It’s 5am and you are in the pacific ocean on the coast of Kona, the biggest Island of Hawaii. As soon as the cannon goes off you begin your 2 1/2 mile swim down the coast of the island as the fish and other sea creatures curiously swim by you. The light waves beat on your body with every stroke, and unless you’re in the very front there are bodies all around you. By the first mile, your lungs and muscles hurt and you realize you haven’t even begun. When you finally see the end in sight, you breathe an exasperated sigh of relief, till you remember that those little things sitting next to the shore are actually about 20 rows of the most finely tuned racing bikes in the world this side of the Tour De France. As you get out dripping wet, you quickly dry off as you have trained for years, and put on your bike shoes, click into the pedals, and ride through the hottest volcanic area in the United States. This is an area that is hotter than Death Valley which routinely breaks the country heat records for the United States. Oh yeah, I forgot to say, most of this sweltering ride is uphill. That’s right 112 miles and 100 of those miles is at some sort of incline, and you’re traveling through semi-active volcanoes in the middle of summer. Sweating your butt off is an understatement, and hydration is a constant battle.
Most people don’t drive 100 miles in their life in a car, you’re doing it in one day on a bike, averaging 95 rpms and a speed of 20 miles an hour. At the final incline, your thighs are screaming at you to stop, your body has stopped screaming at you and has decided that it will give up when It wants to whether you like it or not, and your entire system has gone onto auto pilot. This what you have trained so hard and so long for. This is the culmination of many many years of pushing your body to the limits, and knowing the difference between “I want to stop” and “I have to stop”. At the end, your running shoes are simply laying there waiting for you. You strap them on and begin the last leg, a marathon. Many accomplish a marathon as a great feat for their lives, and you are doing it as the last leg of an endurance race to end all endurance races. At the end of the run through volcanic deserts, lush vegetation,quaint little towns, and endless strips of road, the bright numbers of 2 digit hours loom in the distance. Has it really been 15 hours since you got in the water, yes it has. When you cross that finish line, you are no longer a mere person – you are an Iron man, and that is why this triathlon has that name.
But where did it all began? Back in 1978, a group of fellow endurance runners got into a debate about who was the best all around sports person. They began comparing stories of past races, and past achievements, but there was always a “but”. Like yeah you got that time, but there was a tail wind. or, of course you could bike that far in that area of the country. They had all just run a race in Hawaii so one of the gentleman, Navy Commander John Collins, proposed a race that would “combine three existing races together, to be completed in succession: the Waikiki Roughwater Swim (2.4 miles), the Around-Oahu Bike Race (112 miles, originally a two-day event) and the Honolulu Marathon (26.2 miles)” Iironman.com. The group of friends agreed that it would be the greatest test of their endurance ever, and anyone who would finish first would be called an “Ironman”. It was agreed and the race has continued from then on.
In 1979, the first woman competed in a group of 20 people that had heard about the mythic race and now wanted to be part of it. Since 1978, there has been a time limit added, 25 hours, to complete the course. People from all over the globe come and test their abilities and skills against the greatest and top athletes of the day. Many who start, never finish. Everything from wheelchairs, leg blades, hand bikes, and electric wheel chairs dot the course now. From one started as a glorified pissing contest, the race has become a monument to human endurance, will, and fortitude.