THE popularity of the annual Ironman South Africa event reached unprecedented levels this week when it was sold out just over five months in advance.
Only six months after opening for registration, the 2000 spots in Ironman SA have been snapped up.
The race in Port Elizabeth will take place on April 6.
The South African event has long been a favourite on the world Ironman calendar and next year's race has special significance because it will be the 10th one held in PE.
Earlier this year, top overseas competitors praised the atmosphere of the PE race, in which spectator involvement along almost the entire course has been a big factor of its popularity.
Women's champion Jessie Donovan, of the US, who this year came from behind to overtake Britain's Jodie Swallow, praised the involvement of the volunteers.
"I didn't believe it [the win] until I was done," Donovan said. "The volunteers were amazing; we couldn't have done it without them."
Six-time Ironman Switzerland winner Ronnie Schildknecht, of Switzerland, said he drew massive encouragement from the PE fans.
"I knew from the start I had a good day," he said as he reflected on his victory in PE this year. "At 21km I felt great; the last 40km, I didn't realise I was that fast. I really had one of the best days in my career. The spectators were crazy; never before [have I] seen something so special."
This year's edition had a highest-ever total of 1786 registered athletes. Of the 1622 starters, 1542 finished. Now the number has moved to the maximum 2000-mark.
Besides the unparalleled spectator support and friendly locals, the race is renowned for fast times, making it one of the most sought after international Ironman events.
Managing director of event organisers World Endurance Africa Holdings, Keith Bowler, said yesterday they were delighted with the response. "It certainly gives us immense pleasure in announcing that Ironman South Africa is sold out on the eve of its 10th anniversary. Over the past nine years we have strived to deliver a world-class race experience to our athletes, putting on an event that both the city of Nelson Mandela Bay and South Africa can be proud of.
"Ten years ago we had the dream to bring Ironman back to South Africa. Today we stand proud at how the event has grown, what it now means to the city and what it has done for the sport of triathlon in South Africa."
The 3.8km swim, 180.2km cycle event and 42.2km run, all to be completed within 17 hours, make up what many deem to be the world's toughest one-day endurance event.
Race director Paul Wolff, who has been at the coalface of the PE event, said he knew the 10th anniversary would be a special occasion. "The year 2014 was always going to be a watershed moment in the history of this great event, but to have reached sold-out status this far ahead of the race speaks volumes for how it has grown in stature."