Since the last week was totally focussed on recovery post #IMWA as well as a brief holiday in and around Busselton I thought I would post a comparison and my views on the two Ironman races I have done here in Australia rather than my normal Weekly Recap.

Its Not About Winners or Losers

This comparison doesn’t aim to pick a winner. The fact is there isn’t one and both races are equally satisfying and have a number of challenges. Both are set in great locations and well supported by the host towns. The race you pick will more likely be influenced by your program and location than anything. The only real note is IMOZ is generally considered tougher and IMWA is considered faster. This is reasonably true but there is no reason Port on a good day vs Busso on a bad day wouldn’t produce the opposite outcome as both locations can present challenges in the form of heat and wind.

I am making this comparison based on my experiences in 2014 editions of both races. You can read my actual race reports on Ironman Australia in Port Macquarie here and on Ironman WA in Busselton here.

To quickly set the context therefore in terms of weather for my 2 races, Port was very cold and got extremely windy – I was off the bike by this point so it didn’t affect me but I think anyone middle of the pack would have likely suffered quite a bit on their final ride North up the coast. Busso was warm to hot (I think max was 29C but lap 3 of the run in the barren black road section hurt!) with a moderate wind that faded by the time I started running. I don’t feel that weather contributed to my perception of either race in 2014. That said if I had been another hour later on the bike at IMOZ I would certainly have a different story to tell.

Another key note that a 11hr race time in Port is right on the edge of darkness chances are you will just avoid getting a glowstick but only just. A similar time in Busso is still has plenty of light available. I haven’t had the experience of running in the night.

What’s New – The Ultimate Evolution?

Both races change from year to year as courses get tweaked but I think Ironman delivered up pretty close to the ultimate courses for both in 2014 and hopefully they will remain pretty similar for the next few years. The main points about the 2014 courses are as follows:
Ironman Australia 2014
– Swim: Rolling Start and a single lap with 2x weir crossings. This is the main difference to the last few years events.
– Bike: 2x 90km out and back laps south down the coast though Bonny Hills to Camden Head/Dungoban with the steep but short Matthew Flinders Drive climb as to return into town.
– Run: 4x 10.5k anticlockwise out and back laps with a climb to the town green then down to the seawall out to the ferry and then back to town.

Ironman WA 2014
– Swim: Mass Start around the iconic Busselton Jetty + a bit.
– Bike: 2x 90k laps East of town in and around the Tuart Forest on very flat ground. This was the main new feature of the 2014 event.
– Run: 4x 10.5k laps along the coast heading about 1k West of the Pier and then about 4k East of the pier.

The Swim

Not much to say here that I haven’t just said above. Personally I can’t imagine trying to swim at my speed in a mass start 2 lap course at Port. I am a huge fan of the rolling start and single lap. I hope they stick to it.

IMOZ Swim Location

The Busselton swim however really is THE reason to do IMWA. I hate swimming but really enjoyed this one. The mass start was maybe not as advantageous for me and the course is slightly longer (Port is probably a bit short).

Best race for the swim: IMWA. Score IMWA 1 – IMOZ 0

The Bike

The biggest difference between the bike legs is the hills. IMOZ has some fairly significant hills close to town and a number of rollers later on. IMWA is FLAT. Both courses are for the majority coastal and are subject to wind and get considerably tougher when the wind gets up.

The condition of the roads is better at IMWA. IMWA has plenty of smooth hotmix road that is fast and comfortable. The new course however has its fair share of chipseal too which is slower. The IMOZ course is almost all chipseal (and rough chipseal at that) once you get out of town.

For me having raced the 70.3 at Port on largely the same course I learnt some tough lessons about the quality of the roads at Port. I lost my hydration before even getting out of the town proper wich really hurm me for the rest of the day.

I made adjustments for IMOZ and everything worked perfectly. With the right set up, I found the roads at Port to be no real problem. In fact I would happily head up there for a cycling holiday. On that point though, I would also go to Busselton for a cycling holiday… the roads around Cape Naturaliste and Margaret River just looked so tempting.

Too bad the IMWA the bike course heads in the opposite direction to Cape Naturaliste and Margaret River! So the course is not as scenic but is definitely well suited to racing.

I also feel the hills at IMOZ are an advantage for me as I prefer to ride in a more punchy style and take short rests tucked in on the downhill. At IMWA you need to pedal constantly and in my case, when my feet checked out on the second lap going numb and then extreme pain, there was no real chance for respite…

The only other point to more is the Matthew Flinders Drive climb at IMOZ. While I love hills, I personally am not a fan of this style of hill in an Ironman. Its easy enough to spin through it and its maybe a minute or so in a long day but I don’t think it adds anything. This is an Ironman not a joke novelty event. The weir crossing in the swim is the one novelty that can be tolerated at IMOZ. If it could be avoided it would be a big win for the race.

IMOZ Bike – Scenery everywhere

IMWA Bike – A bridge is possibly the most scenic bit!

All up I personally prefer the IMOZ bike course. Again, not by much and, it is certainly influenced by my preferred style of riding. Both courses however represent an appropriate test over the IM distance that I just dont think you would get on 180km of expressway.

Best race for the bike: IMOZ. Score IMWA 1 – IMOZ 1

The Run

Both runs are 4 laps. IMOZ has exactly 1 hill, IMWA has exactly none (although someone had ambitiously chalked a Strava hill climb segment on the slightest of undulations. This style of course generally works very well as it helps generate a great atmosphere and helps track progress at the end of a long day. For a hack age grouper like me its awesome having 1000’s of people cheering you on. The atmosphere at Port is slightly better but only slightly.

For me I ran the hill at IMOZ once and walked it on the other laps. It didn’t really play into things for me as the gains running down to the breakwall on the other side kind of nullifies any losses going up. I guess if you are pushing for a better run time it would make the run considerably harder than IMWA.


IMWA Run with the wharf in the background

One interesting difference between IMOZ and the 70.3 run in Port is the direction. Both use the same course but run in opposite directions. I kind of think I like the 70.3 direction better as the climb is more gradual. Of course you are more likely to be running faster in the 70.3 so the longer but less steep hill is probably favourable.

Best race for the run: TIED. Score IMWA 2 – IMOZ 2

How I Went, or Should Have

Ironman Australia 2014 was my first Ironman and with a really good training block in the leadup I was extremely pleased to finish with a time of 10:49. Immediately after IMOZ I signed up for Ironman WA 2014. My training was not as good in terms of quantity but my performance in training was generally higher. I finished with a time of 10:27. 22 minutes better than Port. I have seen claims that IMWA is 30mins quicker than IMOZ. I don’t think this is strictly true however I note I had a near perfect race and weather at IMOZ. At IMWA I had feet issues and noticed a bit of headwind at times on the 2nd lap of the bike and did feel the heat a bit on the run.

At IMOZ I came 60/222 in my age group. This put me in the 27th percentile. At IMWA I came 48/172 or (rounded up) 28th percentile. That is, my effective position in my age group field was roughly the same. So it’s reasonable to conclude that IMWA is faster. With this years weather, IMWA was about 22mins or 4% faster in my case. In equal weather conditions I could see IMWA being 30mins faster. If I had had as good a race execution at IMWA as IMOZ I can also see that I would have moved up the AG ladder terms of percentile and been easily 30mins faster.

A recent post on Transitions proposed an interesting formula:

Start with 8 hours
– female add 50 mins
– add the age at which you started
– subtract 2 minutes for every year in the sport
– unemployed add 30 mins
– shift worker add 30 mins
– self employed add 40 mins
– office worker add 45 mins
– married add 20 mins
– divorced subtract 5 mins per ex
– previous swimmer subtract 5 mins
– previous cyclist or runner subtract 10 mins
– every pre school child add 15 mins
– every primary school child add 20 mins
– every high school child add 10 mins
– every post school child add 15 mins
– single parent double your child score
– nanny or maid halve your child score
– age 18 to 30 add zero
– 30 to 39 add 1 minute per year of the decade
– 40 to 49 add 2 minutes per year of the decade plus 9 mins
– 50 to 59 add 3 minutes per year of the decade plus 29 mins
– 60 to 69 add 5 minutes per year of the decade plus 45 mins
– 70 to 75 add 7 minutes per year of the bracket plus 60 mins
– 76 plus add 10 minutes per year plus 120 mins
– add your bmi
– divide your income by 20000 and subtract

For me this gives about 10:35. For IMOZ I was 14mins slower than this, for IMWA I was 7mins quicker. I guess if you take the fact my %tile was similar at both and if you consider this a par score, IMOZ is a slightly slower course, IMWA slightly easier course.

Its a pretty cool formula though!

Best race for a good performance: TIED. Score IMWA 3 – IMOZ 3

The Towns

Both Port Macquarie and Busselton are regional centres for NSW and WA respectively. Both once being key shipping ports servicing local resource industries and other localities. This maritime heritage has helped shape both towns. The Busselton Jetty is key evidence of this and Port used to be the supply location for Lord Howe island as well as the local timber industry. The towns have moved on however and both tend to have a pretty balanced demographic of young and old.

Port Macquarie is probably slightly larger as it has grown with significant new housing estates popping up. Busselton is just starting to see this now. Such development can change a town for the worse if the development isn’t manage well. Port has generally done OK but does sit on the edge of breaking point in terms of infrastructure, or lack thereof. Busselton is much earlier in this cycle. The problem with this growth is when things are close to breaking point, locals begin to hate the once a year disruption Ironman brings and it can snap things pretty easily. It’s a shame and some of these elements have crept in at Port.

The other good thing about both Towns is that their retail CBD is generally street centric. Busselton has only a single very small mall and Port a couple of reasonably small malls. There are no super regional shopping centres like a Westfield. The effect of which was very evident at Geelong when I raced there with a complete lack of street activity, heaps of empty buildings and the obstruction of a huge block of a shopping centre sucking people and cars in with zero outside evidence of what was going on within. The lack of a major mall generates a much more active environment and helps define both towns.

Both places are awesome holiday locations and places I could quite happily live (unlike Forster or Geelong). Both places embrace the Ironman and generally seem to be keen to keep it.

Best town to host an Ironman: TIED. Score IMWA 4 – IMOZ 4

Wrap Up

As I said at the start, there are no winners or losers. It’s Ironman after all. You are a winner the moment you sign up, stump up the cash and pay the over the top active.com surcharge.

In the case or both IMOZ and IMWA, they are both awesome. They tied 4-all in my simple analysis. Both are awesome for a whole lot of reasons. Most importantly the towns are great hosts. It makes a huge difference. The location of both races is also definitely as good as it gets, showing off the best their respective regions have to offer. Both courses also make fantastic use of the natural and human attributes of the locations. Neither course is extreme and while certain elements can always be improved but neither needs any sort of redesign.

For me, even though the slightly short swim and hillier bike leg at Port definitely suits me better, and its local, I do find myself more inclined to head back to Busselton in the first instance. I enjoy the slightly more low key nature of the event at IMWA and its a great excuse to return to an amazing part of Australia. At the end of the day its more likely that I will choose my race based on my program and appetite to race at a particular time of the year. In the case of 2015 Port is off the cards as I am doing The North Face 100 which is a couple of weeks after Port.

I am also keen to check out the other 2 Australian Ironman races. Melbourne because its as good a spot as any to snag a sub 10hr race and Cairns because it is one of our favourite holiday locations and the chance to race along the highway up to Port Douglas is too good to be missed…

So much to do… so little time… They will be ticked off eventually however.

Great Southern Endurance Run
Lavaredo 2017
UTA100 2017
Anzac Challenge 25k
Jabulani 45k
L’Etape Australia
Fitz’s Classic