The IRONMAN consists of two trademarked triathlon events: the 70.3 (the "half") and the full Ironman.
The full Ironman consists of a 2.4 mile open water swim followed by a 112 mile bike leg and concludes with a 26.2 mile marathon run. These events are run consecutively and always occur in the same swim-bike-run order. The athletes must complete the entire event within a prescribed time frame, or they will be eliminated. The full Ironman has a 17 hour cutoff time for the 140.6 mile event.
Each leg of the Ironman event is timed and if a participant fails to meet the cutoff times, they will not be permitted to continue in the race.
Many people claim that the Ironman is far and away, the most challenging one-day endurance event on the planet. Ultra-marathoners may debate that fact; that's why I aim to complete both of these endurance benchmarks.
Training for an Ironman takes an incredible amount of time and it has been documented that there is a 90% injury rate for those who attempt this distance. To make the Ironman more accessible, the organizers recently developed the 70.3 event, which is exactly half the distance of the full Ironman.
There is great ongoing debate as to whether one is a "real Ironman" if they complete the 70.3 and not the full Ironman. Many hard core triathletes agree that until you've completed a full Ironman, the full 140.6 miles, you are not a real Ironman.
The spirit of the event, the spirit of the challenge is to complete the entire 140.6. By means of an absurd example, if a participant in the full Ironman only swam half the distance, only rode the bike for half the distance and ran only a half marathon instead of the full marathon, they would NEVER say that this person was an Ironman. Therefore, the argument goes, how can we really say that a finisher of a 70.3 is a real Ironman?
Technically, I do suppose a reasonable argument exists that one is a real Ironman if they complete a sanctioned, Ironman-trademarked event. But to me, I will never consider myself worthy of the Ironman title until I finish the full 140.6 event in an Ironman sanctioned and trademarked event. Period.
I have completed two sanctioned, Ironman-trademarked events: the Hawaii 70.3 and the Vineman 70.3 in Sonoma, CA. I completed these less than sixty-days apart. But I do not believe for a moment that I am an "Ironman" and I bristle at that recognition because I don't feel that I have yet earned it.
I believe it would be disrespectful for me to accept that title when so many other dedicated athletes of all ages have sacrificed so much more than I have and endured far more hardships in terms of time away from family and the physical toll to complete the training necessary to complete this remarkable event.
If and when I complete the full Ironman 140.6, I will proudly wear that accomplishment and distinction for the rest of my life. And it will mean all the more, and be all the sweeter knowing that I earned every bit of it.