Things I Would Change If I Was in Charge of Ironman

…I mean besides The Obvious.

And besides the general over-expansion of the race schedule, and a slight tendency to cut costs in some places, and the elimination of any real way for elite athletes to develop (which coincides with a general sport-wide tendency to overvalue the inspirational stories of “amateur” athletes as somehow better than the inspiration of “professional” athletes — which fundamentally misunderstands the value of pro athletes). Besides all those structural and systemic changes I would make, here are a couple specific and immediate things I would do differently:

  • There is no reason you can’t do registration for World Championships in a more organized and less arbitrary fashion. It would be easy — and, by easy, I mean it is already done for plenty of other events — to allow automatic qualifiers to register online within a reasonable period, like a week, and then to notify the next athlete on the list via email if the spot is turned down. It’s really a bit absurd that you have to be physically present at a certain time and run to the stage and hand over your credit card (which also, generally, means you have to know how the system works, which is not a particularly inclusive way to design a world championship event and which totally ignores that there are a TON of reasons why someone might not be physically at a random location at a specific time early in the morning the day after a hard Ironman). If it was a bit more organized, then maybe WTC wouldn’t have been handing out some of the 70.3 spots to anyone who was present, breathing and had finished the race…
  • Rolling starts should not count for those who want to win awards. I get that Ironman wanted to make Ironman races more accessible by eliminating the scariness of the mass start. I have no problem with that. But for those actually racing for awards, it’s dumb that you’re not really racing. When you all start at different times in a rolling fashion, you don’t know how you stack up, you don’t know who’s ahead or who’s behind, and you don’t know where the race really is. This would be easy to fix. Have a gun start and then behind that people can start in a rolling fashion. They already do this in big running races, where you have a chip time, but for awards or prize money purposes your gun time is your time. Because the race is the race. You can’t not be in the race and then claim you won the race.

Having been up at IM Tahoe all weekend, and having just been at IM Wisconsin — which is probably one of the most well-put-on races in the country — I also had some thoughts about how they could have done the Tahoe race differently. I love Tahoe and it’s a fantastic area to train in, but in retrospect (since everyone keeps saying this is its last year, even though a local told me it was a five-year contract) there were some obvious reasons why it struggled to find its footing:

  • It was never marketed correctly. They should have leaned in to it being a hard, epic race, instead of trying to make it slightly easier after the first year.
  • It should have been about two weeks earlier. That would have cut down on the chance of some of the weather challenges it had.
  • It was too spread out logistically — this caused a number of problems. Because the start and the finish were about 17 miles apart and there is only one main road between the two, there wasn’t an easy way to spectate. You had to either take a not super-well-advertised and not-frequently-running shuttle or you had to bike the 17 miles (which is what I did, but I think I was the ONLY one who did). That wouldn’t have even helped for long parts of the run on the bike trail, which weren’t accessible to pedestrians or cyclists. That means there literally was no way to spectate. Part of what Ironman does well is convince the community that the race is a big deal, which brings out thousands of spectators, which makes you feel like you’re a big deal. That, in turn, also gets lots of volunteers and crowds out. Both were clearly missing at Tahoe. I think there could have been a way to remedy this with a more condensed course that would have been under COMPLETE closure, instead of partially-closing such a large area.

Those are my thoughts…

4 thoughts on “Things I Would Change If I Was in Charge of Ironman

  1. My stroke of brilliance today was thinking that, for the “less popular” Ironmans, perhaps WTC could move to an every-second year model. That way, athletes that want to do a particular event can, they just have to plan properly. The market is effectively doubled for those races. There is less pressure on host communities (providing volunteers, road closures, etc). May ease some of the market saturation that I think we’re seeing now as well. I dunno – just a thought.

  2. I love this line…”which coincides with a general sport-wide tendency to overvalue the inspirational stories of “amateur” athletes as somehow better than the inspiration of “professional” athletes — which fundamentally misunderstands the value of pro athletes.”

    Although I think, as I’m sure you do, that there are some incredible stories out there from amateur athletes (which is where I fit in), it seems like too many people don’t understand the training and sacrifice that elites/professionals put in. I think there’s this misconception that it just comes easy to the pros and that the “average” person can’t relate to their story, so it’s never really told. Although I find it inspiring to hear about the person who overcame a major life hurdle to get to where they are, I think it’s just as important to emphasize the time, sacrifice and effort that professionals put in to achieve the goals they’ve set for themselves. I think if more of their stories were told these professionals could gain more recognition and a bigger following, which would only be a good thing for the sport as a whole and the sponsors who work with these athletes.

    Of course there’s always the chance that I’m misunderstanding your point entirely and I’m way off base here, in which case I’ll just get back to the work I’m neglecting while I spend my time reading through your old blog posts.

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