Physical tests and training programs are tailored considering many factors, including the athletic level (i.e., amateur vs. professional, also known as age-group vs. elite). Ironman triathlon (IM) is a long-distance endurance event that thousands of athletes participate in around the world. However, the conventional division of athletes between age-groupers and elites neglect a group of amateur athletes who perform similarly to elite athletes. The spotlight on a new category of “sub-elite” athletes highlights the importance of new physical assessment protocols for a group largely underestimated as an amateur but overrated as an elite athlete. PURPOSE: The goal of this study is to identify and explore the populations of amateur athletes who perform similarly to elite athletes in IM. METHODS: Publicly available data from all IM events from 2002 to 2022 were used for this analysis. Age-group athletes were categorized as “sub-elite” when their overall performance falls within one standard deviation of the elite group of athletes competing in that event and gender. RESULTS: A total of 741,973 entries were analyzed and 12,670 of those were categorized as elite athletes. Sub-elite athletes made up 45,994 of the total (6.7% of all age-groupers). Only 3.8% of age-group women were categorized as sub-elite while almost half of men fell into that category (7.4%). The majority of sub-elite athletes are concentrated between 30 to 39 years of age, regardless the gender. Performance-wise, sub-elite athletes are around 9% slower than elite athletes, whereas age-groupers are, on average, 39% slower. CONCLUSION: Sub-elite athletes comprise an existing and considerable population of athletes competing in IM events. Further research regarding physical tests and training protocols for this population is warranted.
Buesgens, Derek and Sousa, Caio
"The Neglected Category of Sub-elite Athletes in Ironman Triathlon,"
International Journal of Exercise Science: Conference Proceedings: Vol. 14:
2, Article 106.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wku.edu/ijesab/vol14/iss2/106