A common conversation among Ironman Finishers is which Ironman race is the hardest.
This happens A LOT.
It generally starts with a newbie asking which races are easier or beginner friendly. Then the standard disclaimers start up. “There is no such thing as an easy Ironman”, “They are all 140.6 miles”. Everyone agrees that there is no “easier” Ironman. Then people start expressing that some races are “more hard”. Of course, the “more hard” races are always the events that the speaker has participated in. Funny how that works out….
Level of difficulty will always be subjective in these conversations. Much of it has to do with the participants own strengths and weaknesses. Are they technically strong cyclists? Can you run in the heat or cold? Wetsuit legal vs warm swim? I would, of course, play up IM Wisconsin’s very technical bike course with the big elevation gain and the mass swim start whenever I would wade into these pissing matches…assuming that there would never be a true winner in these debates…until now.
LAVA Magazine (official publication of Ironman) has endorsed IronIndex.com as the official ranking of all Ironman races (this ranking also includes all Challenge/Rev3 races worldwide). A total of 50 of the biggest and most well known Iron Distance races are ranked in terms of their overall level of difficulty. They are then branded as “Standard”, “Difficult”, “Intense”, and “Extreme”. To put it in perspective, the Ironman World Championship is 9th on the list and ranked as “Intense” (only eight races worldwide are listed as “Extreme”).
Imagine my surprise to find that the race I completed (Ironman Wisconsin) listed as the 6th toughest race…in the world (and considered an “Extreme” event)!
It is listed as a tougher race then Malasia. Malasia! That race has a “monkey zone” on the bike course. Participants are warned not to eat or drink anything in the monkey zone since the monkeys are aggressive, not afraid of humans, and will attack you on your bike. The course guide advises that participants should carry a big stick when riding and a tutorial on how to use that stick if attacked. Somehow, that race is considered easier then Wisconsin.
Of course, there are a lot of disclaimers for such a list. It only considers current Ironman and Challenge events. Discontinued events (Ironman Tahoe and Ironman Muskoka are both off the list), other series (HITS), non-Iron Distance (X-Terra), and independent events (Alaska-Man, Norse-Man) are conveniently excluded. The list also assumes “average” weather conditions. Ironman has been cursed with some bad weather of late (108F at Coeur D’Alene, hypothermia conditions in Florida, forest fires in Tahoe, modified swim due to poor water quality/shortened bike due to flooding and construction/suspended run due to lightning in IM Texas this year. Variables like these would dramatically affect the course’s level of difficulty on any given day (I was fortunate to have ideal weather for my race day).
So, does the “extreme” ranking matter? It shouldn’t, but to me, it does (at least a little bit).
Had I seen this rating before registering, I may have reconsidered my decision to participate…so I am glad that I never saw this beforehand. But it reaffirms to me that my training was no joke. It reaffirms that crossing the finish line wasn’t beginners luck. That victory was earned, and I did something remarkable that day. I may not be able to repeat the achievement, but it emphasizes that I am capable of completing something that is (almost) impossible.
But I still think that mutant monkeys would be harder…