Es will be tight. So damn tight for Hiromu Inada. The Japanese runs and runs, a headlamp lights the way through the darkness to the finish of the Ironman in Hawaii. The seconds are fading inexorably. The last split times at kilometer 35 of the final marathon suggest a drama.
If no small miracle happens, then this indestructible Japanese, who has already swum 3.8 kilometers through the Pacific and cycled 180 kilometers through the lava desert, will miss the cut-off. Very close. A few minutes.
Cut-off – this is the set time that every starter at Ironman Hawaii must achieve. They exist after swimming, after cycling and at the finish. If you are too slow, you have to stop the race after swimming or cycling. If you reach the finish line a few seconds or minutes too late, you may still run through it with luck – you will not be officially rated.
Shortly after midnight local time, at 12:05 p.m. German time, Inada must have made it. Then 17 hours have passed since the start. Inada is on the way … his predicted arrival at the finish is now at 12:05 p.m. CET and then above.
The crowds are waiting in the finish area and for the last hundreds of meters. Many have been here for several hours, some have come back especially for the big party. The last of the 2400 or so age group athletes are celebrated like the best professionals – and it is precisely these who are now returning to welcome all those who have the last of their strength to fulfill their dream. With the last of your strength and just in time, because you had a tough race plagued by cramps, injuries or other problems, but don’t dream of giving up. Or because they are well above the average age of the Hawaii starters of 43 years. Inada is almost twice as old and will be 86 on November 19th. If he crosses the finish line, he will increase his own record as the oldest Hawaii finisher.
He’s still running out there. At the finish, people anxiously look at the split times. “We’re screaming for him, we’re waiting for him,” says one of the men from the organization team. “He’s not lonely out there, he may already be able to hear us, he doesn’t have to go far.” But after more than 16 hours and 30 minutes he has to go faster again if he wants to make it under 17 hours.
They would celebrate it anyway. Certainly. If Inada runs a few minutes too slowly, the red carpet will still be rolled out towards the finish line and the audience will still be standing at the boards and cheering. After all, the women started 15 minutes after the men that morning, so they have until 0.20 a.m. (12.20 p.m. CET). But it would not be the same: no entry in the official results list, not the famous words: “You are an Ironman.” Even if his performance was no less worthy. But those are the rules.
When Hiromu Inada was a few seconds late …
Again and again, in every long distance race with cut-off times, dramatic scenes play out. Athletes who get out of the water late, are not allowed to continue and sit crying on the bank. Inada experienced something similar herself. It was three years ago, it happened in Hawaiii. With the last of the energy he could find somewhere in his body, he dragged himself towards his goal. Six seconds late. “I’ll be back,” he promised. In 2016 he did it and finished what he had started: after 16:49:18 hours, he cheered, exhausted but happy at the finish.
Two years have passed since then. The amazing thing: The Japanese only started triathlon at the age of 69. At 77, he signed up for a long distance for the first time, but missed the running time limit. Quitting wasn’t an option. At 79, he finished his first long distance and qualified for Hawaii. His debut in Kailua-Kona was over quickly: Inada had breathing problems while swimming and had to finish the race in the Pacific. But he returned.
“My body gets weaker with age,” he said recently to the local media. But his will and his passion are unbroken. And his fitness remains exemplary. Even at the age of 86. He left the Pacific that morning after 3.8 kilometers and 1:51:26 hours as the 2267th. He pedaled the 180 kilometers with an average of 22.3 kilometers per hour and reached the transition area after a pure cycling time of 8:02:40 hours.
“Hiromu is coming!” Cheers the moderator
And now this 85-year-old Japanese is on the last kilometers of the marathon in the most legendary triathlon in the world. He started with a kilometer average of 6:44 minutes and then leveled off at around 9:30 minutes. It won’t be enough if it stays that way.
But on the last seven kilometers, this indestructible man can actually improve again – after more than 16 hours, with over 80 years. Inada screws his cut down to a good nine minutes. On, on and on. The people at the finish and in front of the live trackers observe the forecast arrival time, it gets better and better. He runs the last one and a half kilometers with an average of 7:23 minutes – what a man, what an achievement.
“Hiromu is coming!” Cheers the moderator at the finish. Hiromu Inada spreads his arms, smiles and runs to the finish. After a marathon of 6:28:18 and a total of 16:53:50 hours. “Hiromu, you are an Ironman”, calls the moderator and lets the audience repeat the words in chorus. “Thank you, thank you very much,” Inada replies and smiles.
The first to congratulate him: Hawaii Champion Patrick Lange. He crossed the finish line 9:01:11 hours ago. Two amazing athletes – like everyone who crossed the finish line that day.
The good news for Inada: As the only starter in his age group, he is not only world champion, but has already been placed in Hawaii for next year. “He is a real inspiration and shows: Everything is possible,” enthuses the American Mark Allen, six-time winner in Hawaii.
And Inada? He says goodbye with the following words: “See you next year!”