Monday, October 3, 2011

Ironman Hawaii - Then and Now

When I first went to Kona for Ironman Hawaii in 1989, the sport of triathlon was tiny and the group of athletes in it, was this small, obscure group of fitness fanatics and endurance junkies. Everyone knew everyone else. The sport even today, compared to many other sports is rather small, but back then it was really small.

Comparing Ironman Hawaii today to the race back then, there were some major differences:

- No UnderPants Run. Most triathletes did the whole race, and practically lived in their speedos while in Kona for the race, with great offense to the locals. Hence the need for the UP run to bring attention to this bad habit.

- No internet. Seriously. You had to wait at least a month until Triathlete Magazine came out with the story of the race to actually find out what happened. Or even longer to watch the race on TV on NBC. Believe it or not back then they actually covered the race

- No Cervelo and a host of other main-stay brands in the sport. Cervelo co-founders, Phil White & Gerard Vroomen had just started their Master's in Engineering at McGill University

- No Slowtwitch (see No Internet) Hard to imagine!

- No Ford. The sponsor back then was Bud-Lite!

- No wind. Every few years, Madame Pele gives a calm year with gentle to no winds. Mercifully '89 was one of those years.

- No Ironman Lake Placid, Ironman Florida, Ironman Arizona etc . . In fact the only other Ironman in North America was Ironman Canada!

- No 70.3 races. Back then it was simple - you called them half-Ironmans

- No timing chips and no Sportstats. Results were all manually done and analog.

- No compression socks, super swim suits, power meters, super-aero bikes, salt pills or complicated nutrition strategies. How did we do it?

I recall getting the hand-book that the race organizers mailed to you about a month before the race( Mail, remember that?) I was floored when I read the recommended weekly training distances to finish the Ironman. It was something like 8 miles swimming/300 mikes cycling/60 miles running. Good Lord help me, I thought. I was averaging about half of those totals!!

As mentioned in yesterdays blog, '89 was the year of Dave Scott & Mark Allen's now famous and epic Iron War. Given the closeness of that race and given modern day's really live coverage on, I would think that this titanic battle between those two giants of the sport, would have made for some very compelling viewing.

My only memory of it all was on the way out to the turn on the run, and with Dave & Mark barreling along back along the same lane of road, I was forced off into the shoulder to run for about 100m, by the phalanx of followers on bikes, cars and media people following the Dave & Mark show along. That was the live coverage of the race back then! Watch it yourself!

Another completely personal, but potential change-the-course-of-history incident was when a few days before the race when I was coming out of the drive-way of our condo on Alii Drive, for a bike ride and nearly taking Dave Scott out, while he was out for a run! Of course Dave would unfortunately, go on to loose that battle with Mark, that day, but in retrospect, I could have potentially robbed the triathlon world of the Iron War!

Final anecdote from '89: There was a guy walking around town that week with a strange looking bare bike frame slung over his shoulder. It was a new bike company with, what the man called, a "triathlon specific" geometry. He said it would make you cycle faster, and run better. That man's name was Dan Empfield, and the bike company had taken the name of one of the states of Mexico - Quintana Roo My only thought at the time, was, we are in Hawaii, why not name the company after one of the Hawaiian Islands?

If you raced Ironman Hawaii, "Back in the day", what are your memories? What's different now in your view?

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rossi said...

Ha ! Loved the article bought back memories , I was first there in 1984 . We still had the cattle grids on the way up to Hawi , We still had Cowman and some other quirky characters , we had the heat !!! We didnt have lava java - we had the Kona Surf transition , we also had the giant Bud can run turn around out past the airport and the guys these days think the energy lab is tough try running running a mile PAST the airport to the turnaround ! Man I could go on - My anecdote for you - took my bike around to a mechanic couple of days before the race , during the small talk asked him who would win , he nodded to a quiet bloke sitting in the corner - turned out it was Mark Allen . Look forward to your blog Fleck - keep it up mate . Ross

Steve Fleck said...


Glad you like it.

Thanks for reading.


Mal Booth said...

Hey, I was there in 1989 too. I am sitting now in Hono airport awaiting a connection to Kona to watch this year's race. I have a friend racing and I give her some coaching advice (that she mostly ignores I think). Wise woman.
Anyway, I remember the big Bud can out way past the airport never getting any closer as we ran towards it and everyone running on the white strips because the road was so hot.
I thought we did have timing chips then. Something was attached to my speedo cord and then I think someone put something around my ankle with velcro.
On the run I think I witnessed the infamous pass-around-the-camera-van but maybe I'm imagining that. I know I did see both Mark & Dave heading back to town very close together with about 6 miles to go.
It is years since I've raced now ('97 was my last) and when I went back in 2008 to watch I remember not really being able to understand why anyone does this. I think it must look an awful lot worse than it feels. And I'm pretty sure that I'd not even attempt one if I'd seen what I saw in 2008 first. It must have been someone else in 1989.