An iron man competition is a triathlon, an athletic event that challenges competitors to complete three legs of a race: one swimming, one biking and one running. Although the term "iron man competition" might be used to describe any triathlon, particularly those that involve certain distances for each leg, the official Ironman is a trademarked series of events. The main event is held each year in Kailua Kona, Hawaii, where competitors must complete a 2.4-mile (3.86-km) swim across the Kailua Kona Bay, then a 112-mile (180.2-km) bike ride from Keauhou to Hawi and back again before running 26.2 miles (42.2 km) along the coast from Keauhou to Keahole Point and then to Kailua Kona. Other Ironman triathlons are held at other locations around the world.
To compete in the main Ironman event, an athlete must earn one of the slots that are available in a number of domestic or international locations. Some locations that host the qualifying events include Japan, South Africa, the Canary Islands, Europe, and the United States. Each location has a different number of available slots, and the way they are won is different from one location to the next. Some slots are also made available through a lottery drawing.
The Ironman competition was first run in 1978 and has been going ever since. It was born from a debate among athletes as to which were the most fit — swimmers, bicyclists, or runners. Although the competition has been running every year, it was moved to October of every year rather than February, which is when it originally took place. The transition period was in 1982, and as a result, there were two competitions that year.
From its humble beginnings, this competition has grown dramatically. In fact, the first competition was host to only eleven competitors. The following year, approximately 50 competitors showed up for the chance to win the prestigious iron man title. Only fifteen of these athletes actually competed, however, as the competition was postponed due to inclement weather. Today, iron man events see over 1,500 competitors annually.
The number of iron man competitors would be even greater if they did not have to first pass through the rigorous qualifying event. In fact, more than 3,000 hopefuls enter the lottery every year in hopes of finding a slot. However, only 150 spots are awarded through the lottery to United States citizens, and 50 are awarded internationally.