Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life! – The Ironman Motto
Introducing, the Kona Ironman World Championship.
The coup de gras of the triathlon. The pinnacle of the
sport. But how did this insane test of endurance come about? We’re so glad you asked.
It all got started in 1978. In Oahu, Hawaii, following a running race, a debate broke out between endurance swimmers and runners. Who was the better athlete? Both slides remained unflinching. Meanwhile, someone claims that cyclists have the highest VO2 output (a measure of cardiovascular endurance).
A challenge was born. Navy commander John Collins suggested that a combined race could finally settle the argument once and for all. As a result, the 3 longest distance races on Hawaii at the time were combined into an epic endurance race:
- The Waikiki Roughwater Swim (2.4 mile / 3.86km swim)
- The Around-Oahu Bike Race (115 miles / 185.07km bike)
- The Honolulu Marathon (26.2 miles / 42.195 km run)
“The gun will go off about 7 a.m., the clock will keep running and whoever finishes first we’ll call the Ironman.”
Because the race needed to have consecutive legs, the bike race was shortened 3 miles to 112 miles so it would end at the marathon starting line. This meant the official distance for the first Ironman race ever was a total 140.6 total miles – and it’s been the same ever since. Whew! 12 people–including Collins–competed in that first race and Gordon Haller, a taxi cab driver at the time, crossed the finish line first and became the “original” Ironman with a time of 11 hours, 46 minutes and 58 seconds.
The race was held on Oahu until 1981, when it was moved to the Big Island of Hawaii where it now has its namesake of the “Kona Ironman.” The lesser populated island has proved to be an infamous location, daring athletes to brave 45mph crosswinds and 95 degree heat. The Kona Ironman is truly the ultimate test of endurance.
Kona Ironman, Memorable Finishes
Julie Moss 1982
Named one of the most defining sports moments of sport by ABC Sport, Julie Moss’s Ironman finish in 1982 shot the sport of triathlon into the mainstream. With just a few minutes of televised footage, Moss turned a fringe sport into an international competitive sport. So what was so extraordinary about this? Moss was a 23-year old physiology student racing as part of a research experiment and surprisingly found herself out in front of the women’s course with just a few hundred yards left – her body began to fail and she could barely walk.
Unable to keep moving forward on foot, Moss dropped to her knees and began to crawl towards the finish line. Just yards away from being done, Julie was passed by Kathleen McCarty who won the race. Undeterred, Moss, while being watched by millions, continued to crawl across the finish line where she collapsed capping off a race finish that truly has to be seen to be believed. Luckily, we have that video for you right here.
Sian Welch & Wendy Ingraham – The Crawl – 1997
Channeling memories of Julie Moss’s ghost, Sian Welch and Wendy Ingraham experienced one of the very similar endings as Julie 15 years later. Just a few yards away from the finish line as they were entering the final shoot, both competitors collapsed. As they struggled to get up and continue racing, they discovered their body simple had nothing left. With their ability to walk, gone, they both began to crawl towards the finish line with Wendy Ingraham pulling ahead at the end with Sian Welch right behind her. Once again, a memorable finish you have to see to fully experience.
Kona Ironman Current Records
Craig Alexander of Australia holds the current men’s Ironman course record with a finish time of 8 hours, 3 minutes and 56 seconds. Chrissie Wellington of Great Britain set the women’s course record in 2009 with a record time of 8 hours, 54 minutes and 2 seconds. Needless to say, these finishers were moving!
Qualifying For The Kona Ironman
After the incredible televised finishes and the seemingly incredible distances athletes have to cross, the Ironman entry has become a hot ticket item in endurance racing. To handle the demand, Kona race organizers developed a qualifying system. Instead of an open registration, athletes can qualify 1 of 3 ways.
- Earn a qualifying spot at a Ironman World Championship qualifying event (these can be either the 70.3 or 140.6 Ironman branded races)
- Win a slot through the Kona lottery selection program
- Win a slot through the Kona Ironman eBay auction.
“Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life!”
Do you have what it takes to be called an Ironman?
If you’re interested in running an Ironman..it all starts with a Sprint Triathlon. While Ironman athletes might look like Superman, they all had to start somewhere. Most triathletes start out with a sprint triathlon and despite what you might think, no matter your fitness level, you can train for a sprint triathlon in just 3 months. Give it a shot.