OPINION: Ironman – In Praise of Insanity

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It’s like Independence Day for Speedos.

Normally reserved for weathered, less-than-reserved European gentlemen of a certain age, the Speedo’s role here in Hawaii isn’t typically glamorous. Serving as a last line of defense between innocent beachgoers and the occasional immodest adventurer, this stretchy fabric is normally all that stands between us and (all of) them.

But once a year, this heroic garment ceases to serve as a retaining wall for hairy belly-flab, and takes on a noble air as it graces the taut forms of the world’s most masochistic athletes.

Its Ironman time, baby.

On Saturday, Oct 13, over 1,800 carb-loaded overachievers will cram themselves into Kailua Bay, temporarily altering the surrounding ocean’s chemistry as they await the crack of the starting gun.

The fact that most of them will make it through the first watery 2.4 miles of this race is proof-positive that sharks possess a little something called “self-restraint.”


Apart from showcasing physical fitness, the Ironman Triathlon is a shining example of mankind’s ability to change clothes really quickly. Not content to simply clock competitor’s movements over surf and turf, race organizers actually time the athlete’s transitions between events.

Conceivably, a competitor could blow the whole race in one bathroom trip.

What happens on the bike, stays on the bike.

Which leads us back to sporting apparel. The sad reality for a few brave pairs of Speedos is that some of their hyper-competitive masters will courageously bypass the Porta Pottys that line the 112 mile bike leg of the race, and choose to soil themselves in the name of victory.

Too bad there are no gold medals for undergarments, because the most brutal leg of the contest lies at its end.

Those surviving the heat and chafe of Queen Ka`ahumanu Highway still have a 26.2 mile run to look forward to (the .2 was added to allow TV crews room to properly film severely dehydrated runners crawling toward the finish.)


Other than testing the limits of the human kidney, this last leg of the race is where capitalists really get to let their hair down. Normally illegal in Kona, countless banners advertising everything from beer to chocolate milk line the roadway, culminating in the giant TIMEX clock that hangs over the finish line.

Take that, Outdoor Circle.

But for all its multicolored commercialism, the appeal of the Ironman event really is the sheer insanity of its otherwise obscure competitors.

Lance Armstrong at an Ironman qualifying event in Florida. Courtesy photo.

Television networks and sponsors were likely devastated when Lance Armstrong was banned from the race over a doping investigation earlier this year. Media outlets had planned on increased coverage of the event in the hopes that a celebrity athlete would attract more attention.

But the Ironman is really the “everyman” sporting event. As nuts as it sounds, many of us could conceivably qualify for this thing, if only we possessed enough hatred of our own joints.


The path to the championship is difficult, but a relatively open qualifying system makes it one of the world’s most accessible roads to athletic glory, including 100 slots reserved for a “lottery” system that allows athletes of varying ability the chance to compete.

While a few celebrity competitors may boost ratings (who doesn’t want to see the entire offensive line of the Denver Broncos peddling down Highway 11?) the appeal of the race is really just its simple, brutal honesty.

Despite the integrity of many professional sports falling victim to the off-field antics of entitled star athletes (golf included – thanks, Tiger), the Ironman World Championship remains an event focused on men and women overcoming adversity.

It’s not about who wears the Speedos. It’s about how they use them.

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