A fast, fast and lively iron-distance event in a perfect Italian beach holiday setting. A great race for first-timers or people looking to monster a (mostly) flat cycle designed for time-trial specialists.
Where: Cervia, Italy
When: Late September (since 2017)
Size: 2500 athletes (in first year)
Distances: Iron Distance
Cost: Roughly 450 Euros
TIPS for Ironman Italy
- Book your hotel as close to the transition area as you can and preferably on the run course as it makes it easy for your supporters!
- Rack your bike before the presentation as it is quiet and much quicker – use the booklet provided when you register to understand the bag system.
- Don’t expect a transition PB – the transition area is very long and thin and the largest in the world (this may change after the inaugural race)
- Practice pacing your swim with a run halfway through to simulate the Australian Exit
- Train in the sun and heat as much as you can!
- Train on aerobars and build a huge amount of flat, fast, aero endurance.
- Don’t draft on the bike (even though lots of people do!) as the officials are very strict
- Put one very big hill into your long ride training
- Make sure you have enough water and nutrition to get you through the first hour or so as the feed stations on the bike are spaced out
- Say ‘bonjourno’ to as many vineyard ladies as you can!
- Expect a longer than normal bike ride – 185km!
- Wear a running hat as it is likely to be hot out there at the start of the run
- Look up and take it all in and thank the supporters!
What’s the set up and organisation like?
As with all Ironman races, this is a slick and professional event.
Sign up is done online and you are kept up to date with changes to course and even help and ideas for training sent to your inbox frequently. Perhaps a little to frequently in fact!
Registration and race rules presentation take place the day before and it is simple and well explained. Athlete care is very well thought out with short processing queues to get your plastic bags for transition. You get everything in one go and transition areas are run with military precision. Not great for supporters waiting outside but it’s good to know your bike an belongings will be safe overnight.
The event location is also brilliant with tonnes of hotels of varying prices literally meters from the transition area. (My hotel was ON the run course!)
The athlete care continues throughout the race with closed roads (although narrow at times). There are plenty of nutrition stops on the bike and tonnes on the run.
What’s the course like?
The swim takes place off Cervia beach which is a classic Italian tourist holiday spot. The water is warm but not particularly clear. The best thing about it is that it is a gradual slope into the water so for anyone unconfident swimmers it’s nice start and finish to the 2 laps. You can see the bottom for about the first 300m out and back on each lap. The ‘Australian Exit’ also adds a lot to the race and allows you to pace really well.
The bike course is flat and 2 loops of 90km (in the first year it was 185km total, so a bit more!). The roads are closed and smooth with some nice landmarks including vineyards, flamingos and two lovely Italian towns. There aren’t really any hills apart from at the turning point of each lap which a monster climb lasting about 2km up to a town. Time tough, especially in the heat. Coming down the hill though is a blast! There is a fairly dull and tough stretch along a dull carriageway which you do about 10km of out and back but the rest of the bike course is very Italian and pretty cool.
The run is 4 laps though the town. A superb run with support almost all the way around and plenty to see. You run along a gorgeous canal, through a town square, through busy tree-lined shopping streets and even through a section of woodland. It’s flat as a pancake and the variety of the corse is brilliant to keep the mind off the pain.
How difficult is Ironman Italy?
Well, it’s an Ironman so – very! However, looking at other courses around the world, this isn’t one of the hardest. It doesn’t have the hills of Ironman Wales or Ironman Nice for example, or the wind of Ironman Lanzarote.
The swim is quite nice as sea swims go. No longer is Ironman doing the ‘mass start’ so although pretty rough in the ‘washing machine’, it’s not too bad.
The bike course is almost flat except for one hill you do once in each lap and it is tough. Some people I saw had to get off and push and in the heat it is a real grind. However it’s only approx 2km of the race. The course lends itself to tucked-down, hard aero racing.
The run is flat and hot (at least until dark) but there are areas of shade and the food stops are frequent.
This was my first Ironman and I obviously found it a major challenge but didn’t feel it to be as tough as others I have seen. However, speaking to a one experienced Ironman who’d done 11 races, he said this one was hard because of that hill sapping the energy and breaking the rhythm. The transition area is also comically long and thin which means getting a PB is not likely (this was first year and there were rumours it may change).
What’s the Atmosphere like?
Superb. From start to finish. The beach has huge speakers blaring out music there are hundreds of spectators and a great announcer. The ‘Australian Exit’ also adds a lot of atmosphere to the race for athletes and spectators alike.
The bike course didn’t have much support but there were pockets of it and people sat outside their homes watching and clapping which was great. The two towns you go through on the bike were amazing – loud with people and gorgeous to look at.
The run around Cervia was great too with the finish line audible for a large part of the race and plenty of other music and spectator hotspots. The best part of the atmosphere for me was when it got dark and the night life came alive with people who’d already finished and celebrating along the bars of the run route. The wooded area also became lit by a nice string of lights and it was a really serene part of the course where a lot of athlete conversations were struck up.
The finish line was huge and loud and very inviting!
My Race Diary
By Joe Tidy, Editor
Triathlete and (now!) Ironman
Race number: 17 triathlons, 4 marathons – first Ironman
Finish Time: 12:51
This was my first Ironman and the same advice I kept getting in the months before the race was to ‘enjoy it’. With that in mind I was determined to train hard to give myself the best chance to enjoy the day.
Training went well (see Diary series) until the last 2 weeks when I got a hip injury and from then on the worry and anxiety grew to a crescendo right up to the night before the race when I was worried about everything from hip issues and bike mechanicals to shark attacks. Ridiculous I know!
On the morning all my worries evaporated though as soon as me and my dad arrived at the beach. The atmosphere was incredible and I hit the water excited and pumped.
That energy got me through the swim with minimal hip pain and in a decent time- 1:07.
Then the bike. The bit I was most concerned about as a non-cyclist. The first lap was nearly all fun. I loved it and came back to Cervia in just over 3hrs. Leaving the town for lap 2 was my lowest point of the race with at least another 3hrs cycling ahead. That hill the second time was a killer too. So painful and energy destroying. It was a log slot back too especially the last 20km which is exposed and got quite windy. Total time – 6:40.
Then the run. If I had any worries about my hip, they were forgotten as soon as I started running. Everything hurt! I was a mess but feeling good and thanks to some great advice from an Ironman Pro friend (Lucy Gossage) I had a strategy that I stuck to. I ran walked my way around walking through each nutrition station and a couple of other designated stretches and although it was a grind, I made it round in 4:51. Running the last 500m to the finish was one of the best feelings of my life and I made it back in 12:51.
Annoyingly my official results were DSQ because of a drafting penalty that I didn’t take as I didn’t know the official was talking to me. Luckily I got it reversed but it took weeks!
No complaints from me though, I had a brilliant race which went a lot better than I imagined and it is an amazing event. Recommended!