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History of Ironman Triathlon

Updated on February 17, 2016
Jaynie2000 profile image

Jaynie is a seasoned marathoner, triathlete and soccer player with an interest in fitness and nutrition.

If someone said to you, “Hey, I dare you to swim 2.4 miles, ride a bike for 112 miles, and run a marathon. If you finish in under 17 hours, I’ll call you Ironman,” would you do it? No? Okay, okay. “I’ll throw in a spiffy medal and a fancy array of post race snacks after you cross the finish line.” Still no? “How about if I line the race route with enthusiastic, if less physically capable fans, each of whom will cheer and hold up encouraging signs, urging you on until you reach the finish? Hmmm. Okay, here’s my final offer. You get all of that great stuff, plus, you’ll have bragging rights for the rest of your life!”

Now I have your attention. After all, isn’t that what it’s all about? Proving to yourself and the world that you are made of the toughest brand of human steel? Challenging yourself to endure the what is probably the most painful, grueling ordeal the human body can withstand?

Mass start of the swim in Kona
Mass start of the swim in Kona
John and Judy Collins
John and Judy Collins

How the Ironman Began

The first Ironman was conceived on a lark by US Naval Officer, John Collins. He and a group of friends were debating the issue of which athletes were tougher, swimmers or runners. Collins had already participated in smaller triathlons, so the concept of such a race was not new, however a race of this magnitude was unheard of. Determined to test the best swimmers, cyclists and runners to a contest of endurance, Collins proposed the first Ironman contest. The 112 mile bike race was proposed after Collins read an article about a Belgian cycling champ who had the highest VO2 max rate ever recorded in an athlete. This lead Collins to assert that cyclists may have been the fittest athletes on the planet.

The inaugural race took place on February 18, 1978 in Waikiki. Before the swimmers took to the water, Collins was quoted as saying, “You can quit if you want, and no one will care. But you will know for the rest of your life.” No pressure or anything.

A Grueling Experience

Today there are dozens of races all over the world, integrating professional athletes and age groupers, each bent on posting a PR in the world’s most challenging contest. Professional athletes compete for large purses but every athlete must face potentially harsh conditions. In fact, the race is Kona, Hawaii is one of the windiest races around, while other sites like Malaysia and Cozumel are routinely plagued by high heat indexes. In fact, my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, which is home to Ironman Wisconsin is ranked the third toughest race in the world due to a hilly course, fluctuating temperatures, wind, rain and other factors.

Finish Line: Ironman Wisconsin, Madison, WI
Finish Line: Ironman Wisconsin, Madison, WI

Three Stages of Ironman

Races typically begin at 7:00 am and few things aside from lightning or thunder will delay the start. Age groupers start the race en mass several minutes after the professional wave has taken off. The first leg of the race is a 2.4 mile swim which much be completed in 2 hours and 2 minutes. After stripping their wetsuits they complete the first transition (T1) by hopping on their bikes and trekking across a 112 mile course. The cycle leg must be completed within 8.5 hours. Those that haven’t entered T2 by 5:30 pm are disqualified. Those strong (or lucky) enough to make it to the marathon stage must complete an exhaustive 26.2 mile foot race before midnight to earn the title of Ironman.

112 Mile Cycle
112 Mile Cycle

Paula Newby Frazer

It may seem inconceivable that anyone who has suffered through one Ironman would willingly do it again, but many do. In fact, the most successful female Ironman of all time, Paula Newby-Fraser, carries the nickname, Queen of Kona. She won Ironman Hawaii 8 times and holds a total of 24 Ironman titles.

Paula Newby Fraser
Paula Newby Fraser

Fastest Ironman Times

Record Holder
Swim (2.4 Miles)
Bike (112 Miles)
Run (26.2 Miles)
Andreas Raefert (GER) - 44:25
Andrew Starykowicz (USA) - 4:02:17
Peter Reid (CAN) - 2:35:21
Andreas Raelert (GER) - 7:41:33
Angela Naeth (CAN) - 45:11
Chrissie Wellington (UK) - 4:36:33
Chrissie Wellington (UK) - 2:44:35
Chrissie Wellington (UK) - 8:18:13

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Dick and Rick Hoyt

Not only does the Ironman contest give professionals and weekend warriors alike the chance to test their grit and strength, but it also gives special heroes a chance to shine. Consider the ultimate love story between a father and son, Dick and Rick Hoyt. Rick was born with cerebral palsy and has suffered from spastic quadriplegia for many years. Determined to give his son a rich life, full of adventure, Dick has performed incredible feats of human strength in the name of love.

A Fathers Love: True Test of Endurance

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© 2015 Jaynie2000


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