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Ironman Lanzarote. Normal limits do not apply

5 reasons why finishing the classic race in the Canary Islands is so prestigious

Photo by: Club La Santa/ James Mitchell

Looking for a PB full-distance time? Or an easy race to hammer through to add another to your list towards Ironman’s “legacy” status? Ironman Lanzarote isn’t it. This weekend the race celebrates its 31st anniversary and it remains, hands down, the toughest Ironman in the world. (It’s routinely voted that by Ironman athletes.) But, while the event is incredibly tough, it also remains both a bucket list race for many, and one of the most prestigious finishes any triathlete can have on their resume.

For those who aren’t familiar with Lanzarote, it is the most north and east of the Canary Islands, situated about 125 km off the north coast of Africa. The Ironman events on the island are backed by Club La Santa, a sports Mecca that has been going since the early 80s. Kenneth Gasque, who worked at Club La Santa, did the Ironman World Championship in 1985 and was amazed at how similar Lanzarote was to the Big Island in Hawaii. He worked tirelessly for years and eventually was able to get an Ironman license to host a full-distance qualifier on the island in 1992. Renowned for the tough biking conditions, Lanzarote has long been a go-to destination for many of Europe’s top professional triathletes over the years. Ironman world champion Anne Haug has spent so much time here that she describes her 70.3 wins here as “hometown victories,” 2021 70.3 world champ and fourt-time Kona runner up, Lucy Charles-Barclay, is amongst numerous European pros who regularly train at Club La Santa, too.

So what it is that makes this race so difficult … and special?

Normal limits do not apply: Ironman Lanzarote in pictures

Sharon Mackinnon, a two-time age group champion in Lanzarote, out riding on a windy day in Lanzarote.

It’s windy. Really, really windy

Athletes who train here will tell you that the thing about the wind is that it’s just relentless. After a few weeks of riding (if you’re lucky enough to be here that long), you’re just desperate for a day when you don’t feel like you’re pushing hard and not going anywhere. Today, for example, the hardest part of my ride was riding DOWN the hill towards the beach at Famara. On race day you’re pretty much assured that you’ll be dealing with some of those winds while you’re climbing, too … see below.

The famous climb up Mirador Del Rio at Ironman Lanzarote. Photo: James Mitchell for Ironman

There’s lots of climbing.

Is 2,550 m considered a lot of climbing over 180.2 km? The Ironman race includes climbs up two mountains – Mirador de Haria and Mirador del Rio, and another brutal climb up to the Fire Mountains. Add to that the point above – many of those climbs will be done either into really tough winds, or with really tough side winds battering you, adding to the challenge of the climbs.

Ironman Lanzarote voted the toughest Ironman in the world

The swim at Ironman Lanzarote. Photo: James Mitchell for Ironman

The swim can be a challenge, too

Since the swim takes place in the Atlantic Ocean, athletes can find themselves facing some tough conditions right from the gun. One upside for many is that the swim traditionally allows wetsuits. More often than not, though, the swim turns out to be quite “do-able” – the race venue at Puerto del Carmen is on the “calmer” side of the island.

Ironman Lanzarote. Lanzarote, Spain, on 21st May 2022, during the Ironman Lanzarote Triathlon.

The fields are so strong

The list of podium finishers here in Lanzarote is like a who’s who of the sport. I say podium finishers, because even the likes of Jan Frodeno have competed here, but even the man many see as the G.O.A.T. didn’t come away with the win the year he was here. (In his defence, Frodeno was coming back from an injury and was doing the race to ratify his Kona slot. A few months later he set a new world best time at Challenge Roth.) While it’s not as well known in North America, in Europe a win at Ironman Lanzarote is a big deal. That goes for age group athletes, too.

Dant makes impressive Ironman debut with big win at Ironman Lanzarote

Lydia Dant celebrates her win at the 30th anniversary of  Ironman Lanzarote last year. Photo: Club La Santa/ James Mitchell

Brag for the rest of your life

A finisher’s T-shirt from Ironman Lanzarote puts you at a level very few have achieved. When asked to describe Ironman for a TV promo, Commander John Collins, one of the founders of The Ironman World Championship in Hawaii said: “Swim 2.4 miles. Bike 112 miles. Run a 26.2-mile marathon. Brag for the rest of your life.”

Every time someone tries to complain about a windy race, you’ve likely got them topped. A race with lots of climbing through challenging conditions? Yep. Unless they’ve been in Lanzarote, you’ve likely got them topped, too.

For many years the race motto here in Lanzarote was “Normal limits do not apply.” There’s literally no better way to describe this race.