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When will Chrissie beat the male Ironman-distance World Record?

Gary Fagan asked the following question for the IM Talk podcast “end of year” show:

Based on current improvements, when will the women become faster than the men?

Let’s get a few things out of the way first: I find the wording question of world record vs. world best not very interesting – these are just word games. Also I don’t care whether the time was set in an “official” Ironman (organized  by WTC) or not (such as Challenge Roth). One reason is that most of the records were set in Roth – and I can’t see why a 1997 race (when it was an official WTC event) would count, but a 2012 (when it was run by Challenge) on pretty much the same course should not. When discussing these fast times, the issue that always comes up is that these courses are short. Unless triathlon organizations come up with a protocol for measuring  courses (which I think would be a very good idea), we won’t really know. Then again, as most records were set in Roth and that course has basically been unchanged, the old records from the 90s are comparable to the times from this year – at least the impact of the course changes do not play a major factor in the improved times.

World best times

Before discussing the question asked by Gary, let’s have a look at the data first.

Male world records

Here is how the male world record developed over the last years:

Date Athlete Course Time
July 1997 Luc van Lierde Roth 7:50:27
July 3rd 2011 Marino Vanhoenacker Austria 7:45:58
July 10th 2011 Andreas Raelert Roth 7:41:33

Not very exciting – Luc van Lierde’s record stood for quite a while – 14 years. From what I heard, it must have been a great race with quite a few people pushing the pace for the whole distance. Compared to that, Marino and Andreas were pretty much racing on their own to break the record.

Female world records

There was a bit more movement on the women’ side:

Date Athlete Course Time
July 1994 Paula Newby-Fraser Roth 8:50:53
July 13th 2008 Sandra Wallenhorst Austria 8:47:26
July 13th 2008 Yvonne van Vlercken Roth 8:45:48
July 12th 2009 Chrissie Wellington Roth 8:31:59
July 18th 2010 Chrissie Wellington Roth 8:19:13
July 10th 2011 Chrissie Wellington Roth 8:18:13

It took the females 14 years to break the old record as well, when Sandra Wallenhorst and Yvonne van Vlercken broke the record on the same day but on two different courses. (In fact, even with the slower time, Sandra completed her race before Yvonne as Sandra’s Austria start time was before Yvonne started in Roth – but Sandra had the record for less than an hour.) Since Chrissie took the record there has been a lot of improvement – it’s interesting to speculate if we are going to see some more records on the men’s side now that the old record has been broken.

Looking forward

If we want to extrapolate from these few data points, we can work with an average improvement for the women of 115 seconds per year on the women’s side (22:40 minutes in 17 years). (A little side note: The best linear approximation would give a progress of “only” 98 seconds, so the number I’ll be using is probably a best-case scenario.) If this average rate of improvement continues, it will take the women  about 19 years to catch up to current men’s record. But then the men’s record may improved as well – their improvement was at a rate of 38 seconds per year, so the women are catching up at a  rate of 77 seconds per year. Based on that, it’ll take more than 28 years to catch up to the men’s record.

Looking at these results (even putting aside all the objections one should raise when mechanically projecting progress forward), it does not look as if the women will be catching up to the men in the foreseeable future. Maybe a more interesting speculation may be when the women will be able to break 8 hours: If the rate of improvement continues, it seems feasible to go sub-8 within the next ten years. (A similar question for the men: When will they break 7:30? This is “just” another 11 1/2 minutes – but as their progress has been slower, that would take about 18 years.) This might be a good “discussion of the week” for a future IMTalk podcast

Best Ironman-distance triathlon performances in 2011

By accounting for a fast  or slow course and conditions on race day, I’m able to come up with an adjusted result that is course-independent. This way I  can compare finishing times from different courses and list the top performances of the year that is a bit more realistic than just comparing actual finishing times. Here is my list of the best performances in 2011 as discussed on the IMTalk podcast.

TOP 10 Results of 2011

Rank Name Adjusted Result Actual Result Race
1 Andreas Raelert 08:02:02 07:41:33 Challenge Roth on 2011-07-10
2 Craig Alexander 08:05:27 08:03:56 IM Hawaii on 2011-10-16
3 Marino Vanhoenacker 08:10:12 07:45:58 IM Austria on 2011-07-03
4 Pete Jacobs 08:10:43 08:09:11 IM Hawaii on 2011-10-16
5 Eneko Llanos 08:11:38 07:59:38 IM Arizona on 2011-11-19
6 Andreas Raelert 08:12:40 08:11:07 IM Hawaii on 2011-10-16
7 Paul Amey 08:13:32 08:01:29 IM Arizona on 2011-11-19
8 Eneko Llanos 08:14:17 08:08:20 IM Texas on 2011-05-21
9 Dirk Bockel 08:14:31 08:12:58 IM Hawaii on 2011-10-16
10 Timothy O’Donnell 08:15:48 08:09:50 IM Texas on 2011-05-21

TOP 10 Female Results of 2011

Rank Name Adjusted Result Actual Result Race
1 Chrissie Wellington 08:40:20 08:18:13 Challenge Roth on 2011-07-10
2 Chrissie Wellington 08:45:41 08:33:56 IM South Africa on 2011-04-10
3 Chrissie Wellington 08:56:49 08:55:08 IM Hawaii on 2011-10-16
4 Mirinda Carfrae 08:59:39 08:57:57 IM Hawaii on 2011-10-16
5 Leanda Cave 09:02:14 08:49:00 IM Arizona on 2011-11-19
6 Catriona Morrison 09:04:24 08:57:51 IM Texas on 2011-05-21
7 Leanda Cave 09:05:12 09:03:29 IM Hawaii on 2011-10-16
8 Linsey Corbin 09:07:55 08:54:33 IM Arizona on 2011-11-19
9 Mary Beth Ellis 09:08:14 09:03:13 IM Canada on 2011-08-28
10 Rachel Joyce 09:08:40 09:06:57 IM Hawaii on 2011-10-16


Here are a few notable points:

  • The best results are still dominated by IM Hawaii.
  • Andreas Raelert probably did "too much" in Roth and didn’t have enough left for Kona (then again, his injury may have been an issue, too) – but he still had the best and 6th best performances.
  • Andreas (from Roth) and Crowie (Hawaii) way ahead of everybody else
  • Eneko Llanos also with two TOP10 performances (but didn’t deliver in Kona)
  • Chrissie totally dominating the female performances: All TOP 3 results!
  • Leanda Cave with two results in the top 10 had a breakthrough  year in 2011.

Are there any performances that you think are missing in these lists? Please let me know in the comments!

Ironman Triathlon Money List

In other sports – such as golf – the main way of ranking athletes is by the amount of prize money they make. With all the data from the qualifying races, I’ve built one for Ironman Triathlons. It is also a convenient way of putting men and women in the same list.

Overall Money List

Here are the 20 athletes – both from the men and women – that have earned the most prize money in “official”, full-distance Ironman races in the Kona 2011 qualifying cycle:

Rank Name Total Prize Money (US $)
1 Mary Beth Ellis 28.500
2 Heather Wurtele 27.500
3 Chrissie Wellington 24.000
4 Eduardo Sturla 23.500
5 Mathias Hecht 21.000
6 Amy Marsh 20.000
7 Caroline Steffen 19.500
8 Lucie Zelenkova 19.000
9 Tyler Stewart 18.500
9 Erika Csomor 18.500
11 Silvia Felt 18.000
12 TJ Tollakson 17.500
13 Yvonne Van Vlerken 17.000
14 Timo Bracht 16.500
14 Kim Loeffler 16.500
16 Jordan Rapp 16.000
16 Jan Raphael 16.000
18 Catriona Morrison 15.000
18 Eneko Llanos 15.000
18 Jackie Arendt 15.000

Obviously, this does not include money from IM Hawaii as this would seriously skew the data. Also, IM 70.3 races are not included.


Men vs. Women

John Newsom (from the IMTalk podcast) asked if it was “easier” to make money in the sport as a woman. Here is my take on it based on the numbers:

  • There are fewer women overall on the money list than men (105 female vs. 121 male). Therefore it seems to be easier to earn some money – there were even a few races (IM Korea comes to mind) where not all price money was handed out for lack of eligible pro women in the race.
  • With the number of women in the TOP20 list above, it also seems to be easier for a woman to earn price money. I think this is mainly caused by fewer women battling for money, so you have a better chance to earn decent money when starting in a couple of races.

But can you live from it?

So it seems to be a good idea to become a Pro when you’re a women – but then I would be very surprised if the prize money from IM races is sufficient for any athlete to live from it. Especially after adding in the travel costs there won’t be too much money left. Also, every Pro athlete has to pay a pro fee to WTC (if I remember correctly 750$). It is always hard to compare athletes between different sports, but in golf the Top 99 athletes on the money list earn more than 1 million dollars – triathlon still has a long way to go before reaching that level of money!

It would be interesting to see how much money people were able to make from 70.3s, but the larger number of races is offset by the usual smaller prize money – so I’d be surprised if a significant number of athletes makes more than a few thousand dollars. Other (even long distance) races exist, maybe even paying decent prize money – but again, I don’t think that this will be a main source of income.

So how can people survive doing long course triathlons? Other than a select few top athletes, I don’t think that appearance money plays a significant role. The same is true for sponsorship money – the typical athletes will probably mostly get “paid” in free product, rather than money.

So unless you are a TOP 10 in Kona, I don’t think you can live from long course triathlon. And unless you win in Kona, I don’t think there’ll be much money left over after your career to retire from or even to live comfortably for a few years. Economically, your time will be better spent going to a decent university and getting your professional career started in a traditional “desk job”. But who wouldn’t rather train all day?

IM Western Australia 2011 – Analyzing Results

Race Conditions

This year was one of the slower races for Western Australia – the adjustment was 7:30 compared to the new course rating of 11:16 (down from 11:54), so it was about four minutes slower than the average of the last years.

Male Results

Timo Bracht had to come up with another strong run to catch a courageous Clayton Fettel:

Rank Name Nation Actual Time Expected Time
1 Timo Bracht GER 08:12:39 08:17:14
2 Clayton Fettell AUS 08:19:02 08:37:14
3 Jason Shortis AUS 08:27:31 08:50:51
4 Joshua Rix   08:30:59 09:14:24
5 Aaron Farlow AUS 08:34:09 08:31:27
6 Petr Vabrousek CZE 08:35:08 08:51:14
7 Mitchell Anderson AUS 08:35:57 08:37:58
8 Simon Billeau FRA 08:38:06 08:48:05
9 Luke Whitmore AUS 08:54:35 08:59:20
10 Maik Twelsiek GER 08:56:10 08:32:29
11 Luke McKenzie AUS 09:03:44 08:35:03
12 Leon Griffin AUS 09:03:49 08:32:23
13 Guy Crawford AUS 09:10:50 08:55:10
14 Shinya Suganuma JPN 09:19:15 09:10:15
15 Mike Gee   09:22:49 n/a
16 Dion Harrison GBR 09:57:07 09:21:10
17 Hirotsugu Kuwabara JAP 10:47:05 10:03:18

Maik Twelsiek and Luke McKenzie were predicted to go quite a bit faster, but they already lined up their “validation” IM, so now they can – as well as  Timo Bracht – focus on their Kona 2012 prep.

Female Results

On the female side, IM rookie Michelle Bremer won her first IM. Pre-race favorite Kristin Moeller was 40 minutes slower than expected, so she dropped out of the prize money spots:

Rank Name Nation Actual Time Expected Time
1 Michelle Bremer NZL 09:25:38 n/a
2 Michelle Mitchell AUS 09:28:07 09:37:28
3 Carrie Lester AUS 09:32:44 09:36:25
4 Elly Franks AUS 09:37:51 10:21:46
5 Hillary Biscay USA 09:39:41 10:08:20
6 Kate Bevilaqua AUS 09:43:37 09:49:58
7 Yvette Grice GBR 09:53:33 10:12:04
8 Emi Shiono JPN 10:00:23 10:00:23
9 Kristin Moeller GER 10:07:05 09:26:48
10 Suzanne Blackborrow   10:31:51 n/a
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