WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?
Inside the minds of Iron Man Founders Judy and John Collins on 18 February 1978 at The First Annual Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon.
Judy and John Collins wrote their recollections, below, for the Ironman Kona 2008 Race Program. The two monologues recreate what John and Judy were thinking on 18 February 1978. Underlined words denote John; the rest of the text, Judy.
“The First Ironman” in the Kona Race Program, page 16, was introduced by Bob Babbitt. Babbitt was the editor of the official program of Ironman World Championship 2008. Bob also made some editing changes. Bob wrote: “John and Judy Collins were the pioneers. They were the ones who came up with the Ironman name, the Ironman hole-in-the-head trophy, the Ironman rules and the Ironman distances. Over the past 30 years, their brainchild grew from 15 starters in 1978 to a worldwide phenomenon. We asked John and Judy to share their memories of that fateful day. Judy's words document the creation of the event while John's words, in italics, outline his day, since he was not only co-race director but also a participant in the first-ever Ironman Triathlon. - Bob Babbitt” On page 20 of the program Bob mentions that he did the race on Oahu in 1980, and arrays some pictures. “Then and Now. The words of John and Judy Collins mean as much today as they did three decades ago: Swim 2.4, Ride 112, Run 26.2, Brag for the rest of your life.” Below is what we submitted to Bob.
18 February 1978, O'ahu, Hawai'i.
Today we launch the first triathlon in Hawai'i and the first endurance triathlon anywhere.
We awaken to the scent of paint drying on T-shirts, "FINISHER" yet to be added; the sounds of the children, Kristin and Michael, off to a swim meet; the sight of Finisher trophies and parts where Kristin had been helping John; the thought that Judy would be a Did Not Start, sick, that Michael wanted to be a Late Start, "No."
Drive the VW van to the swim start at Sans Souci Beach.
The day will start and end at Ka'piolani Park. Here we trained for the 1976 Honolulu Marathon, running "In the Footsteps of the Kings' Runners." Running Gurus Scaff and Wagner invited us to break the Marathon record at either end. We signed up. Our goal was to feel like we could run all day without tiring. A Naval Shipyard runner who can do that has the nickname Iron Man.
Not long ago we did not run for recreation or swim laps in a pool. Our family did make a long bike trip to Yosemite in 1973. The children swam so we signed up too. Our swim coach told us to run. Later, Hawai'i's warm waters and tropical breezes lured us outside to do more.
Have we forgotten anything?
For the swim, English Channel Rules - no fins, flotation, wet-suits, touching of board or boat. On the bike, hard helmets mandatory and no drafting, for safety reasons. Entrants have a support vehicle. The drivers have the E.R.G., the electrolyte drink we have provided, and will check in by phone on the bike course.
7 AM. Sunrise. 18 showed up,15 will start. Spit in the goggles, put them on. Paddlers are waiting outside the reef. Calm. The pistol sounds, the watches are started, 2.4 miles to swim.
Back through the reef now to the beach finish at Fort DeRussey. Shower. Put surfboard on VW. Get out the bike. Dress. Drink E.R.G. Eat toast with honey. Head on out. My driver is still out there in a boat, Lifeguard for the swim.
It's going to be a long one. Some among us have said it is not fair to talk about a race for more than the time it took to do it. Our rules: Brag all you want after today.
The Schwinn feels good. Did the VW van pass me? Whose idea was this?
The two of us came up with the idea of an endurance triathlon at the Oahu Perimeter Relay Awards. We were 2 weeks away from the 1977 interclub competition between the Waikiki Swim Club and the Mid-Pacific Road Runners. The Run-Swim is a Sprinters event with few surprises.
So many are very fast at both running and swimming. We needed a tie-breaker. A longer course? A bicycle leg? A triathlon? A very long triathlon? That's it. Connect the Waikiki Roughwater Swim and the Honolulu Marathon with a bike ride around the island on the Around Oahu Bike Course. That would be about 140 miles in all, equal to the O'ahu Perimeter. Cool! John said to Judy that whoever finishes first we'll call the Iron Man. We unveiled our new event at the 1977 Waikiki Swim Club Banquet.
We knew about triathlon.
Our family was in the first-ever run-bike-swim event to be called a triathlon, on 25 September 1974. Jack Johnstone and Don Shanahan planned the run-bike-run/swim x 4 course as a novelty event for the San Diego Track Club. Later our Coronado Masters swim coach, Stan Antrim, and Bob Weaver added a bike-run-swim-run triathlon to the Coronado Optimist Sports Fiesta on 27 July 1975. A few weeks after that our family moved to Hawai'i in time for all four of us to swim in the 2.4 mile Waikiki Roughwater.
Two years later, last year, we and many others were swimming and running longer and longer distances. In the same month that Judy swam 9 miles from Lana'i to Mau'i, a female first, John ran his first 50 K, concurrently, while we both were racing in the Primo Relays.
Sandy Beach, Rabbit Island, Makapu'u Beach. What a view! Remember, turn right at the hospital, down through Kailua town. What's that? A group of fast bicyclists coming this way with a police escort? No wonder the bike club could not help us. We assured the police we would keep a low profile on the roads today. Any traffic citation is an automatic DQ. Raining now. Glad I left the fenders on the bike.
We planned this triathlon to be safe, self-supporting, simple, such that we two could plan it, official it and do it, a future club event. We need volunteers, that is for sure. The likely race day help have either entered the event or are on support teams. It was a hard sell to find drivers and timers.
Around Kan'eohe Bay and on to the North Shore. Has my support team called in? Time to eat some real food. Chili. A bad idea. Up and over, through the cane fields, down Kunia Road. You can see Waikiki from here! On Kamehameha Highway again, the Nimitz, Aloha Tower soon. I can't wait to get off this bike.
Just the Marathon to go now, out and back. So far so good. Some dropouts. My legs have no punch. Should I try some beer like that marathoner who stashes it on the course, who says it is good for the legs? Another bad idea. My legs burn. Judy prescribes sugar and caffeine.
At last, downhill on Diamond Head Road and on to the far end of Ka'piolani Park. I feel pretty good now. I should have gone faster. Done! What's my time?
John did the last mile under 7 minutes to finish at 17:00:38. The timers at the Waikiki Bandstand, son Michael and friend, can go home. We'll sit in our '68 van and wait for the next Finisher.
We recall now that it was a few swim and run friends, and family, who were our core race staff. Support teams pitched in. From the beginning triathletes have relied on race volunteers to the very end.
First to finish The First Annual Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon was Gordon Haller in 11 hours, 46 minutes, 58 seconds.
In 1978 we were ready for something new, we and the rest of the world! The Honolulu swim-bike-run distances are now repeated by thousands each year in settings all over the planet. Those triathletes who make it to the Ironman Triathlon World Championship are fit, young to old, and fast. We never thought that the Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon would be taken over by the Sprinters.
Swim in tropical waters, bike in the tradewinds, run "In the Footsteps of the Kings' Runners."
It is irresistible. Smile about Your Ironman for the rest of your life.
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