11 Ways To Qualify For Ironman Kona, Hawaii


As a triathlete, going to Kona once in my life is definitely something I have in mind. Ideally, I would love to race there, but as it is through qualification only, I would need to earn my slot first. There are multiple ways to get those. Below are 11 ways I found to qualify for Kona – Hawaii.

1. THROUGH AN IRONMAN QUALIFYING EVENT

WHAT IS IT:

That’s by far the most common way to get a ticket to the Big Island. Each Full Ironman race has some slots allocated. By default, one slot is available for the winner of each age group (male and female are counted separately). The rest of the slots are allocated proportionally on race day based on the number of participants in each age group.

The exact details should be written in the athlete’s guide of your particular race, made available 1-2 months before the race.

NUMBER OF SLOTS AVAILABLE:

For the 2021 World Championship, the number of slots ranges from 30 for Ironman Tallin or Ironman Gdynia to 75 for the Regional Championships in Frankfurt, Cairns, and Port Elizabeth (South Africa). The detailed list is available here on the Ironman website.

If a triathlete doesn’t claim his/her slot, it will become available to the next triathlete based on the final ranking.

HOW TO MAXIME YOUR CHANCES:

Here is what I would do once I make Kona my main triathlon goal:

  • Pick the qualification race(s) strategically: It might be tempting to pick a race where many slots are available. Those are also generally the most competitive. Instead, I would look for races that fit best my profile (bike and/or run elevation, temperature, humidity, etc.) and analyze the time from previous years. I would probably pick two per year to remain motivated.
  • Have a rock-solid training plan: once I know which races I am targeting, it will be time to train specifically for those events. I am currently training with Trainerroad and Rouvy (links to their websites) which I find way more useful than standard training plans you can find on the internet. An alternative I will check into more details will be to hire a coach to prepare a specific plan and follow me over the months/years.
  • Optimize my gear set-up: I would not recommend spending $15,000 on pro triathlete bikes to qualify for Kona, but it will surely be a good time to check my equipment and see where I can gain significant time. I would definitely start by doing another bike fit session (link to another article I wrote) and take it from there.

2. THROUGH AN HALF IRONMAN QUALIFYING EVENT

WHAT IS IT:

Some slots will be available on half distance events. It is worth checking every year which events are concerned and which conditions apply.

NUMBER OF SLOTS AVAILABLE:

For 2021, 30 slots will be available for the top age group finishers in Ironman 70.3 Hawaii (+24 for Hawaii State Resident), 2 in Ironman 70.3 Luxembourg (handcycle only), and 2 in Ironman 70.3 Lubbock (handcycle only). One slot is available per age group, and the remaining will be allocated proportionally on race day.

HOW TO MAXIME YOUR CHANCES:

As you can see, the options to make the bridge between IM 70.3 races and the full distance Ironman World Championship are quite limited. I was honestly quite surprised.

3. THROUGH THE IRONMAN KONA LEGACY PROGRAM

WHAT IS IT:

The Kona Legacy Program is giving an extra chance to get a slot for loyal Ironman triathletes. For 2020, the criteria to enter this program (Ironman website) were:

  • min 12 full distance Ironman branded races completed by the end of 2019
  • never participated in Kona
  • at least one full Ironman completed in 2018 and 2019
  • must be registered for a full Ironman in 2020 

Once you are in the program, you need to race either a full, half, or 5150 events on the year of your guaranteed race to maintain eligibility.

NUMBER OF SLOTS AVAILABLE:

The number of slots varies per year. In 2019, 175 legacy slots were available.

HOW TO MAXIME YOUR CHANCES:

Once you have fulfilled all the criteria, make sure to apply on time. You will get on a waiting list, and from there, you simply need to be patient.

4. THROUGH THE IRONMAN FOUNDATION KONA DRAWING

WHAT IS IT:

The Ironman Foundation is holding every year a drawing where triathletes have an equal chance to win a slot. A donation to the foundation is possible but doesn’t give you more chances to win.

It is simply replacing the standard qualification system. The winners of this prize still need to pay the entry fees and all related travel on their own. The official rules that you can find on the Ironman foundation website (simple link, no affiliate) state that it can’t be transferred, exchanged or returned, and triathletes need to complete at least a half-distance triathlon during a specific time period to validate this prize.

NUMBER OF SLOTS AVAILABLE:

5 slots are available through this drawing.

HOW TO MAXIME YOUR CHANCES:

Check the Ironman foundation website to be sure you would be eligible and set a reminder in your calendar. The entry window was set for only 10 days in 2020!

5. THROUGH THE IRONMAN FOUNDATION KONA AUCTION

WHAT IS IT:

Also made through the Ironman Foundation, an annual auction is performed on eBay where the highest bidders get a VIP Package. According to the Ironman foundation website, the winners can donate in full or fundraise to meet their commitment.

NUMBER OF SLOTS AVAILABLE:

There are 5 slots available. The auctions 1 to 4 support the Ironman Community Fund and the fifth Women For Tri (plans for 2020).

HOW TO MAXIME YOUR CHANCES:

Quite straightforward 😉

6. THROUGH REPRESENTING WOMEN FOR TRI

WHAT IS IT:

After an evaluation process, one female triathlete will be chosen to represent Women for Tri. This person needs to commit to either donate or fundraise a minimum of $25,000 to Women for Tri. The full list of requirements is available on the Ironman Foundation website.

NUMBER OF SLOTS AVAILABLE:

1 slot is available for a female triathlete.

HOW TO MAXIME YOUR CHANCES:

Have a compelling story that can motivate other women to do triathlon.

7. THROUGH THE IRONMAN EXECUTIVE CHALLENGE

WHAT IS IT:

Ironman Executive Challenge is a specific program within Ironman. After reviewing the applications from top-level executives, Ironman will decide who is in the program. The triathletes will have VIP treatments on some selected Ironman 70.3 and Full Ironman races at a cost from $4,900 to $14,000 per race. All the advantages of this program are available on this specific Ironman page. 

NUMBER OF SLOTS AVAILABLE:

The executives in this program will compete against each other on different Ironman races, which can give them a slot for Kona. The specifics distribution procedure is available here.

8. PHYSICALLY CHALLENGED DRAWING

WHAT IS IT:

Some slots will be allocated to physically challenged athletes through a drawing.

NUMBER OF SLOTS AVAILABLE:

No specific number is currently shown on the Ironman website. For 2016, 5 slots were allocated.

HOW TO MAXIME YOUR CHANCES:

Check regularly the specific Ironman page and register on time.

9. MILITARY DIVISION

WHAT IS IT:

Ironman is giving qualifying slots to active military athletes at some specific 70.3 or full distance races.

NUMBER OF SLOTS AVAILABLE:

The number of slots as well as the event selected for those extra places varies. In 2019, Ironman 70.3 Superfrog had 15 slots and IM UK 10 slots.

HOW TO MAXIME YOUR CHANCES:

Check the official communication from Ironman to know which event will offer those extra places. It was already announced that IM 70.3 Superfrog would not happen in 2021 (and maybe not in the future).

10. HAWAII RESIDENTS DRAWING

WHAT IS IT:

Open only for the residents of the state of Hawaii, the winners of this drawing will be able to purchase the entry fee for participating in the World Championship event (instead of going through the standard qualification system).

NUMBER OF SLOTS AVAILABLE:

20 slots were available through this drawing in 2020

HOW TO MAXIME YOUR CHANCES:

Gather all the documents you will need to provide and make sure to set a reminder on your calendar. In 2020, the entry window was from Feb 21st to April 3rd and could be accessed through the IM 70.3 Hawaii website.

11. WILD CARD

WHAT IS IT:

Ironman might offer Kona slots if they judge you would deserve one. For example, in the year 2021, the winners of the Olympic Games received a wild card. There is literally no information available about those on their website, and not much you can do about it 😉

As you can see, there are a lot of different ways to make it possible to compete in Kona. The one thing they all have in common – they require a lot of training and preparation. One concluding piece of advice from me is to make sure your family is on board: the chances are high that it will be a multi-year journey to get to Hawaii.

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