The Ironman World Championships are set for Oct. 11 on the big island of Hawaii. Here are the essential facts to keep in mind while you watch.
1. Mirinda Carfrae set not only the run course record (again) with a time of 2:50:38 last year, but she also crossed the finish line in 8:52:14, breaking Chrissie Wellington's 2009 course record of 8:54:02. It was validation for Carfrae -- who had never bested Wellington head to head on the Kona course, even after Wellington suffered a bike crash less than two weeks before Kona in 2011 -- to have beaten the record.
2. Six-time Ironman world champion Natascha Badmann continues to race and be competitive as a pro -- she finished 14th in 2013. The original "Swiss Miss" will make the start again this year at the age of 47.
3. Andrew Starykowicz (USA) rode a blazing 4:21:50 in his Kona debut in 2013, but faltered early in the run. He was sick leading into the race. He owns the fastest Ironman time recorded by an American with his 7:55:22 at Ironman Florida in 2013. At the same race, he also broke his own Ironman bike course record with his 4:02:17.
4. 2014 Ironman 70.3 world champion Daniela Ryf rode slower than Natascha Badmann (SUI) and Sonja Tajsich (GER) at her Ironman debut in Zurich. At the Ironman 70.3 World Championship last month, she posted the fastest bike split.
5. The average age of 2014 age-groupers is 43.5, well above the age 33.7 average for professional triathletes at 33.7. The overall average age is 43.1.
6. 2008 Ironman 70.3 world champion Terenzo Bozzone had a string of frustrating Kona results before an Achilles injury forced him to take some time away from racing Ironman. The 29-year-old is back after four years and says he learned a lot from watching the tactical races play out on the sidelines.
7. After apparel companies such as Pearl Izumi and Castelli conducted research on the aerodynamic effect of clothing and found that covering the shoulders and armpits helped to reduce drag, athletes including 2013 Kona runner-up Luke McKenzie, 2013 fifth-place finisher Tim O'Donnell and three-time Ironman world champ Craig Alexander all raced in long-sleeve pullovers during the bike leg in 2013. We expect the trend to continue in 2014.
8. It will take more than 5,000 volunteers to make Saturday's race happen.
9. 2012 Ironman world champion Pete Jacobs has had a tough couple of years since earning the world title. Most recently, the Australian battled chronic fatigue earlier this summer and had to battle through an Ironman to validate his Kona start.
10. Great Britain has produced the women's Ironman World Championship winner in five out of the past seven years, with Chrissie Wellington winning four of those seven and Leanda Cave winning in 2012.
11. At his Ironman debut at the Ironman European Championships, Jan Frodeno ran a 2:43 marathon split, despite battling some nasty stomach issues out of T2. He ultimately finished third behind Sebastian Kienle and Frederik Van Lierde. The 2008 Olympic gold medalist will be one to watch this year as a Kona rookie.
12. Craig Alexander is already the oldest man to ever win the race (he was 38 when he won his most recent title in 2011), and will toe the line again this year at the age of 41. Ironman legend Dave Scott also raced into his 40s, finishing second in 1994 at the age of 40 and fifth in 1996 at the age of 42.
13. There are 21 American pros in the field, seven men and 14 women.
14. In her Kona debut last year, former British ITU athlete Liz Blatchford finished third, even after serving a four-minute penalty in T2 for discarding a water bottle at the wrong spot.
15. Past performance seems to mean a lot on the Big Island. In 17 of the last 18 years the men's winner was a top-four finisher the year before. For example, Frederik Van Lierde finished third in 2012 before winning in 2013.
16. The triathlon power couple of Mirinda Carfrae and Timothy O'Donnell got married in Colorado in December. Carfrae won the race last year while O'Donnell finished fifth. They will both race again this year.
17. Coach Siri Lindley has five athletes to watch in the 2014 field: Mirinda Carfrae, Jodie Swallow, Mary Beth Ellis, Yvonne van Vlerken and Amanda Stevens.
18. Belgian Marino Vanhoenacker had an epic meltdown in 2012 that took him from the lead on the run into an ambulance after Mile 17 in 2012. He missed 2013 completely. This year, he won Ironman Canada in July and will be back on the Big Island seeking redemption.
19. Spanish contender Victor Del Corral's bike was lost in transit to the race, and he was on the Big Island without one for five days.
20. We're still looking for another American who could win Kona. The last was Tim DeBoom in 2002. Tim O'Donnell was the top American male in fifth in 2013, while Caitlin Snow was the top American female in sixth.
21. This year, the race will feature for the first time separate age-group starts from the Kona pier. The male professionals will start at 6:25 a.m., the female pros at 6:30 a.m., then the male age-groupers at 6:50 a.m. and female age-groupers at 7:00 a.m. Ironman CEO Andrew Messick said that the operational change was to help have a fair race and prevent drafting on the bike.
22. Two-time Ironman 70.3 world champion Sebastian Kienle lost three minutes to the front swim pack in 2013. At the Ironman European Championships in Frankfurt back in July, he lost four minutes to defending Ironman world champion Frederik Van Lierde and 2008 Olympic gold medalist (and Kona rookie) Jan Frodeno.
23. After the 2013 race, when three-time Ironman world champ Craig "Crowie" Alexander finished 21st in the men's pro race and 23rd overall, he told Triathlete.com that 2013 would be his last race in Kona -- "the body is not what it used to be," Alexander said -- but the 41-year-old validated his Kona slot at Ironman Melbourne earlier this year and plans to race in Hawaii one final time.
24. Swiss pro triathlete and reigning Ironman 70.3 world champ Daniela Ryf will be tackling the Kona course for the first time this year. The former Olympian had been racing on the ITU and Olympic non-drafting scene until she switched to legendary tri coach Brett Sutton last year and took up long-course racing.
25. Last year's men's race was affected by typical swim leader American Andy Potts' absence from the field, after Potts he pulled out the morning of the race due to a stress fracture. He has since recovered and will be back on the starting line next week. Odds are he won't let that slow pace fly this year.
26. There will be 68 countries represented on the start line this year.
27. Multiple drafting tests, including one conducted by the Triathlete staff, have found a 5- to 12-watt savings from riding legally in a pack of cyclists traveling at the speed of the top male pros. This means that athletes who miss that main pack, like Kienle, will be working harder than the other contenders who make that fast-flying group.
28. Defending Ironman world champ Frederik Van Lierde was only the second Belgian to ever win the Ironman World Championship. The first was Luc Van Lierde (no relation), who won the race in 1996 and 1999 and now coaches Frederik.
29. Internationally, Australia has the most athletes competing with 297, followed by Germany (150), Canada (134), Great Britain (113) and France (88).
30. The most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian in history, Apolo Anton Ohno, will be taking on the Kona course this year. As part of the Refuel | Got Chocolate Milk? campaign, the former short-track speedskater will be racing 140.6 in Hawaii. Ohno completed his first triathlon at Ironman 70.3 Boise in June, finishing in a time of 4:59:27.
31. There are seven past Ironman world champions on the pro start list this year. On the men's side, Frederik Van Lierde, Craig Alexander, Faris Al-Sultan and Pete Jacobs will compete, while Mirinda Carfrae, Leanda Cave and Natascha Badmann represent the women.
32. Australia's Alan Pitman and granddaughter Karlie made history when both won their age groups at Ironman Australia in Port Macquarie, becoming the first such tandem to qualify for the Ironman World Championship. Karlie finished in 11:05:38, and her grandfather finished in 11:15:47.
33. Seventy-two percent of participants (1,570 athletes) are male, while 28 percent (625 athletes) are female. That marks the largest female field ever at the Ironman World Championship and a nine percent increase over last year.
34. Australia has been dominant in the men's field, claiming the men's title six of the past seven years with Craig Alexander winning three, Chris McCormack winning two and Pete Jacobs winning one.
35. The United States is the most-represented country with 777 competitors, accounting for nearly 35 percent of registrants this year. Athletes from 49 U.S. states are represented, with the greatest numbers coming from California (123), Hawaii (61), Colorado (58), Texas (48) and New York (43).
36. Italian CART racing legend and Paralympic handcycle champion Alex Zanardi will make his first Kona start this year.
37. NASA astronauts Chris Cassidy and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Luca Parmitano will compete.
38. Eighty-four-year-old nun Sister Madonna Buder is the oldest woman ever to finish an Ironman and will make the start again this year.