The idea is to rank every ironman athlete around the world. Points are allotted for each ironman event you do in a calendar year and this gets tallied giving you an overall rank - worldwide, in your age group, and in your country.
The points allocation isn't simple. It's related to your finish time in relation to the winner where 5000 points is allocated to the winner and then the points decrease by time until it reaches a pre-determined lower limit (at which point all slower finishers would receive that same score. It's a pretty tricky exercise as you're obviously trying to compare athletes who have never raced each other, and with different numbers in races and differing levels of difficulty across the courses. Not to mention those events that get altered for whatever reason (for instance last year's Ironman New Zealand getting turned into a half distance race).
It's a reasonably academic exercise - it's made clear on the Age Group Rankings website that the person sitting at number 1 in these rankings is not considered the world champion on the basis of the rankings. But you've got to give them credit for trying and I understand at the end of each year it is the intention that every ironman athlete will get a certificate recognising their year's results.
The rankings also benefit those who do more than one ironman event each year. Your best three scores are counted and so while I can understand the sceptics arguing that this is simply another way for WTC to encourage people to cough up and do more ironman events, I can also understand that it is an additional way to separate people by allowing a wider range of scores, thus minimising the occurrence of people on the same score.
Plus, I'm not complaining. Doing two ironman events this year means I'm quite happy to have both scores counted! And I was complaining even less when I decided to entertain myself with a look at the current rankings and found that I have 3 races scored against my name - not only 2013 Ironman NZ (which I expected), but also 2012 Ironman NZ and Ironman Cairns (which I didn't expect would be counted).
And this is where it gets quite cool. With my three races, this back of the pack, non-athlete is currently sitting in the top 5% of her age group worldwide.
Currently I'm ranked 56th out of 1225 female athletes in the 45-49 age group worldwide. And out of the New Zealand athletes I rank 7 out of 51 - top 14%.
Yes, it's an academic exercise that realistically means little, (and will change frequently), but I'll take it.