First Ironman Triathlon: Fun Facts

During my recent flight to Honolulu, Hawaii, I read “Where It All Began – The 1978 Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon” by Tom Knoll.

In this book, Mr. Knoll describes how the iconic long course triathlon known today as IRONMAN® or IRONMAN 140.6 stemmed from a casual conversation between three guys in late 1977. He along with friends Dan Hedrickson and John Collins asked themselves what type of endurance athletes were the most fit. John and his wife Judy organized the first Iron Man race to help answer the question.

These pioneers of triathlon were onto something with their question and this race. In 2020, the value of the IRONMAN brand was $730 million. In 2022, the organization managing the IRONMAN brand had annual revenues estimated to be $260.1 million. It also had over 1,100 employees.

Here are some interesting tidbits about the first Iron Man triathlon from Tom Knoll’s record of this race.

Fun Facts About the First Iron Man Triathlon

Time and Date: 0700, Saturday, February 18, 1978

Basis for distances and courses for the three legs of the first Iron Man Triathlon

  • Swim: 2.4 mile Waikiki Roughwater Swim competition
  • Bike: 112 mile Dick Evans Around The Island Race
  • Run: 26.2 mile Honolulu Marathon

Number of registrants: 15

Registration fee: $5, including a hand-crafted finisher award and screen printing of a finisher’s blank t-shirt or sweatshirt. After the race, John Collins refunded $2 to each of the registrants since the costs came in under budget. (Does that happen anymore?)

The picture from the book’s cover included above shows the Iron Man finisher award produced by John Collins.

Swim details:

  • Location: Sans Souci Beach (now called Kaimana Beach) in Waikiki, between the Kaimana Beach Hotel and War Memorial Natatorium in Kapi’olani Regional Park.
  • Fastest swim: 57:35 by Archie Hapai.
  • Longest swim: 2:13:05 by Tom Knoll; used side and breast stroke and lost his goggles early in the swim.
Kaimana Beach in Waikiki in Honolulu Hawaii in 2024
Sans Souci Beach, now named Kaimana Beach, was the starting location for first Iron Man triathlon. This picture was taken at the beach on March 10, 2024, just over 46 years after the first Iron Man triathlon began here.

Bike details:

  • Course: counterclockwise around the island of Oahu on public roads.
  • Tom Knoll’s bike: 3-speed Free Spirit bike purchased new from Sears & Roebuck for $96.
  • Fastest bike: 6:56:00 by Gordon Haller.
  • Longest bike: 11:39:00 by Dan Hedrickson.

Run details:

  • Fastest run: 3:30:00 by Gordon Haller.
  • Longest run: 8:20:00 by Archie Hapai.


  • Number of finishers: 12
  • Top three finishers:
    • Gordon Haller: 11:46:40
    • John Dunbar: 12:20:27
    • Dave Orlowski: 13:54:15
  • Tom Knoll finished 6th
  • John Collins finished 9th

More History

Chapter 10 of this book includes a brief review of earlier triathlons, the earliest dating back to 1921. Throughout the book, you will learn what Tom and others from this first race did in the years following this race.

What Type of Endurance Athletes are the Most Fit?

I am not sure it’s that simple. However, you may. Leave your comments below to share your thoughts.

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Affiliate Disclosure

® IRONMAN and IRONMAN 140.6 are registered trademarks of World Triathlon Corporation. 

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Regarding who is the most fit as a result of an Ironman??? In my opinion…anyone who finishes!