After 30 years, Ironman Canada ends –Challenge Penticton it becomes…or not?

IMCEarlier today, the city of Penticton along with the Challenge Family announced that next August, there will now be a single iron-distance race called ‘Challenge Penticton’, at the same time which Ironman Canada has been for the past 30 years (interestingly, two years were skipped).  In short – Ironman Canada is going away next year.

Now, there’s a bit of messiness that’s going down still – which Slowtwitch covers well.  It sounds like a bit of a political pissing match and mismanagement between the former race owner, WTC and the town.  It’s not clear how much is WTC’s fault, or the town’s fault, or the former owners fault.  I wouldn’t blame Challenge Family in this.  But it’s clear it’s a mess.

At the end of the day – this is a sad ending to an icon of a race in the Ironman world.  Now don’t get me wrong – I believe that the Challenge Family will undoubtedly run a fine race.  A great race likely.  And, I know they run awesome races across Europe and elsewhere in the world – incredible races with upwards of 150,000 spectators – amazing in fact.  An experience that at some point in the next few years I’m looking forward to taking part in.

But their race in Penticton won’t be ‘Ironman Canada’.  A race that has been around for three decades and the oldest Ironman race outside of Kona still going on.  A race that has legendary legions of volunteers – thousands strong on race day.  And the only active North American race with a single loop for each of the three sports (swim/bike/run).

IMCBags

The ending of Ironman Canada is (in my view) unfortunate for a bunch of reasons.  First, is the loss of a marquee Ironman race in the region.  Within the Pacific Northwest, this now only leaves Ironman Coeur D’alene (in Idaho), with no Western Canada Ironman races.  For those looking to qualify for Kona – this reduces the local options.

Second, is the lack of warning to those that were headed up to Penticton to signup for next year.  I can’t imagine how many folks have paid untold sums of money to fly to Penticton today and tomorrow in hopes of signing up Monday morning for next year.  In fact, the official athlete guide still lists ‘Ironman 2013 registration’ on it:

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Next we look at the impact to the community.  Again, this isn’t about Challenge being bad (because they aren’t) – but the reality is that the community from an economic income standpoint will suffer at least in the short term.  Having booked Ironman Canada hotels more than once before – all hotels sell-out exactly one year in advance (the Monday after the race), and with 3-5 night minimum stays, at prices 3-5 times that of normal rates.

That simply won’t happen next year.  That hotel sellout is dependent on knowing that you already have a race slot for next year, and that the race itself is sold out for next year.  If those two items don’t happen this weekend – people won’t book hotels.  And there’s no way a new race and brand on the scene is going to sellout this weekend.  Just being realistic.  During their press conference today, the Mayor said that they believe this will funnel more money into the community.  I just don’t see that happening – at least anytime soon.

IMCRaceStart

When we talk numbers – everyone likes to quote the 150,000 spectator number in Europe for a few of their Challenge Family races.  Let’s be clear – that simply won’t be happening in Penticton.  Heck, it won’t even be happening anytime soon in North America for a triathlon.  If you look at ALL sporting events in North American that attract crowds of 150,000 spectators – you’re talking a very very very small number of events (count them on one hand small).  And those that attract anywhere near that number are near large cities that can support those numbers from a traffic and hoteling standpoint.

Within the Penticton area, Ironman Canada sells out every single hotel in every direction for the roughly 6,000-8,000 people that are there on race day (2,000 athletes, assume 4,000 family/friends, and 3,000 volunteers).  Not counting course locals, but there just aren’t huge concentrations of them on race day there outside of those already volunteers– they’re more spread out across the course.  Nowhere near 150,000.  There simply isn’t room or draw for 150,000 spectators in the greater Penticton area.  Or the greater-greater-greater Penticton area.  It’s out in the high-dessert mountains of eastern British Columbia – not in a metropolitan area.

IronmanCanadaPaper

I know that Challenge will do a lot of great things with the race.  But despite having the Ironman branding, Ironman Canada never really had the issues of other WTC races.  In fact, if you look at most longstanding Ironman branded 140.6 races – most of them operate just fine.  It tends to be the newer races (both in the US and abroad) that WTC manages hoses up at an astounding rate.  Interestingly, during the press conference, Challenge and the Mayor talked to lower entry fees for athletes.  Yet afterwards, their press release showed the same rough price as Ironman Canada – $675 – for entry.  Also of interest is that there will no longer be a mass start, but rather a wave-start instead.  And yet finally of interest, is that WTC has said nothing publically (which is poor).  I reached out for comment via cell and e-mail – but received nothing.

So while I’m excited to see Challenge introduce a race in North America – I’m seriously bummed to see Ironman Canada going away.  Like I said at one point today on Twitter – this weekend at Ironman Canada will be kinda like watching a legendary ball player retire.  A bit bittersweet and sad.  While I’m sure Challenge will do great things as a rookie in the region – their ultimately not the Edgar Martinez who’s been in the Northwest for decades, with one team his entire career and a longstanding fan favorite.  It’s gonna take time, lots of time.

Good luck to all those competing this weekend, one last year!

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As a brief sidenote, my very first post to this blog (nearly 5 years ago this weekend) was actually the day I signed up for Ironman Canada.  You can read it there.  A lot’s changed since then.

For those that want to go down memory lane, here’s a few more Ironman Canada posts:

Ironman Canada 2007:
T minus 365 days – My very first post on the blog…ever!
Ironman 2008 registration slumber party – Second post on blog, about signing up for Ironman Cana
Ironman Canada 2008 – Registration Complete – A couple of quick thoughts on registration

Ironman Canada 2008:
Ironman Canada – Day 1 – Travelling to Penticton & the 5K race
Ironman Canada – Day 2 – The expo, registration, driving the bike course, and the banquet
Ironman Canada – Day 3 – Registering for next (this) year, final preparations in transition area
Ironman Canada Race Report – Yup – the whole thing…one post.
Ironman Canada – When the clock strikes midnight – What happens at midnight at the finish line
Ironman Canada – The day after – All the ‘official’ things to do the next day while in pain

Ironman Canada 2009:
A special message from The Girl (first pic of her!)
Ironman Canada – Underwear Run – A ton of pics and video of the famous underwear run
Ironman Canada…return of the Rainmaker – A couple of post-race pics
Ironman Canada 2009 Race Report – My full race report!

Enjoy, and thanks for reading!

15 Comments

  1. Jen

    Thanks for the perspective on this issue.

    But unless I'm reading this terribly wrong, Penticton is in Canada -- which I know you know, unlike noted in this quote:
    "So while I’m excited to see Challenge introduce a race in the US – I’m seriously bummed to see Ironman Canada going away."
    :)

    Reply
  2. Doh, meant to say North America. Thanks for the catch!

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  3. Anonymous

    As the previous commentator noticed, you spelt North America wrongly as 'US'. I think you meant 'NA' instead.

    Reply
  4. Anonymous

    *spelled, not spelt. (See, I've got the same problem.)

    Reply
  5. Thanks for the article great read..but here in Australia WTC ripped the spiritual heart out of the Australian Ironmans home at Forster Tuncurry to Port Macquarie...they cannot be trusted

    Reply
  6. Michael H.

    Note: I haven't done any full Ironman races yet.

    I'm becoming less and less entranced by the Ironman brand as time goes on. I'm starting to see it primarily as a trademark and a brand associated with a company that has made several important mistakes and that does not always seem to be interested in providing the best participant atmosphere possible.

    I'm glad to see competing organizations thrive, such as Challenge, Rev3 and HITS. Undoubtedly there is still the mystique for the Kona Ironman championship. But could there one day be a non-trademarked long-course championship with the prestige of Kona? I sort of hope so. There are USAT long-course championships but those don't receive the same attention that Kona does.

    If Kona or a replacement Hawaiian long-course tri could become the new championship, without being tied to a particular brand and company's races, then it wouldn't matter as much if a race like Ironman Canada were replaced by Challenge Canada or Challenge Penticton (or British Columbia).

    Of course, WTC would fight tooth and nail to prevent this from happening. But perhaps it's part of the maturation process for the long-course triathlon world to move from a branded series to one that is organized by a more general governing body as you see in most other sports. The challenge of triathlon is in the actual swim, bike and run, not in the brand name.

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  7. This is not HITS or Rev3... as good as they may be.

    This is Challenge, if the NA market doesn't get it then they clearly just like chucking money at the massive corporates.

    Ray makes some good points about it being adverse in the first year for an established brand but with the jiggery pokery that was going on that might have happened anyway for Penticton, this way a classic race is saved.

    Maybe Challenge should go to Nice and do a 4k/120k/30k race and save that race too instead of Mdot France?

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  8. Last year the WTC credit decrease a lot. Cancelled 5150 series, cnacelled race when not enough cash from it, now problem with IM Canada. I agree with Michael H.

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  9. SSB

    I bet it's more like... tax dollars not leaving the city coffers. Last year WTC 'strong armed' Panama City Beach into paying WTC more than their contracted amount by giving PCB the option of paying more last year (I think it was $40K total) and getting a new 5 year contract or paying the same amount last year (as their current (at the time) contract specified ...$10,000-I think) and not IM Florida not staying for 5 more years). The new contract has PCB paying WTC 40-50K a year. So essentially to get the renewal WTC forced PCB to pay more $40K more than required last year. I wonder if something similar was tried by WTC & Penticton didn't pay up and found a loophole and invited Challenge to 'bid' on putting a race on. I'll have to try to find the new article on PCB/WTC negotiations.

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  10. Fred D.

    Good article. As a Canadian, I am honoured and pleased to see a US-citizen covering this activity so well!.
    Also worth mentioning is that Canada has (for the first time this year - to my knowledge), a new Ironman-sanctionned activity in Mont-Tremblant.
    I wonder if the timing of the Ironman Canada demise has anything to do with the new Ironman in Mont Tremblant ?!!?

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  11. IMCx6

    As a 6-time IMC finisher I can only say "Good Riddance". Each year that I participated in IMC (2001-2006) it became less about the competitors and more about money for the Ironman corporation... to the point where I finally quit going.
    Hopefully the new organization will return the race to its roots... the athletes.

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  12. Anonymous

    Impression of triathlon from a non-triathlete after reading various negative "race cancelation" articles is that this sport's organization is a mess!!

    Reply
  13. Anonymous

    I have been a part of Ironman Canada both as a racer and a volunteer for over 15 years. What myself, other athletes, and the people of Penticton have seen is a very obvious and steady decline in the quality of the race. WTC has taken the best IM in NA and degraded it to the point that the athletes and community wants "their" race back.....a race designed for the community and the athletes. WTC is now a big profit-driven "machine" that really doesn't care about the communities or the athletes in their races. I and many others are looking forward to the Challenge race in Penticton. Shame on WTC for ruining such a great race, and creating a "new" IMC in some yet-to-be determined town in Canada. Penticton will always be the heart of any ironman-distance race, no matter what WTC tries to reinvent!

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  14. Anonymous

    Having raced IMC in 2011, and being a back of the pack athlete, I was seriously affected when they ran out of water at thr last three bike aid station while the temperature was 90+F. I wrote them a nastygram, and they did offer a credit for 2012 or 2013 (which I chose), but I guess that is moot now. BUMMER!

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  15. Art

    I'm in dire need of assistance. I've committed the awful sin of not taking better care of my 2011 IMC finishers hat-- My most favorite hat in the world.. I have 6 IMCDA hats but they don't mean the same to me as my IMC hat. If anyone out there has a spare or know where I can obtain one I would be forever in your dept. I can provide proof that I finished the race if that is required. Help!

    Reply

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