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The History of Ironman

The IRONMAN TRIATHLON was the first major competition of its kind. The first IRONMAN TRIATHLON was held in 1978 Honolulu, Hawaii until 1980. In 1981, the competition was moved to the less urbanized Big Island by Valerie Silk. The following year, Silk moved the race date from February to October. There were two IRONMAN TRIATHLON events in 1982 as a result of the change.

The idea for the original IRONMAN TRIATHLON arose during the awards ceremony for the 1977  Oahu Perimeter Relay (a running race for 5-person teams). Among the participants were numerous representatives of both the Mid-Pacific Road Runners and the Waikiki Swim Club, whose members had long been debating which athletes were more fit, runners or swimmers.

On this occasion, U.S. Navy Commander John Collins pointed out that a recent article in Sports Illustrated magazine had declared that Eddy Merckx, the great Belgian cyclist, had the highest recorded “oxygen uptake” of any athlete ever measured, so perhaps cyclists were more fit than anyone. Cdr. Collins and his wife, Judy, had taken part in the triathlons staged in 1974 and 1975 by the San Diego Track Club in and around Mission Bay, California, as well as the Optimist Sports Fiesta Triathlon in Coronado, California, in 1975. A number of the other military athletes in attendance were also familiar with the San Diego races, so they understood the concept when Cdr. Collins suggested that the debate should be settled through a race combining the three existing long-distance competitions already on the island: the Waikiki Roughwater Swim (2.4 mi./3.85 km), the Around-Oahu Bike Race (115 miles; originally a two-day event) and the Honolulu Marathon (26.2 mi./42.195 km).

It is worth noting that no one present had ever done the bike race; Cdr. Collins calculated that, by shaving 3 miles off the course and riding counter-clockwise around the island, the bike leg could start at the finish of the Waikiki Rough Water and end at the Aloha Tower, the traditional start of the Honolulu Marathon. Prior to racing, each athlete received three sheets of paper listing a few rules and a course description. Handwritten on the last page was this exhortation: “SWIM 2.4 MILES! BIKE 112 MILES! RUN 26.2 MILES! BRAG FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE”, now a registered trademark.

With a nod to a local runner who was notorious for his demanding workouts, Collins said, “Whoever finishes first, we’ll call him the Iron Man.” Of the fifteen men to start off the in early morning on February 18th, 1978, twelve completed the race and the world’s first IRONMAN, Gordon Haller, completed in 11 hours, 46 minutes, and 58 seconds.

With no further marketing efforts, the race gathered as many as 50 athletes the following year. The race, however, was postponed a day because of bad weather conditions and only fifteen competitors started off the race Sunday morning. San Diego’s Tom Warren, age 35, won in 11 hours, 15 minutes, and 56 seconds. Lyn Lemaire, a championship cyclist from Boston, placed sixth overall and became the first “IRONWOMAN.”

Collins planned on changing the race into a relay event to draw more participants, but Sports Illustrated’s journalist Barry McDermott, in the area to cover a golf tournament, discovered the race and wrote a ten page account of it. During the following year, hundreds of curious participants contacted Collins.

The IRONMAN TRIATHLON inspired the addition of the triathlon sport (though over shorter distances) at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.

Today, the IRONMAN format remains unchanged, and the Hawaiian IRONMAN is still regarded as the most honored and prestigious triathlon event to win worldwide. For the 25th anniversary on October 18, 2003, nearly 1500 athletes were enlisted, most of which had to go through qualification competitions (although some were admitted through the lottery).

The IRONMAN TRIATHLON is a grueling event that pushes its participants to the limits of endurance. Some, however, find the prescribed distances fall short of these limits. Hence, events such as the double iron triathlon have come about. More extreme formats have evolved; there are in fact triple, quadruple, quintuple, deca, and 15× events that are multiples of the original IRONMAN distance triathlon.

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Growing up, I was never even remotely athletic, a distinct liability in a sports-mad country. Moreover, I grew to associate the idea of people being “sporty” with people who were generally obnoxious, who loved to lord their athletic prowess over others.

Triathlon, therefore, was a revelation for me: very ordinary people who were able to achieve extraordinary things. Team Z is the essence of triathlon in that regard, an amazing mix of experienced athletes (who turned out to be quite nice people) and absolute beginners, all sharing their different journeys. The team is full of people who push me when I need to be pushed and who push me when I don’t think I want to be pushed. Because the team pushes me, I’ve become something I never would have believed I could become: an athlete.

Mark Mullen

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Never say never on Team Z! I never thought I would do a triathlon let alone a half Ironman. I told anyone who would listen that the only way I would ever run another marathon was if it was in an Ironman and since I was never going to do an Ironman I had nothing to worry about. Well, so much for my “never” list. With the support of Team Z, I have raced numerous short distance triathlons, several half Ironmans, raced my best injury free marathon (I beat Oprah’s time), and signed up for an Ironman.
Regardless of your experience, speed, motivation, and goals there is a place for you on Team Z. When I joined the Team in December 2011, I did not know what to expect. My old game plan was to go as fast and as hard as possible regardless of the consequences. I do not recommend this strategy. I somehow always fell to side with an injury and burned out long before I reached the start line. This all changed when I joined Team Z. With the help of the coaches and my teammates, I am learning everyday how to find balance physically, set reachable goals, listen to my body, and enjoy the experience. I have a good friend on the Team that says that all the training and hard work is the journey. Race day is the victory lap. Gotta Love Team Z!

Kathy Hsu

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In 2009 I ran the Disney Marathon with my mom, accompanying her on her first 26.2 mile adventure. I remember standing at the start next to her and saying, “just think, those Ironman people have to do this after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112”¦..freaking lunatics!.” Two years later with a couple of sprint and Olympic triathlons under my belt, and after a couple of glasses of wine, I started to wonder, “Maybe I can do an Ironman too?” So I pulled the trigger, dropped the cash, and signed up for Ironman Cozumel. This followed by immediate panic. “Oh dear God, what have I done? I haven’t the slightest clue how to train for an Ironman.” A couple months later, by chance, I ran into a Z’er outside of my work and as we started talking Triathlon, she told me about Team Z. “Why not? It can’t hurt” I thought to myself. So I joined. It didn’t take me long to realize that this team had everything I wanted: knowledgeable and supportive coaches, structured training plans for all levels and abilities, fantastic teammates, and most importantly cold beers ready for you after every race!

Scott Leary