I know, I know I have not done a full ironman yet so I can’t really compare them right? I have done a half ironman and run a bunch of ultras. So, I have an idea. My goal is to complete an Ironman, but the logistics haven’t worked out. Plus, I really like ultrarunning.
I’m not sure you can really compare the two races side by side beyond both being an ultra endurance sport. I’m over simplifying in this post, but it will give you an idea. I’m really comparing the full iron distance and 100 milers. Some people think the 50 and the full iron are more comparative.
As far as gear, the ultra is so much less complicated. All you really need is a hydration system, shoes, and some clothes. You don’t technically have to have a hydration system, but it’s highly recommended. For an Ironman you need a lot of stuff such as a bike, a wetsuit, swimming suit, bike clothes, running clothes, bike shoes, swim pass, and running shoes. The clothing can be combined in a tri-suit.
Overall time spent training is similar, I would say. A full ironman and a 100 mile run both take about 6 months to train for, if you have done shorter distances. Day to Day training is similar, but in triathlon you are spreading your time between three sports rather than the one, which may make travel time increase depending on where you live.
The ironman is definitely more expensive than the 100 miler not only in gear, but registration fees, especially, if you are competing in Ironman sanctioned events. Full iron distance races are out there, which are run by other groups and they tend to be similar in registration fee to a 100 mile race.
Ultra running is harder on your body in many respects because you are using one muscle system to compete in the event where in the ironman you are using different muscles (there is some cross over with biking and running). Ultrarunning also puts your body through more impact. I’m not sure which would have a higher injury rate because the ironman includes a full marathon and full marathon runners have a higher injury rate than ultrarunners, seems counterintuitive I know. The ironman includes high speeds on the bike and training around pedestrians and vehicles.
Duration of the race is a big difference. Most Ironman events have a finish line cut off at 18 hours. In ultras 18 hour finishes are the front of the pack. Most 100 mile ultra’s are between 30-36 hour finish cut offs.
As far as the competitive nature of each race, Ironman takes the cake. Ironman athletes are very competitive to the point where they will not stop to help other athletes. I’m sure this is not all athletes. I’m also sure there are ultrarunners who are the same, but I think you find more non helpers in the ironman than the ultra. Most ultrarunners will give you their food, clothing, and water if they can spare it and sometimes if they really can’t. Ultra runners are a very down to earth and good natured crowd. There is tons of comradery and support of one another. It’s not just about who can finish first, but who can finish at all. This characteristic is what makes me love ultrarunning.