We all want to be capable and resilient, and while we may not be able to become physical superheroes, a triathlon may offer a promising alternative to help us feel empowered.
IRONMAN, formerly known as the Ironman Triathlon, has a history of furthering its participants’ strength and resilience as it’s known as one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world. The triathlon consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle trek and a marathon portion of 26.22 miles. Now over 40 years old, IRONMAN harnesses the spirit of those wishing to challenge themselves and build physical endurance.
Created by Judy and John Collins, the triathlon was inspired by the Collins’ family participation in the Mission Bay Triathlon in San Diego in September 1974, which marked the beginning of the modern triathlon in the United States. When the family moved to Hawaii, they organized a sprint run-swim competition in Honolulu, which helped set the pace for an annual event. The Collins’ original goal was to create an event for the endurance athletes, those who preferred events such as the Waikiki Roughwater Swim and the Honolulu Marathon over short sprint events. In 1977, John thought of using a bicycle route for the event. They decided to include a bike portion as part of the event. The pair famously said to each other, “If you do it, I’ll do it,” with John adding, “…whoever finishes first, we’ll call him the Iron Man.”
By October 1977, Judy and John announced the Around the Island Triathlon at the Waikiki Swim Club banquet to take place the following year. The participants were members of both the Mid-Pacific Road Runners and the Waikiki Swim Club and debated which type of athletes were more fit; runners or swimmers. When John suggested the three triathlon legs to settle the debate, the swimmers in the audience laughed at the idea of a 140.6-mile triathlon, but many were ready for the challenge. On February 18, 1978, the event kicked off as the first-ever Hawaiian IRONMAN Triathlon. Up until that point, no one had ever done the bike portion of the race altogether before. Handwritten on the page of athletes’ directions was the note: “Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life.” Today that direction is now a registered trademark.
As the event kicked off, each participant had their own support team to supply water, food and encouragement as they completed the event. All participants were expected to complete the courses in a specific timeframe. Typically beginning at 7:00 am, the mandatory swim cut off for the 2.4-mile swim course is 9:20 am (2 hours 20 minutes), the bike cut off time is 5:30 pm (8 hours 10 minutes), and the marathon cut off time is midnight (6 hours 30 minutes). Any participant who can complete the triathlon within these time restraints is designated an Ironman. Gordon Haller was the first person to achieve the Ironman title in 11 hours, 46 minutes and 58 seconds. The runner-up was a US Navy SEAL, who was leading in the second course and had an opportunity to win, but his support crew ran out of water and resorted to providing him with beer instead. During the first event, twelve out of fifteen of the competitors completed the event.
The next year, the event attracted more people. It was a surprise to them that their race became a phenomenon that would impact lives around the world. Tom Warren came in first with 11 hours, 15 minutes and 56 seconds. The event also saw its first “Ironwoman,” Lyn Lemaire, who finished sixth overall.
After the event caught the attention of a Sports Illustrated author, the event attracted hundreds of new participants by 1980. That same year, the founders gave ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” permission to film the event, which solidified international recognition of IRONMAN.
Since then, the event has procured many iconic moments. In 1997, the event came under the recognition of the Physically Challenged Athletes organization. Australian John MacLean became the first athlete to power a hand cycle bike and wheelchair, securing an official IRONMAN World Championship finish.
Today, hundreds of thousands of athletes from across the globe have participated in the event to see what’s possible. While the triathlon could not occur in 2020 due to the widespread COVID-19 pandemic, the event still ran as the 2020 IRONMAN VR World Championship Celebration. The week is jam-packed with a live Daily Show, panel discussions, Q&As, retrospectives of the event and more. Professional athletes and IRONMAN personalities are also in attendance to bring the Kona Spirit to everyone’s living room. Plus, for the first time, the IRONMAN Virtual Club hosts a full virtual distance IRONMAN triathlon. Anyone across the globe can join the full-distance triathlon as a virtual race for 7 days, 3 days or a consecutive 17-hour duration.
Check out the event listing and good luck to all the participants.