Friday, August 17, 2012

Three Ironmans. Three Weeks. Three Very Different Events

 On the run course at Ironman Canada. Photo from

In the span of three weeks, the World Triathlon Corporation(WTC) will be putting on three Ironman races in three very different event venues, that represents the past, the present, and possibly the future of these races.

Last weekend was the inaugural Ironman New York City(IMNYC). In truth, most of the race took place across the Hudson River, in New Jersey, but still, the race did have a geographical and actual connection with the Big Apple, in many ways. This race was seven years in the making, and was being billed by the WTC as a showcase for the sport of triathlon and their iconic Ironman brand in one of the key media centers in the world. Veterans in the sport, in particular, those involved in event management knew that this was a massive logistical undertaking, that went way above and beyond what is "normal", for an Ironman triathlon -  which even in the best circumstances, has huge logistical challenges. Read more on this, from the perspective of IMNYC Race Director John Korff, HERE

From many reports the first IMNYC, was reasonably successful. However, no surprise there were a number of logistical hiccups: athletes with non-favorable stories from the course, and more than a few that were saying, one-and-done, and that they would not recommend others doing this race to others. As for media exposure, the big news coming out of the event was a sewage leak up-stream on the Hudson R. that was threatening, even having a swim, and an unfortunate death of an athlete that took place during the swim. Doubtful that this was the media pop, the WTC was hoping for. Registration was opened for 2013, with a $1200 entry fee - about $400 beyond the entry for most other Ironman races! However, the WTC abruptly stopped the registration after a day. The reasons for this, at this stage are unclear.

Despite criticism that they don't care about their race participants, the WTC obviously does take this seriously, and it was clear that the overall consensus from athletes was that, there were some things that needed to be worked on and edges smoothed out at IMNYC. Also, and this is purely speculation at this stage is that, without the benefit of a post-race de-brief, and review, the WTC may have had no idea if they could secure the permits that they had in place for this year, for next year, or if changes to the course were required, get new permits in place.

Key Point - putting on a large triathlon for 2500 people over an Ironman distance course in, and near-by the largest city in North America, is an extraordinarily difficult challenge.

One week from now is the Ironman Canada(IMC) triathlon in Penticton, BC. I have written about IMC before in this space, and you can read more about my personal feeling for the race HERE. IMC is one of the worlds original Ironman triathlons. At one time it was the only Ironman in all of North America. Ever since triathletes first started coming to the Okanagan Valley to do this race back in the 80's, athletes have raved about the beauty of the area, the challenge and scenery of the courses, the hospitality of the town of Penticton, the set-up of the race and ease of it all for athletes and spectators. Back before the proliferation of Ironman races, many had said, IMC, was a better race in some ways, than Ironman Hawaii - The WTC's centerpiece event, their World Championships and the race that started it all! Such is the popularity of IMC that in on-line polls that I have seen, IMC is often the one Ironman race that triathletes, "most want to do"!

Similar to real-estate what's key to a great triathlon and an Ironman race in particular, as told to me by one prominent Race Director, it's "Venue, venue, venue"!

The venue, set-up and logistics of IMC were so good that, Graham Fraser, who took over the management and running of IMC in the mid - 90's, essentially used, IMC and what went on in Penticton as a template, as he expanded the Ironman races to a number of other locations in North America. Now, in truth, IMC did grow in size and sophistication, in an organic fashion over a number of years. Thus, both the race and the city of Penticton grew together and adapted to one another. However, despite all these good things for and about the race, and the city of Penticton, there  have been points of friction, and issues locally, as their have been in some of the other Ironman locations.Mostly regarding the size of these events now, and the disruption they cause. But overall, IMC and those second generation Ironman races, have been very successful, and have a positive impact (financially, in particular) on the towns and cities where the races are held!

Key Point - The best set-up and location for these events is small to mid-sized towns and cities, where you have close to 100% buy-in and support of all stake-holders. Historically, with some exceptions, this does seem to be the case in North America. In the past, this has been the best model.

This weekend is the inaugural Ironman Mount Tremblant ( IMMT) in the ski resort village of Mt Tremblant, Que., about 90 minutes drive north of Montreal.  This Ironman race, despite not even happening yet, is most likely to be a huge success on all fronts. It had the benefit of running one of the WTC's 70.3 races on almost exactly the same course back in June as a bit of a dry-run for this weekend's full Ironman. The reports back from athletes and spectators in June, were unanimous - maybe the best long distance triathlon venue in the world! Useing the "Venue, venue, venue" mantra, IMMT seems to have it all - scenic and challenging courses; tons of great accommodation right there; easy onsite logistics for athletes and spectators; great local hospitality and help; total buy-in from all stakeholders. What's not to like?

Key Point - Perhaps the growth model for the WTC and for Ironman races is finding those perfect race venues such as in Mt. Tremblant, and not trying to put a square peg in a round hole, such as what happened at IMNYC. Does a set-up like at Mount Tremblant this weekend, represent the future of these sorts of events?

If you have done an Ironman, what is your favorite Ironman race venue? If you know of a place, that you think would be a great Ironman race venue, where is it? Or perhaps, on second thought, you may want to keep that a secret!

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