Hardest Ironman Course

THE HARDEST IRONMAN COURSE

Just how do you determine the hardest Ironman course?

I can remember being asked this very question way back around 1989 or so after I had done Ironman Canada a few times after having done Ironman Hawaii in 1984.

What was the hardest Ironman course and which race did I find tougher?

How do you answer a question like that? Is the course with the steepest hills the toughest? Is the course with the roughest water the toughest?

Is altitude a big factor? In that case are the sea-level races less difficult and don’t have a chance of being called the hardest Ironman course?

Hell no!

There’s nothing easy about Kona or any other Ironman that’s run at sea level. There are many factors that determine just how hard an Ironman course is on a certain day.

I have only ever done 3 different Ironman races because I loved Ironman Canada and entered it 10 times. My first Ironman was Hawaii in 1984 and the third course I tried was Couer d’Alene in it’s inaugural and it’s second year in 2003 and 2004.

hardest ironman course

Kona, Hawaii


So some might say Couer d’alene doesn’t have really steep hills like Ironman Canada for instance. So does that mean Ironman Canada is the hardest Ironman course?

Perhaps in some years, but the inaugural IM Couer d’Alene race had pretty much the biggest DNF rate in Ironman history up to that point in time so I suppose that year it was the hardest Ironman course.

That was because it was one of the hottest Ironman races on record(next to Kona 1984) with a blistering 106 degrees out on the bike course.

I kid you not……the asphalt was actually melting under our bike tires and actually felt soft.

So that was a pretty tough race.

Some would argue that Wisconsin is home of the hardest Ironman course. I can’t say how tough it is from experience because I’ve never done it.

To be quite honest, if people say this or that race is the toughest, what they are actually saying is that the other Ironman races are “easy” or at least “easier”.

When I was halfway through the bike in Ironman Hawaii in 1984, I thought I was going to die……

hardest ironman course

Ironman Coeur d'Alene

When I was climbing the Yellow Lake hill on the Ironman Bike Course during my first Ironman Canada I thought I was going to die. It was pretty much the same for most of the other 9 times I was at that same spot in that particular race.

When I had to run past the freaking transition area twice at the halfway mark of the marathon in Ironman Couer d’Alene 2003 and then do it all again I thought I was going to die.

So to my way of thinking, any Ironman can be home to the hardest Ironman course depending on the day. Any Ironman race can make you feel pretty miserable in a heartbeat and there simply is not an “easy” Ironman race on the planet.

No Ironman race is consistently tougher than all the other races in the world in any given year. There are simply too many factors to consider and too many variables on race day that will impact the race on that day. That makes it hard to be able to say that any one Ironman race has the hardest Ironman course every single year.

Wasn’t it Ironman Canada that had to be changed into a triple loop course one year because the forest fire smoke was so thick?

No matter what Ironman race a person might find themselves in, it’s going to challenge them in lots of different ways. It can be hot, windy, rough water swim, hilly, fast downhill curves or anything else you can think of. You just never know. A course you had a great race on one year can end up with a did not finish beside your name.

hardest ironman course

Ironman Canada finisher medals

It still takes a very special and brave individual to try and reach the Ironman finish line no matter where in the world they have decided to compete.

It doesn’t matter if you are a first-timer, a pro or a 75-time Ironman. Every single time you answer the starting gun for an Ironman just about anything can happen. On any given year the Iron Gods can squash you like a bug if you lose respect for the challenge and demands of the Ironman.

You might find this interesting. I’m not sure exactly what it proves or doesn’t prove as far as which is the hardest Ironman course, but you might not see this anywhere else on the net.

I’ve put together the times for the top ten men and the top ten women in the just completed Ironman Canada and Ironman Louisville that went on the same day at the end of August. I also included Ironman Wisconsin that took place just two weeks later.

IRONMAN WISCONSIN MEN

Joe Gambles............8:38:32
Romain Guillaume.......8:51:36
Stefan Riesen..........8:53:39
Blake Becker...........8:55:44
Max Longree............8:55:47
Brad Seng..............8:58:15
Mike Schifferle........8:58:35
Dirk Wijnalda..........9:01:07
Christophe Bastie......9:10:01

IRONMAN WISCONSIN WOMEN

Gina Crawford .........9:27:26
Kristin Moeller .......9:39:43
Mirjam Weerd ..........9:52:25
Kate Pallardy......... 10:04:19
Charisa Wernick  ......10:07:19
Lauren Jensen..........10:19:08
Hillary Biscay.........10:29:06
Erin Spitler...........10:31:04
Jocelyn Wong...........10:34:43
Kaytee Petross.........10:35:30
hardest ironman course

Ironman Wisconsin

IRONMAN LOUSIVILLE MEN

Paul Ambrose..................8:29:59
Martin Jensen ................8:41:54
Max Longree...................8:50:10
Patrick Evoe..................8:53:14
Sergio Marques................9:05:04
Josh Beck.....................9:20:15
Patrick Bless.................9:20:34
Jesse Vondracek...............9:25:52
Eric Schrading................9:32:52
Robert Killian................9:33:49

IRONMAN LOUSIVILLE WOMEN

Rebekah Keat...................9:33:15
Kim Loefler....................9:44:23
Bree Wee.......................9:50:35
Whitney Henderson.. ..........10:04:29
Lisbeth Kristensen............10:12:06
Tina Eakin....................10:13:54
Kebby Holden..................10:25:21
Cindy Lewis...................10:34:00
Kendra Lee....................10:42:54
Kelzie Beebe..................10:43:02

IRONMAN CANADA MEN

Viktor Zyemtsev...............8:32:28
Christan Brader...............8:32:41
Stephan Vuckovic..............8:38:31
Peter Vabrousek...............8:39:16
Kyle Marcotte.................8:40:45
Scott Neyedli.................8:41:36
Wolfgang Guembel..............8:43:21
Christopher Bagg..............8:48:11
Scott Curry...................8:48:57
Anthony Toth..................8:49:44

IRONMAN CANADA WOMEN

Meredith Kessler..............9:13:46
Heather Wurtele...............9:17;17
Mackenzie Madison.............9:34:51
Gillian Moody.................9:40:10
Christie Sym..................9:41:30
Jessica Jacobs................9:44:04
Uli Bromme....................9:46:19
Janelle Morrison..............9:48:15
Shannon Desrosiers............9:59:44
Rachel Kiers..................10:06:22

I’m not sure what to make of this, but the 10th place man in Ironman Canada would have been in 3rd place with that same time in Wisconsin or Louisville.

There is no male in the top ten over 8:50 in Ironman Canada.

So does that mean Ironman Canada is an easier race? I think not. I was there on race day and it was amazingly competitive. With a kilometer to go nobody knew who was going to win the race.

I think highly competitive races make for faster times when all the pros are pushing each other. Many people have said over the years that they found Ironman Canada a pretty tough course.

If time is the only indicator as to how easy or tough a course is than perhaps Louisville was an easier course because the winner for the men had the fastest time of all three races.

Yet this year in Louisville is a prime example of what can happen on race day that can change the degree of difficulty. Apparently the heat was unbearable and over 400 people were on the DNF list.

I’m sure is you ask triathletes who were part of the race they would say Ironman Louisville was probably more difficult than any Ironman race in the world.

At least on that day anyway.

I think we have to remember that different people react differently to different race situations. What one person finds really difficult might be easy for someone else. For instance notice how Paul Ambrose, the winner in Louisville, had the fastest time of all three Ironman races.

So it seems that the 100 degree heat didn’t bother him, yet for hundreds of others it was a very tough race and might have qualified as the hardest Ironman course in their mind. Either way it was a remarkable performance.

I would love to hear from some other triathletes from around the world on this question….

In your opinion what is the hardest Ironman course?

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