big island things to do

Ironman Triathlon

Ironman Triathlon: Taking It To The Limit

How It Started

Who are the physically superior athletes: swimmers, bikers or runners? In 1978, a number of athletes on Oahu debated this very question. Finally, a race was proposed to settle the argument: a grueling contest requiring a 2.4-mile rough water swim, a 112-mile bike race, and a 26.2-mile marathon.

Fifteen men participated in the first-ever event, and 12 completed the race. With a finishing time of 11 hours, 46 minutes and 58 seconds, Gordon Haller has christened the world’s first “Ironman.”

At the time, race organizers expected that the event would eventually grow to include between 100 and 200 participants. Today, upwards of 50,000 athletes from 50-plus countries (and all 50 U.S. states) compete to simply qualify for the Ironman Triathlon. While 10 volunteers assisted with the 1978 event, today’s triathlon requires more than 5,000 volunteers.

2009 Ford IRONMAN World Championship (Promo) by IRONMAN Triathlon

The average Ironman triathlete, we’re told, spends 18 to 24 hours each week training for this event. A typical week might include seven miles of swimming, 225 miles of cycling and 48 miles of running. Many competitors also cross-train with weight training, yoga and other exercises.

Still, of the 50,000 hopefuls, only 1,500 are selected to participate in the annual event.

Ironman Triathlon
Competitors swim as part of the Ironman challenge


Held each October in Kona on the island of Hawaii, the Ironman Triathlon World Championship has become one of the world’s most prestigious endurance events. Tens of thousands of spectators line the home stretch, and nearly five million more watch the event unfold on TV. The first-place winner receives a check for $100,000.

“Man-versus-nature” has become a signature component of the triathlon. Average temperatures on race day range from 82 to 95 degrees, with humidity hovering around 90 percent. Crosswinds on sections of the bike course can gust as high as 60 miles per hour.

The worldwide popularity of the Ironman Triathlon has so tremendously that a scaled-down version of the event was added to the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. In April 2004, Honolulu will serve as a host site of the U.S. Olympic Trials for the triathlon event, which includes a 1,500-meter swim, a 25-mile bike ride, and 6.25-mile run.