Ironman Melbourne Course Review
by Vinnie Santana
The inaugural Ironman Melbourne proved one for the record books; a stacked field of professional
athletes, including several world champions, delivered a Sub-8 hour performance by Craig Alexander
and an oh-so-close Sub-8 for Cameron Brown, who finished second in an 8:00:12 personal best. Not to
be outdone, female winner Caroline Steffen crossed the line in 8:34:51, smashing her PB by about half
an hour; she is now the world’s second-fastest Ironwoman behind Chrissie Wellington.
I was fortunate enough to be down there supporting a group of athletes and witness the action
firsthand. Here are my tips for athletes considering taking part in this event in the coming years.
I would definitely recommend this race for first timers; it will certainly provide a fun experience and
conditions are relatively friendly, even in the very worst-case scenarios. Athletes seeking a Personal Best
will find this race their winning lottery ticket as it is a very fast course with all the components that help
speedy finish times: a wetsuit swim, cold weather, a flat bike and run, and swift competition.
The level of competition in Australian races is very high. Ironman Melbourne offers a great number of
slots to the World Championships in Kona (75 this year and next). However, be ready to perform at a top
level, i.e. high speed, if you are aiming to secure one since the combination of a fast course and strong
competition makes this one of the fastest qualifying courses on the ironman circuit.
One downside involves the logistics of having two transition zones that are 42km apart. This makes it
hard for supporters to follow the race, spreads the crowds on the run course which makes it relatively
lonely and quiet for the athlete, and requires a very early wake-up as athletes still need to commute
almost an hour to the start line in Frankston from the official hotel, and IM city, in St Kilda.
Finally, Melbourne is famous for offering all weather types in one day. Two days out from race day
it was extremely windy—the chop in the water was such that I imagine the swim would have been
cancelled if conditions had been the same on race day. If you plan to compete in Melbourne over the
next few years and the race remains around the same time of the year, bring gear for all conditions and
be ready for a blustery day, which may also impact equipment choice such as race wheels.
Be mentally prepared to swim in the dark and use goggles with clear lenses. By the time the swim starts,
the sun is not out yet. Most swimmers reported feeling lost during the first 10 minutes of the swim since
it starts parallel to the shore and the lights on stand-up paddleboards get mixed with lights from nearby
towns on the horizon. Find a pack to swim with so that it can help you navigate until the sun comes out.
Use a long-sleeve wetsuit as it helps protect you from the cold water and also will help you be warmer
when starting out on the bike.
Wetsuit swims put a strain on the shoulders that you want to simulate in training. Do sets with a
pullbuoy and paddles to mimic the extra flotation of the wetsuit with the increased strain on the
shoulders. Example as below:
Warm up, then do main set:
With pullbuoy and paddles do 1 to 3 times 1.2km as:
400m HARD – 10sec rest
400m moderate – 10sec rest
2min rest between each 1.2km set
This session simulates race start; flat out for the first third (note: don’t use the wall to push off as you
don’t in the race either), then settle into a cruise pace for the second 400m, and then go easy in the last
400m to loosen up and recover for the next 1.2km set.
It’s a two-lap course on a highway, with the first half lap on a very light incline and likely headwind,
while the ride home is much faster on a slight downhill and with a tailwind. The inclines are gentle and
the course could be considered flat, except for a couple of aggressive downhill and uphill sections near a
Pacing is important as it is easy to overdo it on the first fourth of the course, and you want to
be mentally ready for a challenging section from 90km to 135km. To simulate course conditions
incorporate cadence variations on your long rides as per the example below:
On the back end of your long ride, add the following set:
2 hours moderate, alternating cadence as:
30min heaviest gear, if possible against the wind
30min at a 90+RPM cadence
This session will get your body and mind used to the different requirements of strength, muscle tension
and cadence on race day. Remain on your aerobars at all times.
The unusual point-to-point format can make the 42km rather lonely as there is limited crowd support on
parts of the run.
Expect a big variety of surfaces including roads, grass, gravel and trails by the beach, as well as a few
sharp twists and turns.
The gradient also varies. To simulate that, do part of your specific runs on rolling hills and learn how to
recover from running up a hill while you hold a moderate pace on the flat or downhill, as per the set
Hill repeats on the treadmill or road:
15min build warm-up, then:
[2min hard uphill (about 6-8%)
4min moderate on flat (keep the speed)
2min easy recovery flat/downhill if on roads]
Repeat the above 4 to 7 times
These workouts and information should give you the confidence that, even without having raced
Ironman Melbourne, know what to expect and how to prepare for it.
Enjoy your training.
Vinnie Santana – ironguides Coach, Bangkok