Kurt Madden’s Hall of Fame Triathlon Career: A Lifetime of Excellence

Another top 10 finish at the Ultraman World Championships on the Big Island of Hawaii. That makes the fourth time that Kurt Madden has completed the triathlon-of-all-triathlons. He won two of the first three events back in 1983-85.

Kurt Madden and Ultraman—and triathlon in general—are synonymous with winning and excellence. Starting his endurance-sport career in 1975, he’s still going strong. In fact, at this year’s Ultraman World Championships, he not only finished 8th overall and set a new age-group swim course record, he was inducted into the Ultraman World Championships Hall of Fame.

Here are a few more of his accomplishments:  

  • TriDot Coach, Ironman Certified Coach, USAT Certified Coach
  • 3-Time Top 10 Finisher, Ironman World Championships
  • 3-Time #1 Ranked Age-Group Ironman All-World Athlete
  • 2-Time Winner, Ultraman World Championships
  • 2-Time Top Ten Finisher, Leadville 100-Mile Trial Run
  • Winner, U.S.A. 24-Hour Run National Championship
  • 48-Hour National Age-Group Record Holder (Ran 200 miles) 

Getting started

Kurt grew up in the inner city of San Diego where he learned to survive and developed tenacity and mental toughness that would serve him well throughout his life. As a youth, his nickname was “Mad Dog.” In high school, he was a good swimmer and also played football—a rare combination. Growing up as an athlete, he discovered that he had excellent endurance and that, although he wasn’t a top athlete, he could keep up with everyone. He didn’t compete at the collegiate level, though he participated in numerous swim-run-swim events.

In 1975, he learned about a new event called Tug’s Tavern Swim-Run-Swim at Pacific Beach. It consisted of a half-mile swim around the pier, a five-and-a-half-mile run down the beach, and another half-mile swim around the pier. The first year there were 400 athletes. Kurt showed up at race day with no training and he came in 30th. The next year, with more training, he finished 4th overall. It was a wake-up call: he had found his niche of swimming and running.

Getting serious

Then Kurt met Tom Warren, the man who organized and ran the Tug’s Tavern event and who also won the Ironman World Championship in 1979 when it was on Oahu. After he learned more about the race, Kurt went home and talked it over with his wife, Kelly, and she said, “Let’s go for it!” Before he knew it, he was in Hawaii along with 99 other athletes entered in the event. ABC Wide World of Sports was there with Dick Lampley, Diana Nyad, and Dave Scott. He thought, “Wow, this is going to be pretty special.”

After finishing 7th overall in 1980, he thought that ultra-distance endurance events may just have been a one-and-done opportunity. The sport was so uncommon, nothing like anything he had ever done. Back then, there wasn’t all the media and social media there is today. But the event was on TV and people started talking about it. In 1981, they moved the event to Kailua-Kona, which is located on the Big Island of Hawaii. Kurt trained for it better and finished 6th overall. He went back in 1983 and finished 10th.

Going farther

When Ironman become more popular and people wanted to take endurance racing to a new level, an event called Ultraman was created. As its name suggests, it’s a course that traveled around the perimeter of Hawaii and covered a total distance of 320 miles over three days. It consisted of a 6.2-mile open ocean swim, 261.4-mile bike course, and a 52.4-mile run. The results: Kurt finished first in the inaugural event in 1983 and came back to win it again in 1985.

In 1984, he continued to race in full Ironman distance triathlons. In 1985, he went back to Hawaii for the Ironman World Championship and placed 33rd. Later that year, after all the events and all those miles, reality set in. He was a dad now and he had a full-time job as a high school teacher instead of working part-time, being sponsored by Nike as he had before, and “living the dream.” He realized it was time to put triathlon and endurance events aside and be a good dad and husband.

Getting back on track

In 1994, Kurt started focusing on running events that included marathons, 100-mile trail runs, and 24-hour runs. In 2011, Kurt accepted a position as superintendent of schools in Big Bear Lake, CA, and became active again in local events such as trail running, snowshoeing, bicycling, and kayaking. In 2013, he started to re-focus on triathlons and soon started a new training program, TriDot, that uses an athlete’s personal data and performance results along with predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to optimize triathlon training. Kurt loved the idea of less training time with better results and less likelihood of injury. He found that TriDot training had the expertise, framework, customization, and track record he sought. He’s currently using it as an athlete and in his coaching business.

His results in the last three years alone speak for themselves:

  • Top 3 Age-Group Ironman Finisher: Boulder (3), Arizona (2), Canada, Texas
  • Top 20 Age-Group Ironman World Championship Finisher (3)
  • 8th Overall, Ultraman World Championships

Finishing strong

It’s a bit of an irony to get inducted into a sports hall of fame while an athlete is still competing. Yes, the attention and recognition are nice—and well deserved. But it also hints at the possibility that the end of an exceptional career is on the near horizon. Not with Kurt. An avid goal setter, his objectives for 2020 include: qualifying for the Ironman and Ironman 70.3 World Championships, developing the full potential of his athletes, collaborating and giving back to TriDot and the sport of triathlon, and maintaining a healthy work/life/play balance.

When asked what the “secret sauce” to his hall of fame career is, he replied that there was none. According to Kurt, excellence is something you practice and refine over years with quality work and quality character. He believes the keys to long-term success are: resilience, adapting to change, teamwork, focusing on others, having a play-the-long-game mentality, and developing and living out a strong set of core values within a supportive and purposeful community.

The TriDot family wishes Kurt a well-deserved congratulations on his pursuit and achievement of excellence in triathlon and life and is proud to be a part of such an exemplary career. He is truly an ultimate performer of ultimate character in an ultimate sport.

U.S. patents pending. Trademarks of Predictive Fitness, Inc. include nSight, TriDot, TrainX, RaceX, Physiogenomix, EnviroNorm, IronIndex, and Optimized Triathlon Training.

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