Respect the Race: Everything You Wanted To Know About Ironman, Pt. 1

Mike DojcCorrespondent IMay 16, 2009

The original rule sheet said it all: Swim 2.4 Miles, Bike 112 Miles, Run 26.2 Miles and Brag for the Rest of Your Life.


Ozzy Osbourne might've proclaimed himself an "Iron Man" back in 1971 but unless boozing, snorting and bat-hoovering constitute a triathlon, he might want to settle for being some other kind of heavy metal avatar. (Last I heard, strontium and cobalt were awaiting a champion.)

Thing is, while the Ozzman's known for being completely off his rocker, his athletic regimen isn'tβ€”because booze played an integral part in the birthing process of the most grueling single day in all of sports.

In the somewhat ironic spirit of "raising the bar," the Ironman story began over 30 years ago in a boozecan on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Former navy commander John Collins and some of his buddies were arguing over which of Hawaii's trinity of endurance events was the toughest. (At the time there was the 2.4-mile Waikiki roughwater swim, the 112-mile bike race around Oahu and the 26.2-mile Honolulu marathon.)

The debate centred around who really was the fittest: the swimmer, the runner, or the cyclist. Or the drinker, because only copious alcohol consumption could stitch together the Frankenstein monster of one-day triathlons. "Whoever finishes first, we'll call the 'Ironman,'" Collins proclaimed (then, presumably ordered another round).

As the prominent sports medicine specialist PZ Pearce later commented: If God invented marathons to keep people from doing anything more stupid, triathlons must have taken Him completely by surprise."

A six-time Ironman champion (1980, '82, '83, '84, '86, '87) and the first inductee into the Ironman Hall of Fame, even Dave Scott was flabbergasted the first time he heard about the race.

"I was in Hawaii and had won the Waikiki roughwater swim," he recounts. "This guy came up to me with a flyer and said, 'Hey, you should do the Ironman.' My first reaction was, this race [must run] over three days. I thought the swim was on one day, the bike was the second and the run was the third. When I swallowed the truth, I thought, 'And people finish this thing?!"

Fellow six-time Ironman champion Mark Allen ('89-'93, '95) had similar sentiments.

"It just seemed totally wild that somebody could do all three of those disciplines, at those distances, in one day," he remembers. "I thought, 'How crazy can people get?' But then I thought, 'I want to go there and try that.' Something about Ironman was calling me to go."

Another Ironman big kahuna Tim Deboom (the '01 and '02 champion) was also guided by voices, but he was only marginally awed by the race.

"I didn't think it was insane," Deboom says. "But it was daunting."

Onward toΒ  Part 2

This article first ran in the now-defunct Rev Magazine.