Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Really Crazy Side of Ironman Hawaii - The Under-Pants Run

The annual gathering of the Under-Pants Run Tribe at Pacific Vibrations

Full disclosure - I did my first Ironman, at Ironman Hawaii (IMH) in 1989 wearing a Speedo bathing suit the whole way for swim, bike and run. Not sure what I was thinking. Perhaps I had lost my mind, in that I thought that the 30 or so seconds that I would save in transition, would be a factor in a 9 hour race!! However, I was not alone - I seem to recall many competitors in that race going all the way in the Speedo.

On the race course was one thing, but around town during race week was something else. I kind of got this, but there was a group of triathletes back then that seemed to think that living in the Speedo full-time was acceptable/normal - going shopping, hanging out at coffee shops, running to/from the pier for a swim, all in the Speedo. Unbeknown to these folks the local Hawaiians were taking great offense to the Haole's behavior. I didn't see anything, but I had heard that there had been some confrontations and incidents.

In 1998 during IMH race week, Ironman vets and good friends Paul Huddle, Tim Morris, and Chris Danahy, wearing only white briefs, set out to set the record straight and change the mind-set, with the first Under-Pants Run. (Be sure to read over "The Rules") The three of them started out in front of a modest crowd gathered at Lava Java one morning for coffee & breakfast with a cheer and a few laughs. They wanted to point out, by sending up and lampooning the typical race and casual garb of more than a few triathletes that they were offending the locals!

And so it started. If you scroll through the postings at this link, you'll see a number of posts by Huddle re-counting with a great deal of hilarity, various Under-Pants runs at IMH over the years, and at other Ironman races around the world. Some others, such as the ones at Ironman Lake Placid and Ironman Canada have become very big deals. Even though these runs have nothing to do with the race, or have a formal relationship with the WTC or Ironman , they now often get put in the official schedule of each IM race, and for many they are a must-do event during Ironman race week! Forget that silly little World Championship race on Saturday! I kid you not, that there will be people there in Kona who have traveled there - just to do the Under-Pants run!!

As fate would have it, this year's Under-Pants run it is this morning in Kailua-Kona. The crowds both taking part and watching, have grown over the years, and I would say that over 500 people take part now and 2 - 3 times that watch along the roughly 3km route( GPS'd down to the last meter of course!).

Leading this year's run at IMH, despite recent hip-replacement surgery, is the other key founder, ring-leader, keeper-of-the-faith and reader of the always important, "Oath" of the Under-Pants Run, Roch Frey.

The message is still important - wear the Speedo on the pier and while swimming and no where else. However, if nothing else it injects a good bit of fun and frivolity into a week where there are 2,000 completely stressed out, deer-in-the-head-lights-looking triathletes, taking just about everything way too seriously all gathered in one place. You'll see lots of compression socks, heart rate monitor straps, giant GPS units on the wrists being worn and all manner of underwear being worn, but the "official" attire is white Y-Fronts (BVD's Fruit-of-the-Loom etc . .) for the men, and I don't think they have ever figured out what the "official" woman's kit should be.

These days beyond the message, and the silliness of it all, it's about raising money for great causes. No entry fee is asked for, but donations are gladly accepted, and there is cool Underpants Run merchandise for sale! I know that several thousand dollars is raised each year for charity with the generous donations that these nearly naked people pitch in.

What does the Under Pants Run mean to you? Do you take part in the Under Pants Run, when you go to an Ironman Race?

2013 Edit: The UP Kona Run Charities this year will be VASH & Ahu' ena Heiau. Mo' info here -

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1 comment:

Mal Booth said...

Me again. Still stuck at Hono airport reading your blog. Why would anyone need to wear a heart rate monitor in the under-pants run?