One of the first things people think of when they consider the Big Island of Hawaii is the Ironman Championships. It is one of the toughest races in the world, and while few make it, the race in Kona is legendary. This triathlon event has been held on the island since 1981 and consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile marathon run, making it one of the toughest endurance events in the world. Once a year, tens of thousands of people come to see the best 4000 athletes in the world of all age groups compete against each other and themselves
History of Ironman on the Big Island
The origin of Ironman on the Big Island dates back to 1978 when Navy Commander John Collins, a former triathlete, proposed the idea for an endurance race that would combine three existing events: swimming 2.4 miles in Kailua Bay, biking 112 miles around the island, and running 26.2 miles from Keauhou to Hawi. The first event was held in February 1982 with 15 participants and has since grown into one of the most popular races in the world.
How Long Has It Been Held?
Since its inception in 1982, Ironman on the Big Island has been held annually every October or November, depending on weather conditions. Over 4,500 athletes participate each year, making it one of the largest Ironman events worldwide.
In addition to this championship event, there are also several other smaller races throughout the year, including half-Ironmans (1/2 distance) and sprints (1/4 distance). These events provide an opportunity for athletes of all levels to compete in a variety of distances and challenge themselves.
When Does Ironman Take Place?
Date and Time of the Race: The date for Ironman varies each year but typically takes place in October or November. This year’s race will be held on Saturday, October 24th at 7 am HST (Hawaii Standard Time). Unfortunately, the Championships have been split between Nice, France, and Kona, with this year’s women’s race taking place in Kona and the men’s race in Nice. In 2024, they will reverse, with the men coming to Kona.
The course starts with a 2.4-mile open water swim off Kailua Bay, followed by a 112-mile bike ride through some of the most beautiful scenery in Hawaii, including lava fields and lush tropical forests. It ends with a 26.2-mile run along Ali’i Drive overlooking Kailua Bay, finishing at Kamakahonu Beach Park near downtown Kona.
As someone who has completed a few Ironmans, seeing the best of the best in action in person is amazing. For instance, in the 50-years-old category, in order to be good enough to make it to the Championships for your age, you most likely have to run your marathon section in under 3 hours. So, you swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and THEN run at a pace of 6:52 for 26.2 miles. A pace that most people can’t run for one mile. A time that most people dream of if they are only running a marathon. But at over 50 years old, this is what the best are doing.
What Other Races Take Place on the Big Island?
From Ironman triathlons to marathons, there are plenty of opportunities for athletes looking for a challenge.
Types of Races Available: The Big Island offers a variety of different types of races that cater to all levels and abilities. For those who want an intense physical challenge, there are Ironman triathlons, half-marathons, 10Ks, 5Ks, and more. For those looking for something less strenuous but still exciting, there are also fun runs like color runs or glow runs, as well as obstacle courses such as mud runs or zombie crawls.
Popular Races and Events on the Big Island: Some popular races on the island include the Ironman World Championship held annually in Kailua-Kona; Hapalua Half Marathon, which takes place every April; XTERRA World Championship, which is held each October; Lavaman Triathlon, which occurs each March; and Run 4 Hope, which happens every November. In addition to these larger events, there are also smaller local running clubs that organize their own weekly group runs throughout the year.
Where Can You Watch Ironman on the Big Island?
Spectator Locations for Ironman Races
The most popular spot is Kailua Pier in Kona, where the start and finish lines are located. This area also offers plenty of restaurants and shops nearby, so you can grab a bite or do some shopping while watching the action unfold.
Other prime viewing spots include Waikoloa Beach Resort, which provides a great view of swimmers as they make their way through two miles of open water; Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows, which overlooks both bike and run courses; Ali’i Drive along Queen Kaahumanu Highway near Keauhou Shopping Center; Holualoa Village at mile 23 on Kuakini Highway; Puako Petroglyph Preserve at mile 28 on Queen Kaahumanu Highway; Hapuna Beach State Park at mile 32 on Queen Kaahumanu Highway; Kawaihae Harbor at mile 35 off Akoni Pule Highway (Highway 270); Mahukona Beach Park at mile 40 off Akoni Pule Highway (Highway 270); Spencer Beach Park near Kapaau town at Mile 42 off Akoni Pule Highway (Highway 270); Kohala Mountain Road between Hawi Town and Waimea Town just before Mile 45 off Akoni Pule Highway (Highway 270).
Why Did Ironman Leave Hawaii?
The Ironman organization wanted to separate the race into separate women’s and men’s races so that they could focus on each race rather than combining them. It also meant they could have larger fields and more TV revenue. The race is a big financial gain for the Island of Hawaii, but it also puts a strain on the community. Traffic and lodging become issues, and essentially, the town gets taken over by the World Championships. Having TWO races in which this happened was more than the community felt they could handle and they expressed their concern. Thus, the decision was made to have one race each year. Kona is what makes the Championships special, and we hope they stay on the Big Island or go back to having only one race. Our feeling is that a race in any other city becomes just a race.