The History of the Ironman World Championships

The inaugural Ironman race, held in 1978, contained a handwritten note on the final page of the rules and regulations. “Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life!” A phrase that is now trademarked.

The Ironman Triathlon is a series of long-distance triathlon races established by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), which are comprised of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, and a 26.22-mile run. The events are executed in that order and without rest. The Ironman Triathlon is one of the most difficult one-day sporting challenges.

The idea for the triathlon race came into existence at the awards ceremony for the 1977 Oahu Perimeter Relay. The Mid-Pacific Road Runners and the Waikiki Swim Club got into a debate concerning who was more fit. Navy Commander John Collins suggested a race combining the courses of the Waikiki Rough Water Swim (2.4 miles), the Around-Oahu Bike Race (112 miles), and the Honolulu Marathon (26.2 miles) to iron out their differences. “Whoever finishes first, we’ll call the Ironman,” said Collins, in honor of a local running legend famous for his vigorous workouts.

On the premier race, held on February 18, 1978, 15 men answered the call at the starting line; twelve finished. Of the twelve, all of whom were required to supply their own nutrition and hydration, Gordon Halle was the first individual to rock the title Ironman, completing the course in 11 hours, 46 minutes, 58 seconds. John Dunbar, the runner-up, had led after the second transition, but he ran out of water on the marathon course, which caused his support crew to resort to improvising with beer.

The next year, fifty athletes showed. When severe weather postponed the event, fifteen competitors raced. Tom Warren of San Diego came in first; Lyn Lemaire of Boston crossed the line in sixth place, becoming the first “Ironwoman.” A “Sports Illustrated” journalist chanced upon the event and marketing took off.

In 1982 a mantra was born when Julie Moss, who was in first place, was felled by dehydration and fatigue just yards from the finish line. Although Kathleen McCartney placed first, Moss crawled to the finish line, and the philosophy that just finishing is a victory was made flesh.

Today the annual event on Kailua-Kona is known as The Ironman World Championship.

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