The Ironman Triathlon

The Ironman Triathlon

The Ironman Triathlon is the world’s most prestigious and most competitive triathlon. Tri-atheletes compete to finish 2.4 miles (3.86 km) of swimming, 112 miles (180.25 km) of cycling, and 26 miles, 385 yards (42.195 km) of running. A normal triathlon is an event consisting of swimming, cycling, and running, completed in that order. The Ironman Triathlon stands out because of its lengthy distances and the possible harsh weather conditions under which the races are held.

The Ironman Triathlon World Championship, also known as Ironman Hawaii, is the original Ironman Triathlon event, held in 1978 in Honolulu, Hawaii. In 1977, members of the Mid-Pacific Road Runners and the Waikiki Swim Club were in a long-standing debate on whether runners or swimmers were more physically fit. Col. John Collins interfered, saying that Belgian cyclist Eddy Merckx was declared in Sports Illustrated magazine as having the “largest oxygen uptake,” and thus, cyclists may be fitter than runners and swimmers.

The Mid-Pacific Road Runners and Waikiki Swim Club members, along with a number of military athletes, opted to settle the debate on the morning of February 18, 1978 by combining three existing island races: the 2.4-mile Waikiki Roughwater Swim, the 115-mile Around-Oahu Bike Race, and the 26.219-mile Honolulu Marathon, trimming three miles from the bike leg, for course planning purposes. Each participant was provided with three sheets of paper containing the contest rules and a handwritten line at the end of the last page: “Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life!” This catchphrase has now become a registered trademark of the Ironman Triathlon.

To qualify for Ironman Hawaii, athletes are required to acquire placement in one of the other Ironman Triathlons or finish a triathlon race. 200 of the approximately 1,500 athletes are entitled to enter by winning lottery slots. Participants originally raced through the island of Oahu in February, but the race was moved to Big Island in 1981 and it was rescheduled for October in 1982. The race is now held in the Kailua-Kona Bay for the swim portion, the Hawaiian lava desert for the bike leg, and from the Keauhou to Keahole point of the Big Island coast for the marathon.

A U.S Navy Communications Specialist by the name of Gordon Haller was the first man to win the title Ironman, finishing the entire course in 11 hours, 46 minutes, and 58 seconds. First runner-up John Dunbar, a U.S. Navy SEAL could have finished first, but his support crew ran out of water during the marathon, giving him beer instead. In 1979, San Diego’s Tom Warren set a new record of 11 hours, 15 minutes, and 56 seconds. It was also during that year that champion cyclist Lyn Lemaire finished sixth and became the first Ironwoman.

A historic milestone took place in 1982 when college student Julie Moss competed to conduct research for her thesis in exercise physiology. Moss was in the lead and was just yards from the finish line when fatigue and dehydration took over. She fell and was overtaken by Kathleen McCartney who would claim the women's title. Moss finished the race crawling to the finish line in front of a worldwide television audience. Her finish proved that just finishing the Ironman Triathlon is a big win in itself.

Indeed, the majority of athletes competing in the Ironman Triathlon simply aim to finish the race or set a personal record. Only the best athletes have ambitions of winning a spot in this grueling endurance event. Luc Van Lierde of Belgium currently holds the record for the fastest Ironman, finishing the course in 8 hours, 4 minutes, and 8 seconds in 1996 and Chrissie Wellington of Great Britain holds the women’s course record with a time of 8 hours, 54 minutes, and 2 seconds in 2009.

To learn more about the Ironman Triathlon, visit the following websites:

  • Ironman World Championship – Official site of the Ironman World Championship triathlon.

  • Triathlon.org. The official website of the International Triathlon Union with comprehensive information for triathlons all over the world.

  • USA Triathlon. The official website of the USA Triathlon, the body responsible for sanctioning more than 2,000 races in the United States as well as selecting and training teams for the Ironman Triathlon World Championship. 

  • British Triathlon Federation. The official website for the federation of Triathlon England, Triathlon Scotland, and Welsh Triathlon. The British Triathlon Federation is responsible for the Great Britain Elite, Age Group Teams, British, and international triathlon events.

  • Triathlon Western Australia. An in-depth source of articles, photographs, links, and a calendar of triathlon events in Western Australia.