Original Ironman Tom Knoll

Tom Knoll was one of the 12 amazing folks who started and finished the 1978 Ironman Hawaii. Tom came from a running background and finished 6th on that day. He is currently running across the United States with his son Warren Knoll in the 2008 Freedom Run across America, with all proceeds going to 3 different charities. We wanted to know about his Ironman experience and his current running adventure.

ST: Tom, you are one of the original twelve 1978 Ironman finishers. Can you take us back and tell us why you decided to do the event?

Tom: Well that was back in 1978. We got together and came up with the idea. We trained a couple of months for the event, 15 of us started and 12 finished. And now this is a multi million-dollar corporation.

ST: What was your athletic background?

Tom: I was a runner doing marathons, 100k and 100-mile races and other ultra marathons.

ST: Did you do anything specific to get ready for that 1978 Ironman?

Tom: Oh yeah, every day, all three. I was working 8 hours a day going to college. I was up at 5:30 in the morning to run and also ran at noon. At night I went out to Lanikai, which is in Hawaii. I biked out, swam, and then biked back and that was every day. The hardest part about doing an Ironman is all the training because you do all 3 disciplines every day.

ST: Can you describe for us how your Ironman day went in 1978?

Tom: I went out and took it easy on the swim, because I figured if I got through that the rest would be easy. I really took it easy and of all 15 who finished the swim I came in last with breaststroke and sidestroke. Then I got on the bike and the bike went well. After that I ran the 3rd fastest marathon of the day and finished in 6th place.

ST: What are you up to these days?

Tom: Mostly I am doing running. I have been busy and have been to Afghanistan and Iraq and really all over the world. I haven’t done any triathlons recently but I am a member of the 50 states marathon club so I try to do a couple states. In fact when we go through Oklahoma, I am thinking about running the Oklahoma City marathon, as it is right at the same day when we’ll get there.

ST: Do you still follow the sport of triathlon?

Tom: Oh yes. Actually Dave Orlowski came up for the start of this run and he finished 3rd in that first Ironman. We’ll all be in Kona for the 30th anniversary, but obviously after running across the United States I ain’t going to be doing an Ironman a couple months later. But I’ll be there to cheer on Dave.

ST: Can you tell us about the 2008 Freedom Run across America you are currently doing?

Tom: For me it is pretty easy as it is the second time I am doing it. I know the system and I get up early in the morning because obviously I am a lot slower than Warren. To get through 30 miles, it takes me at least 3 more hours than him. So I gotta start out early as he is the speedster and I am LSD, long slow distance. But this is not a race we are doing, this is a run. Run, jog, walk crawl depending on the territory. We have been in some wild hills and if you try to run every one of them hills you’ll pound your body into submission. We sometimes use the Jeff Galloway method, walk and get up to the top and you still have all your strength and you can go on. Versus if you are trying to hit it hard, by the time you’ll get to the top you’ll be sucking wind.

ST: You fell early in the run, what happened?

Tom: I just tripped over a raised piece of concrete and took a pretty good spill. I had to get 25 stitches around my eye but stuff like that happens. But I did not enjoy it as I had blood all over my eyes.

ST: How is the fundraising going so far?

Tom: So, so, but I think it is going to pick up. I think it is like a snowball and we are starting to get some good press too. I think a lot of folks are waiting to see if we can actually do it.

Warren Knoll, Courtney Arciaga (Sunshine Foundation) and Tom Knoll at the start of the Freedom Run.

The 2008 Freedom Run across America is dedicated to raising funds for the Wounded Warrior Foundation, which assists wounded veterans and their families, the Sunshine Foundation, which grants wishes to seriously ill and abused children, and the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

More info and the opportunity to donate: 2008 Freedom Run across America site