Of Ironmen and goats

If you are one of the 182 million people (as of mid-June) who have seen Avengers: Endgame at the cinema, the phrase “doing an Ironman” may well conjure up an image of superheroes performing out-of-this-world feats. However, in the world of sport, Ironman has a very specific meaning – still requiring formidable strength and stamina, if not quite on the Tony Stark level.

An Ironman is a form of long-distance triathlon* consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a marathon. The first one was held on Hawaii in 1978 and the islands are still considered to be the spiritual home of the sport. Anyone who completes an event can also call themselves an Ironman.


Extreme sports like this are now common: as well as the triathlon itself, there are the duathlon (the running and cycling bits of a triathlon), the aquathlon (swimming and running), and the ultra-triathlon (anything longer than an Ironman). Then, if just running for very long distances is your thing, there is ultrarunning and ultramarathons, the most famous example of which is the six-day Marathon des Sables.

If, like most mortals, these sports are beyond you, why not try one of these other new sports when at the beach this summer: flyboarding, where you stand on a special board, connected by a hose to a jet ski, and are propelled into the air by water forced through the hose; or if you prefer something more sedate, have a go at stand-up paddleboarding (SUP).

The world of sport loves its heroes, often describing them in terms akin to superheroes, and it also loves its abbreviations. So whilst the MVP (Most Valuable Player) is awarded to the outstanding player in an individual game or team, when it comes to being rewarded for your whole career, it’s the unlikely sounding term GOAT that you should aspire to. No, not an animal with horns and a coat of hair, that lives wild in mountain areas or is kept on farms for its milk or meat, but the “Greatest Of All Time”.

* Avengers fans will know that there is a Marvel superhero character called Triathlon who had the strength of three men. He later changed his name to 3-D Man.

Patrick White is Product Director for ELT Dictionaries and Grammar. He has taught English in China and worked as a translator and dictionary editor. He can swim, ride a bike and run but has never been known to do any of them competitively, least of all in an Ironman.

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