletes are no joke. The winners in many races are finishing in between 9 and 10 hours.
13. Kona Auctions
Up to 5 Kona Ironman slots are auctioned off and bidding starts at $25,000 each. All bids are tax deductible. Winning bids are typically between $35,000 and $65,000. eBay handles the bidding, and the auction typically occurs in April for that year’s race. The auctions benefit both Women for Tri and the Ironman Foundation.
14. Legacy Program
If you’ve completed at least 12 full-distance Ironman-branded triathlons and have never competed in the Ironman World Championships, you can get there through the Ironman Legacy Program. Details are at: https://www.ironman.com/ironman-legacy
15. Attend the Ironman Sports Medicine Symposium
Each year one lucky attendee will win a race slot into the following year’s Kona Ironman World Championship. The symposium only allows 200 participants, and not all elect to enter the drawing, so your odds of winning are very good.
16. Physically Challenged Drawing
The IRONMAN World Championship Physically Challenged Open/Exhibition Division is available to athletes with a medically verified physical, visual, or neurological impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
As Handcycle athletes are eligible to qualify at one of the three qualifying events worldwide, they are not eligible for the PC Open/Exhibition Division.
Five names (5) will be drawn for the IRONMAN Kona World Championship from the total applicants applying in the Physically Challenged/Open and Exhibition Division.
17. Special Invite / Human Interest Story
IRONMAN invites a few individuals with incredible personal stories to race on the big island. A small film crew will follow each athlete before and during the race, and the stories will be woven in and shown during the taped broadcast.
Less than five openings exist each year. Previous athletes have been war heroes injured in battle, heart transplant recipients, a father pushing his disabled son in the race, etc.
If you feel you have a story that the world would love to hear about, contact Ironman with the details.
18. Bonus Slots To Register for Specific Ironman Races
In certain years bonus slots were randomly awarded to registrants of a couple of specific races—including Ironman Boulder and Ironman Australia. Ironman hints at a similar upcoming promotion for other races. I think this was a way to boost participation in certain races, and may not happen again until next year.
19. Did You Race in St. George?
During the run course of the Ironman World Championships in St. George, volunteers on the run course were incorrectly pulling people from the race if they didn’t pass the last checkpoint by 10:53pm. This was supposed to be mile 17.9, but they were accidentally pulling people at mile 20.
It was an honest mistake by the volunteers, and Ironman has been awesome by extending a free race of the athlete’s choice to any Ironman. That includes the 2022 or 2023 Ironman World Championship in Kona. What makes this unique, is that many athletes in St. George signed up for that race prior to it becoming the World Championship race designation. So now they may get to race on the Big Island! Aloha!
Previous Ways to Get to the Ironman World Championships
The following methods were legit in previous years, but we cannot verify that they are still active ways to qualify for Kona. We’re listing them here and will move them to active if Ironman reinstates them.
Simply Register for Ironman 70.3 Hawaii
Thanks to a partnership with the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, Ironman is offering 10 Kona slots to athletes who register for the 2017 Ironman 70.3 Hawaii (set for June 3) by May 1, not including relays. The Kona entries will be given away based on a random drawing.
Kona Drawing – formally the Kona lottery
Donate a suggested amount of $50 to enter. 10 slots. Proceeds benefit the Ironman Foundation.
Compete in China
OK, traveling to China won’t give you an automatic entry but it does increase your odds dramatically and provides the rare opportunity to qualify at a 70.3 event. Ironman 70.3 Lioshou (588 finishers) (April 1) and Ironman 70.3 Qujing (Aug. 27) (326 finishers) will each offer 30 qualifying slots. Those are good odds.
Ironman 70.3 Superfrog (12 slots)
Prior to race day, at least one slot will be allocated to each male and female Military age group category. Please visit the event-specific Military FAQ page for the official military age group breakdown. Final slot allocation will be determined on race day based on the number of starters in each Military age group. Similar to the qualifying process for the IRONMAN World Championship for Age Group athletes, if there are no starters in a particular Military age group, the slot will be moved to the next calculated Military age group within the gender. Slot allocation and rolldown for Military athletes will be conducted during the same ceremony as Age Group athletes at all IRONMAN events.
Special Sponsor Entry
Ventum previously offered a free Kona slot with the purchase of their top-of-the-line bike. Since they are the Official Bike brand of Ironman, this must have been a special deal worked out with Ironman.
Kona Dreamin’ Allocation
For the 2019 Kona Ironman, the owners of Ironman (World Triathlon Corporation) gave 40 lucky Ironman participants (random participants it appears) an invitation to race in Kona later that year. Talk about a cool gift.
Team in Training
Fundraise for Team in Training and get a guaranteed entry slot to the Kona Ironman. Limited guaranteed entries exist, but all fundraising benefits the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Smile Train / Team Empower
Fundraise for the Smile Train and you’re racing in the Kona Ironman!
$50,000 fundraising minimum which includes your entry fee to the race. Your fundraising for this race will provide surgery for 200 children! You will also get an official team race kit, 1:1 coaching, fundraising support, and more.
So that’s it! Qualifying for the Ironman World Championships in Kona is not easy, but it is possible. There are always more ways than you think to get to the Kona Ironman, so try some of these out and let us know what you think.
Also, remember that qualifying for Kona is not a 6-month process. You need to train year-round, which means participating in winter endurance events as well.
If you know of any other ways to qualify for the Kona Ironman World Championships, please contact us and we’ll add it to the list! Also, don’t forget to check out our bucket list of marathon races for you and the marathon pacing chart as well to help with your build-up to Kona!
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