Ironman World Championship

A few weeks ago I had a post discussing the origins of the sport of triathlon. The first triathlon was held in September of 1974. A few years later the first long-distance race was planned, it was called the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon.

The race included a 2.4 mile (3.86 km; 77 lap) swim, a 112 mile (180.2 km) bike ride, and a 26.2 mile (42.195 km) run. It was conceived during the awards ceremony for the 1977 Oahu Perimeter Relay (a running race for 5-person teams).

Among the participants were numerous representatives of both the Mid-Pacific Road Runners and the Waikiki Swim Club, whose members had long been debating which athletes were more fit: runners or swimmers. On this occasion, U.S. Navy Commander John Collins pointed out that a recent article in Sports Illustrated magazine had declared that Eddy Merckx, the great Belgian cyclist, had the highest recorded “maximum oxygen uptake” of any athlete ever measured, so perhaps cyclists were more fit than anyone. Collins and his wife, Judy, had taken part in the triathlons staged in 1974 and 1975 by the San Diego Track Club in and around Mission Bay, California, as well as the Optimist Sports Fiesta Triathlon in Coronado, California in 1975.

A number of the other military athletes in attendance were also familiar with the San Diego races, so they understood the concept when Collins suggested that the debate should be settled through a race combining the three existing long-distance competitions already on the island: the Waikiki Roughwater Swim (2.4 mi/3.862 km), the Around-Oahu Bike Race (115 miles (185 km); originally a two-day event) and the Honolulu Marathon (26.219 mi/42.195 km). No one present had ever done the bike race so they did not realize it was a two-day, not one-day, event. Collins calculated that, by shaving 3 miles (5 km) off the course and riding counter-clockwise around the island, the bike leg could start at the finish of the Waikiki Rough Water and end at the Aloha Tower, the traditional start of the Honolulu Marathon. Prior to racing, each athlete received three sheets of paper listing a few rules and a course description. Handwritten on the last page was this exhortation:

“ Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life! ”

— Commander Collins, USN (1978)

With a nod to a local runner who was notorious for his demanding workouts, Collins said:

“ Whoever finishes first, we’ll call him the Ironman. ”

— Commander Collins, USN (1978)

Of the fifteen men to start off in the early morning on February 18, 1978, twelve completed the race and the world’s first Ironman, Gordon Haller, completed it in 11 hours, 46 minutes, and 58 seconds.

Every year since 1978, there has been an Ironman triathlon in Hawaii. By 1983, the popularity grew so much that they instituted a qualification system. Ironman distance races began to be held on the U.S. mainland, with top finishers in each men’s and women’s divisions given the chance to compete in Hawaii for the “World Championship”.

Since 1981 it has been held at the barren lava fields of Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. The race is now referred to by triathletes simply as “Kona”.

The 31st Ironman World Championship will be held this Saturday, October 10th. I’ll be blogging about the race all week…there are some amazing stories!

Today’s Workout:
50 minutes of spin (around 16 miles with some good sprints)
45 minutes of weights (chest, triceps and abs)

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