The Ford Ironman World Championship is the single greatest endurance event for triathletes in the world. Held each autumn in Kona, Hawaii, this sport-defining endurance event challenges participants in three areas: swimming, cycling and running. Each sport presents its own individual obstacles (both physically and mentally), as athletes begin the race with 2.4 miles of swimming in rough ocean waters, bike 112 miles and then run a full marathon (26.2 miles) in hot, humid temperatures. Additionally, time constraints for each segment of the Ironman increases the difficulty of the endurance event. As only 1,800 athletes qualify each year, months (sometimes even years) are spent in dedicated Ironman event preparation.
In 1977, athletes gathered in Honolulu at a relay-running race awards ceremony. A discussion about major island events emerged among a group of Navy Seals. One man, John Collins, brought up the idea, of combining each individual major Aloha State sporting events--the Waikiki Rough Water Swim, Around Oahu Bike Race and the Honolulu Marathon--to determine the fittest athlete? Collins then stated that the winner would be called the authentic "Ironman," and the event was born. Over the years since that time, other "Ironman" endurance triathlon interpretations have sprouted across the world. However, even 30 years after its inaugural event (when only 15 athletes participated), the Ford Ironman World Championship remains the gold standard, sport-defining endurance race for international triathlete competition.
The endurance challenges in the Ford Ironman World Championship are three-fold: 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking and 26.2 miles of running. Time limitations increase the difficulty of the event, as it is timed by event segment and from the beginning of the race. Each athlete wears a ChampionChip timing device for timing accuracy. The final cutoff for the entire race is 17 hours. After this time has passed, athletes who have not yet finished the event are disqualified. In addition to extreme endurance challenges, the Ford Ironman World Championship has famous weather conditions, including brisk sea winds (from 3 to 60 miles per hour) that create potential headwinds during the cycling leg of the race. Additionally, the sun's reflective light can generate heat as high as 100 degrees F, creating a hot and humid environment during the marathon portion of the event. The combination of triathlon difficulty and intense weather variables create one of the most challenging endurance experiences in the world.
While thousands of athletes hope to participate in the Ford World Ironman Championship each year, only 1,800 people seal their spot in the event. Entry in the race can be done in two ways: qualifying at an approved event in the calendar year (more than 29 exist worldwide) or through the non-transferable, lottery-drawn system. Many athletes train for seven months or longer for the Ironman competition. According to the Ford Ironman World Championship website, the average athlete dedicates 18 to 22 hours per week on building their athleticism. By swimming 7 miles, biking 232 and running almost 50 miles each week as part of a training program, Ironman participants hope to best prepare for the legendary endurance event.