With long-distance triathlon popularity soaring, Ironman qualifying races now sell out with such astonishing speed that you’ll need to think in the long-term to plan your Ironman ambitions.

It's ok for Macca, but for the rest of us even entering an event is an exercise in speed (Photo: Bakke-Svensson/Ironman)

There’s no doubt that Ironman triathlons are becoming more and more popular. Like fans poised feverishly over their computers to buy tickets for the latest rock band sensation, triathletes also seem to have the clicking of the refresh button down to a fine art. Unlike their faddish companions however, Ironman triathlon has proved itself to be far more than a one-hit wonder.

The recent winner in the popularity stakes is undoubtedly Ironman Melbourne, the ascension of which to the role of the Asia-Pacific Championships for 2012 saw it sell every slot in a record time of 305 seconds – less than half a percent of the race’s 17 hour cut-off time.

Despite having a total of three official M-dot races, the Aussies have another fast-seller in the form of the country’s titular event, Ironman Australia, for which the initially available 1,450 places sold out in an impressive half an hour.

One race destined to become a big-hitter on the WTC’s calendar, Ironman New York, sold out slots for its inaugural year in just 11 minutes despite the hefty $895 (£566) race entry fee, leaving only a few £1,500 (£949) charity places available.

Other success stories read like course records including Ironman Frankfurt (eight hours) and Ironman Western Australia (4:20), while the New Zealand race, the oldest Ironman outside of Kona sold all 1500 available places within 48 hours – 50 weeks before the event.

It’s not just WTC races that have captured the imagination of the triathlon community over the years either; Challenge Roth, which holds the title of the world’s largest iron-distance triathlon sold a staggering 3,600 entries within 24 hours.

While the popularity of non-sanctioned iron races such as the Challenge series is certainly growing – and may in future years even challenge the WTC’s throne – for many of the most determined and fast age-groupers, gaining a spot on any official Ironman is a means to an end: the opportunity to earn qualification to the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.

While most people would consider that anyone tough enough to swim 2.4miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles should earn lifelong bragging rights as an Ironman, other, admittedly elitist, members of the long-distance triathlon community don’t consider themselves a real Ironman without completing the Hawaiian race. Debate also rages across online forums as to whether commemorating a mere qualifying race with an M-dot tattoo is acceptable behaviour!

Whatever the case, Kona is something of a triathlon Mecca and Ironman Hawaii generates a huge amount of excitement and anticipation that grows year on year. It certainly appears Ironman racing is here to stay and its hold over the masses of triathletes around the world is only likely to tighten as more events spring up.

What this really means to triathletes is that with race spots for the following year often going live the day after the event has taken place, those wanting to compete for M-dot glory need to plan their race schedule more than a year in advance.

This can take some serious organisation. Luckily, if there’s one thing triathletes are good at, it’s planning and preparation, so check out our Ironman training plans now, but bear in mind whichever race you choose, you’ll need to warm up your mouse-clicking finger too!

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