On Saturday, roughly 2,000 elite athletes from more than 60 countries will convene on Hawaii's Big Island for the Ironman World Championship -- perhaps the most grueling and prestigious triathlon in the world. Whether you hate all exercise, are vaguely familiar with a gym, or are an Ironman yourself, here's what you need to know to appreciate the physical stamina and mental willpower on display this weekend.
Each participant had to qualify in other sanctioned international triathlons just to enter the World Championship -- in other words, it's uber elite.
You can watch the whole race from the comfort of your own couch on www.ironmanworldchampionship.com. (It begins at 6:30am HST, which is 12:30pm EST.)
The first leg is a 2.4 mile swim that begins and ends at Kailua Pier. Swimmers will be on the lookout after two competitors were bit earlier this week by a presumptuous and curious monk seal while training.
Next up, racers do a 112-mile bike ride alongside the "dark-and-rugged lava fields lining the South Kohala Coast." In other words, it'll be hot. Like really, really hot.
Competitors then run a full marathon (26.2 miles) in the Kailua-Kona area to the Ironman finish line. Last year’s top finisher, Australian Pete Jacobs, completed the full course in 8 hours, 18 minutes and 37 seconds.
Notable competitors racing their first Ironman Triathlon World Championship this year will include celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey and former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward. Regarding his training in the Hawaii waters, Ramsey said, "When I was swimming all I could think about was lunch -- those fish looked gorgeous."
Craig Alexander, a legendary Australian triathlete, is hoping to make history this weekend as the first 40-year-old to win the Ironman World Championship. Alexander, who is already the oldest men's champion, has won the race three times and is the race record holder with a time of 8 hours, 3 minutes, 56 seconds.
Race organizers have "subtly" increased security at this year's event because of the Boston Marathon bombing earlier this year. Spectators will receive flyers with information about what to watch for, including suspicious packages, behaviors and odors, and how to reach officials if needed.
Every year, two days before the big event, athletes "break the ice" and get out pre-race jitters by stripping down and participating in a 1.2 mile Underpants Run.
Expect to see lots of interesting tattoos on the toned bodies. Tattoos are so ingrained in the culture that the Ironman website has a whole section called "Ink of the Week."
The inaugural Ironman triathlon was conceptualized by athletes in Hawaii who were trying to settle the debate of who are the most fit athletes: swimmers, runners or cyclists?
While anyone who finishes the race on Saturday will be a winner in our books, there can only be one, true Iron Man.
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