During the early morning of Oct. 11, there will be a certain energy that fills Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, that only one event can foster — the 2014 Ironman World Championship. Electricity will strike the atmosphere as 2,000-plus of the planet’s most elite, physically driven athletes will endure physical — and mental — torture in the hope of converting a dream into unforgettable reality. Some will achieve, others will fall short. The Big Island course can be mean and unforgiving.
With a 17-hour time cutoff, the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile marathon — all done in succession — makes the Ironman World Championship possibly the most physically-demanding single-day athletic event on the planet.
About 80,000 athletes attempt to qualify for the world championship either through yearly worldwide full- or half-distance Ironman races, or by lottery or legacy. This year, the athletes will represent 49 states and 68 countries. Domestically, the largest number of athletes competing come from California (123), Hawaii (61), Colorado (58), Texas (48) and New York (43); Internationally, Australia (297), Germany (150), Canada (134), Great Britain (113) and France (88).
History of the race
Currently in its 36th year, the Ironman World championship has grown from a small field of 15 competitors — 12 finishers — in 1978.
The race’s idea was originated by Honolulu’s Judy and John Collins, who suggested combining Hawaii’s three toughest endurance races — the 2.4-mile Waikiki Roughwater Swim, 112-mile Around-O’ahu Bike Race and 26.2-mile Honolulu Marathon.
On Feb. 18, 1978 the inaugural ‘Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon’ was born-and-raced in Waikiki. In 1981, the Ironman was shifted to the lava-laden fields of the Kailua-Kona coast, where competitors are known to battle 45 mph crosswinds and 95-degree heat.
Maps and course descriptions are courtesy Ironman.com.
Without a doubt, the mass swim start is the most emotionally charged start in the sport, thanks to TV helicopters, enthusiastic spectators and the sun rising over Mt. Hualalai.
Currents can be a factor and water temperature in Kailua Bay is typically around 79 degrees.
For the first time ever, the age group athlete field will have two separate starts. The men’s age group race will begin at 6:50 a.m., with the women’s age group starting at 7 a.m. The professional men’s field will start at 6:25 a.m., with the professional women beginning at 6:30 a.m.
As cyclists make their way north along the Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway, from Kailua-Kona to the turnaround in Hawi, they can be exposed to intense trade winds that buffet much of the exposed western and northern coast of the Big Island.
The winds vary in intensity from steady to heavy blasts that can blow cyclists across the road. For this reason, disc wheels are not permitted. Winds may subside during the gradual climb to Hawi but pick up again as athletes make their way to Transition Two.
After exiting Transition Two, runners will wind through town before taking on Ali’i Drive, where spectators will pack the roads. Athletes will then retrace their steps, climb up Palani Road to the Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway and make their way to the Natural Energy Laboratory Hawaii Authority (NELHA).
Unless cloud cover or nightfall spares them, high heat and humidity should be anticipated on the run course.