Worlds hardest ironman course ? well lets see…

My Personal Journey.

As I am creating this website I decided it was a good idea to go on the journey you will be going on along with you. So thought I would blog about my current Ironman training cycle. It’s worth saying this is not my First but it could very easily be my toughest.

So what sort of challenge have I set myself? Well possibly the worlds hardest Ironman Triathlon. Ironman Wales!

Swim Start at Ironman Wales

Is it really the worlds hardest?

Well I don’t know TBH as it will be my first go at this course. But rumour has it its right up there. It has two rivals, Kona and Lanzarote. I have never been able to race in Kona as the Qualifying criteria for my age group as so difficult. You practically have to be a pro. But I can keep Dreaming. Anyway I see nothing in that course that rivals Wales or Tenby. Its just got the Reputation. Surely the best Ironman but hardest No chance.

Lanzarote then?

Mirador Del Rio Lanzarote

Well this one I am qualified to answer. Lanzarote is tough. And yes I know personally having completed the course in 2012. The swim, apart from the hectic start is quite benign. Beautiful Tropical ocean and lovely warm blue water. Heaven if it was not for the other 2000 people sharing my limited swimming space.

The bike were Lanzarote Ironman bites you. and it bites hard! Volcanos, Wind, Heat and more wind. It just grinds you down. but its so utterly beautiful its all worth it.

The run finishes it off nicely with 26.2 miles of baking hot running fun. Packed streets and incredible support make the event what it is. And a personal thank you from the race organizer before your free Ice Cream and Beer!


Official Website

So which is harder. Well I have never really been able to tell you. As, well I’ve not done Ironman Wales. So I thought its about time I remedied that. So I have signed up for Ironman Wales 2017 on September 10th September.

So I will Blog along with my personal journey while sharing my advice and tips for all would be Ironman athletes.

Course Details

Fact File:

Location: Tenby South Wales UK

Date: Sep 10, 2017

Swim: 3,8km Sea Swim

Bike: 112 mile punchy hill ride  – Elevation 2095m / 6870 feet

Run: 26.2 mile hilly run

Transition: Single, central, note 1km run from swim to transition 1


Ironman Wales is based in the Picturesque Pembrokeshire town of Tenby. The Swim takes place in Carmarthen bay, which tends to be rather cool and subject to large Atlantic swells, along with strong tidal currents.

wales swim map

The Bike is Hilly. Its not like other hilly Courses as there are not big hills in the Area. Instead its relentless Punchy hills. Constant Steep inclines followed by steep technical descents which limit the time recovered descending. No long fast swooping descents like other races. Total ascent is approx. 2095m / 6870 feet

Wales Map

The run really shakes things up. Every Ironman I have done to date while the bike may be very hilly the run is always nice and flat. An Ironman Marathon is hard enough without hills. Tenby is different. Look at the route and profile below. The main out leg of the course is all up hill! How this will affect the run I am not too sure but I don’t expect it to be pretty.

wales run map

The other “difficult” element of wales is the delightful welsh weather! While its perfectly possible September will provide pleasant, calm, warm, Excellent racing conditions. there also the very real chance it will howl a gale and tip it down all day. That’s the gamble. 2016 was by all accounts great weather. Its unlikely we will get a repeat in 2017.

The other point of note about wales is the local support. It is Mythical in its greatness. I can’t wait to experience the majesty of the welsh hospitality. Whatever happens I am thoroughly looking forward to my day out in Wales.


Stephen James


  1. I’m from the north west and had looked at this as an option for my first ironman-having seen your review of the course I’m not so sure!

    Do you have training tips for progressing from a standard distance tri? I’ve done a lot of distance swimming and run a couple of marathons-not too sure about pulling it all together.

    Good luck!

    • Hi Mike, thanks for reading.

      Yeah Wales is not the Easiest course but its still do able. The fact its harder makes it even more of an achievement. and the truth is there are no easy or hard course’s only faster and slower. The key is to choose the one you enjoy the most. I think BIG event feel is high up on most people’s priorities.

      Wales certainly has the big event feel about it. However If it does seem too big an ask I personally recommend the Outlaw Iron Distance Triathlon in Nottingham. It has all the razzmatazz and big event. but is a flatter course and very compact and convenient race venue. Perfect for a first event.

      I am currently writing a post about “going Long” from a standard-distanceTri. But in short its very achievable. from that base. Everything is just longer but taken a bit easier. If you are confident swimming distance in open water that the biggest hurdle. Its just stretching out your training rides and runs and perfecting the nutrition.

      A Ironman Marathon is actually a lot easier than a stand alone. so you have nothing to worry about there.

      Hope that it helpful.

  2. Hey Stephen
    Very nice overview on this Ironman course and I wish you the best of luck in your training and in accomplishing your goal. I really love your spirit, perseverance and strong will. I read your story and I can’t really imagine that awesome change you made in your lifestyle. You are a real hero man.
    One of my friends is a tri-athelete and he completed an Ironman race last summer, I think it was in Spain but I am not sure. Few months ago I was intending to join him in his training but when he explained for me what is a tri-athelete and what are the Ironman competitions, I changed my mind cause I felt that this is too hard for me to accomplish. This idea that I can’t do this is overwhelming me that I can’t get rid of it. So do you have any advice or tip for this problem?

    • Hi, I had exactly the same feelings when I first looked into Ironman. On paper the distances just seem impossible. Certainly to people who don’t think of themselves as athletes, which is most of us. But assuming you are able bodied there is nothing in the world stopping you apart from your own self belief.

      Take a look at my post about whether or not “you” can complete an ironman. http://ironmanfirst.com/can-i-complete-an-ironman-of-course

  3. Wow, that sounds brutal. I’ve heard some say that Hawaii may be a debatable Ironman for the hardest course in the world. What are your thoughts on that?

    This is a lot longer than the usual Spartan Race that I’m into. The swims would definitely do me in since I’m in no way a good swimmer. But kudos to you for tackling all of this!

    • Hi thanks for the comment.

      Hawaii is often called the hardest but Its really a throwback. Its the original so for many years was considered the hardest. But there are tougher out there. Its very hot and very windy, which does make it tough. But other events namely Wales and Lanzarote, are so hilly the easily rank higher in the toughness terms, but also have their own unique weather systems that rival anything Kona Hawaii has to offer. Lanzarote is equally hot and windy, they are very similar islands, and Wales often blows a gale and rains and has generally “British weather”.

      Its all pretty relative though as even “easy” ironman courses are not easy, they are just faster!

      The purpose of this site is to change peoples perception. Sure you couldn’t do one tomorrow if you can’t swim well but you can always “learn” anyone can. these events are within the reach of most people. I was certainly a very poor swimmer when I started.

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