This year marks the 30th anniversary of the original Ironman race in Hawaii.
15 athletes competed that fateful race and and only 12 crossed the finish line. One of them was Frank Day. He crossed the finish line in 8th place. In a recent interview he recalled the night he crossed the very first Ironman finish:
"At about 12 miles on the course at Hawaii Kai there was a McDonalds. I went inside and sat down with my handlers and had the largest Coke they had. Henry Forrest, the little engine that could on the bike course, passed me while I was in the McDonalds. After I rejuvenated for about 30 minutes I went out again and was able to run for about 4 miles (probably as many calories as was in that coke) then basically walked in.
When I got to the finish line there was no one there. It was not even marked, as we all knew where it was as it was the finish line of the Honolulu marathon and we had all done that. Anyhow, when I crossed the finish line I noted my time (about 16:30) and then climbed in my car and went home to go to bed.
The next day we all met at John Collins’ house to compare notes and to silkscreen our own finisher’s tee shirts (we provided the shirts). As I remember the "entry fee" was 5 dollars to cover expenses and I think we got 3 dollars back from John."
I can't help but reflect how much things have changed since that first race some thirty years ago.
Obviously the entry fee to an Ironman race has increased by about 100 times. Actually when you take into account all of the registration fees, it is well beyond 100 times the 1978 fee.
And I have yet to hear of any NAS (North American Sports) or WTC (World Triathlon Corporation) Ironman triathlon that will refund your full entry fee for any reason what-so-ever, and that includes having your leg bitten off because you successfully saved a wayward toddler from the jaws of a hungry alligator in Florida.
When you sign-up for an Ironman race (a full year ahead of time) now-a-days no matter how you feel (come injury, or divorce, or a hurricane that knocks down your home, or any other act of God) you better race, or be prepared to flush most of your $500.00 (plus registration costs) down the Ironman toilet.
On a more positive note, you can still buy Ironman shirts before, after, and even during the race. Of course they are a bit more expensive these days. I'm always amused and amazed at the size of the crowd that lines up the morning after a race to get their official "Finisher" gear.
I really do believe that the price tag of the "Official Finisher" shirts, jackets, pants, jerseys, doggy sweaters, baby bibs/diapers, Ironman socks, and underwear, hats, backpacks, fleece vests, golf shirts to name just a few items for sale...is the most elastic number in the sport.
I suspect that if you added one (or even two zeros) to the staggering high price tag, you'd still sell out of doggy sweaters and baby bids in matter of minutes.
I made the silly mistake last year in Madison after the IM race of buying my wife an Ironman Wisconsin bike jersey for something like 2 gold bars and the lifelong income of my first born. I stood in line for two hours with the rest of the hordes and of course purchased the wrong size, as all men will do. Let's face it gents we may be well versed in how to unwrap our wives tops, but buying the right size clothes to wrap them back up is completely alien to most of us.
I brought home the bike jersey, and it was way too big so I dutifully wrapped it up. I called the "official" Ironman clothing retailer in Canada who informed me to mail it back for a prompt exchange. I went to the post office, stood in line for three more hours, filled out the customs forms, and mailed it via priority mail. It has now been almost a year I have yet to get anything back for my 2 bars of gold from the "Official" Ironman supplier. Now I really fear that my son's is gonna be pretty pissed at me when he starts working as I have zip to show him or his mother for all of my troubles.
BTW: I would love to even get 3 dollars back like Frank did back in the day from the "Official" Canadian company that was so eager to take my money in Madison.
And speaking of Frank Day, here's another thing that has completely changed from the his first day. Can you image doing an Ironman and crossing the finish line with no one around to cheer you across the line?
In other words, if a tree falls in the forest and nobody reports that it fell, did it really fall?
At today's races the finish line is a non stop party that even includes a highly restricted, catered, and elevated VIP area next to the finish line. I found it somewhat odd watching the VIP's party, eat, and booze it up at the last IM race I Sherpaed in Florida as the last athletes struggled across the finish line.
Why is it that we always have to separate ourselves into the haves, have-nots, and those who have, and get special treatment?
I suspect that Frank felt as much, if not more satisfaction, from finishing the race than do all of the VIP's at today's race who come to expect special access and treatment from the race organizers.
Finally, I think that it should be mentioning that one part of Frank's story has not changed. They still serve Coke on the run at you typical WTC Ironman. However unlike Frank's Coke, the typical Coke today is free, smaller, and I fear without any ice.
I don't know about you, but I can't help but feel that extra $498.00 entry fee they charge today would buy a lot of McDonald's burgers, fries and even Cokes.