On Feb. 18, 1978, the endurance-testing Iron Man triathlon took place for the first time. The triathlon is comprised of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a marathon, all in succession with no breaks. The first Iron Man took place on the island of Oahu, which is part of the Hawaii Island Chain. Later, the race was moved to a more accommodating location on the main island of Hawaii.
The Iron Man was first conceived by John and Judy Collins as a way to find the toughest endurance athlete out of a pool of daring contestants. John Collins, a naval officer who was stationed in Hawaii at the time, had been debating amongst his peers as to whether swimmers, runners, or bikers were tougher athletes. The race originally sought to combine three of the toughest endurance races; the Waikiki Roughwater Swim, the Around Oahu bike race and the Honolulu marathon.
The Waikiki Roughwater Swim is one of the most notorious open-water swimming races in the world. It was founded in 1970 and has garnered a large participation field after attracting Olympic gold medalists and elite swimmers from all over the world. It attracts about 1,000 swimmers every year, with many unable to finish the tough, open water swim course.
The Around Oahu bike race is a difficult race covering over 180 kilometers through rough terrain, pitting the competitors against unpredictable winds. However as the island of Oahu has become more congested from urban development, the race is no longer called the Around Oahu ride, and is now the Honolulu Century Ride.
The Honolulu Marathon invites endurance runners from all over the world to brave the rugged running conditions, with the course winding onto the Kona Highway where athletes must face the intense heat of the Hawaiian sun.
The first Iron Man triathlon in 1978 only attracted 15 competitors due to the severity of the race. The first finisher was Gordon Haller from Honolulu, who finished the triathlon in 11 hours and 46 minutes.
The first woman to finish the grueling competition was Lyn Lemaire, who competed in the second year of the triathlon. Lemaire finished the Iron Man triathlon in an overall time of 12 hours and 55 minutes.
As the race grew in notoriety, more people became interested, with the third year of the Iron Man turning out over a hundred competitors. As awareness of the race grew and entries climbed the next year, the Iron Man was moved to the main island to ensure safety and to provide adequate facilities for the contestants. In 1981, the race organizers also provided support teams for competitors, making the triathlon much more accessible to a wider crowd. The triathlon started to attract a much wider range of athletes, with people flying in from all over the world to compete.
Today, to compete in the Iron Man triathlon is a badge of honor and worthy of respect in many athletic circles. It has become a world-renowned event, and today the Iron Man series hosts more than 150 races around the world in 53 countries.