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IRONMAN World Champs - 2023

IRONMAN World Champs - 2023

12th Jan 2024

In the heart of the Pacific, there is a small island that is littered with triathlon history. An island that is both feared and revered. It is an island that has seen some of the greatest battles in triathlon history, and has been in the dreams of professionals and amateurs alike. For some, just making the start line in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii is the stuff of dreams. For a select few, becoming the King or Queen of Kona, a title that holds respect across sport, is what keeps them training for years on end.

Kona vibes.
Images by: @koruptvision

The Ironman World Championships are one of the biggest events in world sport. It sees both pros and amateurs come together to compete on the same course, on the same day. Ironman was founded on the island back in 1978 and barring the COVID years, 2023 marks the first step away from it.

For the first time ever, the men's and women's events separated. The male race happened in Nice, France some four weeks ago where Sam Laidlow came out on top. The separation largely came down to the logistics of hosting so many people on the island. It was a controversial change, but it seems to have worked.

It was a rewriting of the record books in Kona as four-time silver medalist, Lucy Charles-Barclay led from start to finish. She had a ninety-second gap after the swim, almost four minutes after the bike and crossed the line with a new course record.

Stef Hanson is known in triathlon circles, thanks to the years she devoted to the promotion of female athletes in the sport of triathlon. Although now working predominantly outside of the sport, as a former triathlete herself, Stef remains a keen follower of the athletes she has seen progress through the sport of triathlon. For this article and as someone who remains close to the Sync brand, it would only be fitting for Stef to have the final words in our commentary on Lucy’s amazing performance.

“It’s obvious to look at Lucy’s performance and note that it was incredible - a new course record, and the first time a woman has won wire-to-wire - simply outstanding! Records just do not fall easily on that island. It was a stunning display of mastery.
But what I’m truly impressed by is the persistence and determination this athlete has shown over the years. She’s delivered many impressive performances at the World Champs, resulting in four second places there - which is amazing in itself - but I think that’s what makes this victory even more incredible. Her race was a culmination of lessons learned, hours of focused training, dialing in those one-percenters, strengthening her body and her mind, and trusting in the process and her team around her.
We see athletes over the years reach the podium, but just can’t quite break the tape to finish first, and Lucy refused to be that athlete. We see a lot of younger endurance athletes have success early, but then burn out quickly. Watching her evolve into a well-rounded pro-athlete (on and off the race track) over the years has been a fascinating watch.”
—Stef Hanson

A well deserving champion and no doubt future GOAT - Lucy Charles-Barclay.
Images by: @koruptvision

The beauty of Ironman is the community. Having the pros and amateurs racing on the same course on the same day is unique. It is impossible to jump in a Tour de France peloton, or play cricket at Lords in an ODI, but assuming you qualify, Kona is a way of direct comparison.

While it was the Charles-Barclay show at the front, there were another 2,000 or so athletes on the same course.

For British rider, Laura Siddall, her 16th place was so much more than a number on a result sheet. A collision with a car during the bike leg of Ironman Brazil this year left her with a brain bleed and concussion amongst other injuries. She was granted a Wildcard spot to Kona.

“We were pretty lucky I think with conditions making it a fast day. Kona is always hot and humid of course and the wind but things could have been a lot worse. For Kona (or any race that is likely to be hot) we add in some sauna sessions to help with acclimatisation.”
—Laura Siddall

The race in Kailua-Kona is absolutely brutal and a fitting location for one of the hardest endurance events on earth.
Images by: @koruptvision

The Course

An Ironman triathlon can be broken down by three numbers: 3.9, 180.2, 42.2 km. The distances of the swim, bike and run respectively - The same format since inception in 1979.

5-time champion and GOAT candidate Daniela Ryf in action in her last race of the IRONMAN World Championships.
Images by: @koruptvision


The swim takes place in Kailua Bay, with the record already held by Charles-Barclay from back in 2018. A former competitive swimmer, she is widely recognised as the best in the water in the world of triathlon.


Kona is a unique place. Racing across lava fields, the scenery is stunning. The winds are violent and unpredictable, so much so that rear disc wheels are banned. The heat and humidity can also create problems.

Kyle Smith is a Canyon athlete and renowned as being one of the best bikers in the sport. He was leading Ironman World Champs in 2021 when it was held in Utah until 5km to go. For him, the Kona bike leg is all about the threat of wind.

“Historically the wind has been bad. The disc wheel has been banned, it’s an old rule which i don’t really believe in, especially given how much technology has developed. It’s having a deep front wheel because that’s where the instability is.”
—Kyle Smith

It is not a simple race when it comes to equipment choice.

“The traditional winds didn’t cause too many issues in 2023, Siddall said. “The bike was relatively windless just a few pockets along the Queen K and the usual head wind at the final section to Hawi. The thing about Kona is that the wind just changes and can change so much. Wheel choice is probably the biggest decision to make. On the rear I use the Parcours Chrono (75mm) but then it’s whether to go Chrono (68mm) at the front or the shallower Strade (49mm). I’m normally pretty good in windy conditions, but since my crash I’ve been struggling a little with confidence so I was unsure with the unreliable winds in Kona. In 2022 I ran the Chrono front as well, but this year decided to run the Strade and just give more focus and weight to the rear and pull that centre of gravity back with the shallower front.”
— Laura Siddall

In full flight on the Queen K.
Images by: @koruptvision

The humid conditions means that, despite the obvious aero-gains, some athletes choose to go without aero helmets. The heat also means that fuelling and hydration are more important than most other events on the calendar.

We see all sorts of wacky contraptions to store fluid. From the traditional behind-the-saddle storage, to Joe Skipper’s unusually out front option. The CADEX Tri frame is one example of brands developing a tri-specific bike to revolutionise these areas of performance.

There’s around 1,770m of elevation on the Kona course, it’s not the hardest of bike leg’s in the world, but it’s a leg sapper.

From the outside looking in, it is easy to judge an Ironman athlete’s set-up from a cycling-focus mindset. But, there is so much more to consider. Trying to stay fresh for a marathon is just as important as biking fast.

There is a famous saying in the world of triathlon: “Bike for show, run for dough.” Keeping yourself fresh, whether that be through thermo-regulation or a slightly less aggressive position can be vital.

The “pace line” at Kona - The game of saving energy while pushing the limits of the 12-meter rule on the gap that must remain between athletes (on the bike).
Images by: @koruptvision


To anybody but an Ironman athlete, the idea of putting on the trainers after nearly an hour of swimming and 180km of biking is unfathomable. The leading women will be well within three hours for the marathon which in all but the pro-running ranks is deemed to be superhuman.

This year saw the run course record get broken by 2019 winner, Anne Haug with a time of 2:48:23. The German would finish second, some three minutes behind Charles-Barclay, but Charles-Barclay took the crown and the overall course record.

Bike for show, run for dough - The tactic employed by German triathlete Anne Haug is to finish the race with an extremely strong run leg, in a stunning display of human performance.
Images by: @koruptvision

There’s something unique about the pro-amateur line-up at Kona. Amateurs find themselves thrown into this professional feeling world where performances will go down in history books. Pro or amateur, first or last, whatever the result, simply finishing Kona is an achievement. It is an achievement that goes back via a qualifying event, through long days of training and sacrifices.

Both the pros and amateurs create the fusion of what makes Kona the masterpiece that it has become known for. The debate will go long into the off-season as to whether the new look World Championships worked, but Laura Siddall summed it up nicely:

“It was great having a women’s only race, and also with so many first time athletes to Kona, it had a slightly different vibe too and it was really nice. I loved how all week (and in the weeks leading in) all the media attention was on the women. It felt like we got the spotlight that is probably normally missed. Being at events or with brands and it being just women was special. I’m a fan of the two separate days of racing, but would prefer the same location.”
— Laura Siddall

Until next time.
Images by: @koruptvision


Images @bykoruptvision

About the author

Joe Laverick’s cycling introduction was via the British time-trial scene, since starting the sport, he has been all about speed. He’s a freelance writer and privateer racer who mixes road, time trial and gravel racing. To this day, he remains one of the only riders on the planet to have beat Remco Evenepoel in a time trial.