On Oct. 11, the Ironman World Championships will take the big island of Hawaii by storm. You may know that the Ironman is some crazy-long race that fanatical athletes compete in every year for the title of world champion. But do you know how this epic race got started? Or why it's considered the premiere event in the world of endurance sports?
Here's everything you need to know about the race, the athletes and the legend that is the Ironman.
How it all got started
It all began at an awards banquet for Hawaii's Waikiki Swim Club when John Collins, a naval officer, his wife Judy, and some friends started a conversation about who the toughest athletes were — swimmers, cyclists or runners. They launched an idea to combine three of the toughest endurance races on the island into one race.
Collins and his friends devised a competition that is still the standard in Ironman racing. Prior to the race, each athlete received three sheets of paper listing a few rules and a course description. Handwritten on the last page was: "Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life," a quote that is now a registered trademark for Ironman races. With a nod to a local hardcore runner, Collins said, "Whoever finishes first, we'll call him the Iron Man."
The first Ironman race
On Feb. 18, 1978, 15 competitors, including Collins, lined up on the shores of Waikiki to compete in the first Ironman challenge. Twelve of these competitors finished the race with Gordon Haller, a U.S. Navy communications specialist, winning the title of "Ironman" with a time of 11 hours, 46 minutes, 58 seconds.
A tradition is born
In 1979, 50 athletes competed for the title of Ironman. Lyn Lemaire became the first woman to participate in the Ironman Triathlon World Championship. Her 12:55:38 gave her a solid fifth-place finish overall.
The world takes notice
An Ironman legend was born in February 1982, when Julie Moss, a college student competing to gather research for her exercise physiology thesis, collapsed from dehydration just yards from the finish line. Moss had been set to capture first place for the women, but after her fall, competitor Kathleen McCartney passed her for the women’s title. This marked the smallest margin of victory — 29 seconds — ever recorded in an Ironman race. Ever the true Ironman, Moss did not give up but instead crawled to the finish line. Her performance was broadcast worldwide and created global buzz for this epic endurance event.
In 1989, another legendary piece of Ironman history took place. The Iron War — a battle to the finish between Mark Allen and Dave Scott —became what is still considered the most celebrated head-to-head race in the history of the competition. The pair raced almost side-by-side for 138 miles, but the battle was decided at mile 23.5 of the marathon when Allen dropped Scott on a small rise in the run course. That small rise is now known as Mark and Dave Hill.
The tradition continues
The distances remained the same, but the course moved from Oahu to the Big Island of Hawaii in 1981. In 1982, the race was moved from February to October, making that the only year in which two Ironman championship events were held in the same year.
In 1997, Ironman introduced the physically challenged category. Disabled athletes had to meet the same time cutoffs and athletic challenges as their able-bodied peers.
Today, the men’s course record is 8:03:56, held by Craig Alexander. Chrissie Wellington holds the women’s record of 8:54:02. The slowest finish time ever recorded at the Ironman Triathlon World Championship was 26:20:00 set by Walt Stack, 73, in 1981 — the year before race organizers enacted a 17-hour cutoff to finish the event. The youngest finisher was 14-year-old Rodkey Faust from Rathdrum, Idaho, who completed the February 1982 Ironman Triathlon World Championship in 13:36:17.
By the way, Haller — the first-ever Ironman winner — raced in Kona 14 times, including the 20th anniversary event in 1998, where he finished in 14:27:01.
Athletes prepare to start the 2.4-mile swim at the Ironman Triathlon World Championship in October 2004 in Kona, Hawaii. (Photo: Marco Garcia/Getty Images)
Fast forward: 2014
This year, 92 professional athletes will compete in Kona for the title of Ironman: 38 women and 54 men. But the pros won't be the only athletes lining up on race day. In fact, they make up only 4 percent of the athletes on the course. The other 2,247 athletes competing are men and women of all ages and sizes who qualified to race at the championship via their performance in other Ironman races or were lucky enough to win entry via the Ironman lottery or legacy programs.
This year, among these "age-groupers" — so named because they compete with other athletes in their age group — are former Olympian speedskater Apolo Ohno and astronauts Chris Cassidy and Luca Parmitano. But there are also doctors and carpenters and students and grandparents and stay-at-home moms who train in between work and school and family for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to compete at the world championship level.
And regardless of their status — professional or age-grouper — they will all be after one thing come Oct. 11: completing 140.6 miles of swimming, cycling and running and hearing four amazing words when they cross that finish line, "You are an Ironman!"
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Julie Moss: Ironman/Facebook