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My thoughts IMNYC2013: $1,200 entry fee, 90 minutes shorter, and now no race at all

ironman logo webAfter the successful running of the inaugural Ironman New York City (IMNYC) this past weekend, a few folks have asked what my thoughts are on some of the changes planned for next years event (at least those that were announced).

Of course, no sooner did I start contemplating a post about the changes, did World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) decide to simply put the whole thing on hold.  The race that is, not my contemplating.  So I’ll talk about putting it on hold in a second, but for now – let’s talk about the two big-ticket items: The $1,200 entry fee, and the race being only 15.5 hours instead of 17 hours.

First I will say note that I’m not going to dive into how this past years race was operated, as ultimately – I wasn’t there.  Like any race, you’ll hear mixed things (especially for a first-time race) – but it sounds like on the whole, it met most peoples expectations (and I’m sure didn’t meet, or exceeded others) – though logistics were tough.  And really, if you had signed up for IM NYC this past year, you probably had to have a certain level of expectations given the course location – from logistics to scenery to weather.

The $1,2000 entry fee:

Perhaps the biggest expected yet unexpected news was that the race would be $1,200 instead of the usual $650US registration fee – about $550 more (note that Ironman NYC for 2012 was actually more than usually at $995 last year).  There was no doubt going into this year that the fee would likely have to be raised to cover the event costs of putting on an Ironman race that ended in New York City.  Things simply cost more in NYC.  There’s big-ticket things that cost more (such as space at locations, hiring of police officers, etc…) – but there’s also a ton of little items that really add up (host hotel costs for staffers, vehicle parking in the city for race vehicles, etc…).  Ultimately it’s unrealistic to expect that a race run in rural Canada (i.e. Ironman Canada) would be the same price as one run in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

From everything I’ve read – it sounds like WTC likely took a loss for this past year on this particular race (of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t make a massive profit elsewhere).  And while I know it’s easy to wish a race were cheaper, it’s not realistic to expect any race company to take a loss year after year – whether it’s one of the bigger names in sport (WTC), or your local 60-person 5K every November on a dirt path around a rainy park.  No one likes losing money.

Now I’ve heard lots of examples in thinking where the extra $550 isn’t too bad if you lived in NYC (or the immediate surrounding area).  And that’s true – you would potentially save on hotel costs, and the other nickel and dime costs that an out of town athlete would face.  Those costs for an Ironman are normally fairly high.  Many US Ironman locations tend to be in smaller towns where the costs of hotels during race weeks can easily be $300US+ a night with a minimum of 4 nights (sometimes 5 or 7 nights).  Then you add in food and a rental car – and you’re well far in excess of the $550 fee.

But are there enough local triathletes in the immediate NYC area to fill that bucket each year for this particular course?  Well, we’ll get to that in a second.

One area that I don’t agree with WTC on though is raising the rates for the volunteers without prior notice.  Typically in an Ironman race, athletes can volunteer the day of the race and then receive guaranteed entry into the event the following year (paid at regular rates of course).  This year, those athletes did their volunteering on race day– and then were told that the rate would be $1,200 instead of the normal rates.  That’s poor.  Ultimately, let’s not forget that WTC is a for-profit entity (not a charity) – so volunteers are doing it for the love of sport.  Pulling a fast one is just not cool.

90 Minutes Shorter:

For a city that never sleeps, NYC turned out to be rather fussy this year with late-night sounds.  This year around 10PM the race organizers were told they would no longer be able to amplify sounds or use a microphone.  This led to finishers coming in after 10PM (but before the midnight cutoff) not having the famous “John Doe, YOU are an Ironman” echoed across the finish area.  Though, the announcer did apparently do an amazing job once after his microphone was taken from him, in still welcoming the finishers as best he could.  I’ve been trying to find a video on YouTube showing it, but my quest has gone unfulfilled.

The reason for the 10PM cutoff is noise ordinances in NYC that would require event planners to get permits to hold events beyond that timeframe that emit significant sound (as this would).  What’s not clear is why the permit wasn’t obtained – or potentially, if it was denied.

In either case, going forward to next year, they announced that the official finish would be at 10PM (as opposed to midnight), and the start at 6:30AM (as opposed to 7AM).  This would be a shift from other North American Ironman races which have always had a 17-hour cutoff.  It’s not well known, but some European races do have cutoffs other than 17 hours as well.

While I don’t think this in and of itself would deter a significant portion of the population from signing up, it is a bummer nonetheless.  Perhaps some of my best memories of any Ironman event come from the midnight finishers.  You may remember this video I shot from Ironman Florida a couple years ago:

Ironman Florida 2009 at Midnight from Ray Maker on Vimeo.

The event that was…and then wasn’t:

As with virtually all Ironman events, registration opened the morning after, enabling folks to sign-up.  But, unlike virtually all Ironman events (at least in North America) – it didn’t sell out immediatly.  In fact, from what the rumor mill says – far from it.  No sooner than Monday morning was this sent out from WTC

“We  were also  told  to improve the logistics for our athlete’s and supporters. Producing an event in a large urban market is complex  and  challenging. The combination of the ferries, transition in Palisades State Park, an inability to have amplified sound in Riverside Park after 10 p.m. and the difficulty for our spectators to watch  much  of the race all combined to create an athlete and spectator experience that we need to improve .
 
Addressing the logistical complexity requires us to   reconfigure a number of elements in our race. Given the changes we believe are necessary for the 2013 event,  we need to do more work to assess whether it is viable at a price point that our athletes find reasonable.  Part of our commitment to the IRONMAN experience is the relationship between registration price and the value to athletes. The pricing for the 2013 race is a reflection of the operational and logistical challenges of doing business  in metropolitan New York   and New Jersey. Simply put,  to make this event a delight for our athletes, volunteers and spectators, the race is not viable at a lower price point.
 
It  has always been  our policy at IRONMAN races in North  America to open registration for the following year’s race the day after the event so that athletes and volunteers can gain guaranteed entry before general registration opens.  We followed that policy yesterday for the 2013 Aquadraat Sports  IRONMAN U.S. Championship. In retrospect, it was a mistake. We should have taken the time to listen to our athletes, partners and municipalities  before we opened registration .  
 
By suspending registration, we are taking the time to do that now.  We need to work with all of our partners over the next several weeks to ensure that this event can be  conducted in the way that our athletes expect and  deserve.”

So what happened?  Well, as Dan Empfield pointed out – they were on the fence about next year even prior to event day – they just went ahead with registration anyway on Sunday morning.

I suspect that once feedback starting coming in about the race (primarily the venue logistics aspect), and the new costs, it ended up being a one-two punch with respect to sign-ups for next year.  With the amazing scenery of the Lake Placid Ironman not too far away, it becomes a tough sell.

As I hinted at earlier, I don’t believe there’s actually a market for that particular race layout/course at that price point, at that time of year.  I think if you start changing just one of those variables – you’d have a very different outcome.  The time of year isn’t ideal for most (hot and humid August), and vast chunks of the course weren’t really planned to be super-scenic.  The addition of the higher registration costs and higher hotel costs certainly wouldn’t have helped the scenario. 

I suspect that local NYC folks likely boosted numbers this first year, being the inaugural.  But I’d be willing to bet that local NYC athlete numbers would drop-off significantly going into next year.  Surely if they sold-out on race day, we probably wouldn’t be seeing the ‘suspension’ of the race.

Ultimately, I think there is a market for an Ironman NYC race – but just not given the variables currently at play.  I think the race would be much more successful in early May or mid-September, and with a different course layout.  Of course, both are hard to do in the confines of putting on a race in NYC.  This race was years in the works, and it took a lot to get it to that point.  Moving it beyond that point may take years again.

So I’d be curious – for those of you looking at an Ironman event next year (and were considering a North American Ironman) – what would persuade you to either sign-up, or not-signup for Ironman NYC, should it be offered again?

As always – thanks for reading!

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15 Comments

  1. That was a good read. thanks. Here is the link to Mike Reilly at the finish line. Not YouTube, but you can see it. Click Finish Line->Finish Line - 5

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  2. Thanks for your thoughts Ray. For me, this is just another reason to avoid WTC events and spend my hard earned dollars elsewhere. It's not about the price, if they want to charge $1200 or $2000 I don't care. If others are willing to pay the asking price then so be it. What really makes me dislike WTC is the price hike and shorter race time without notice. Ironman events are marketed and hyped up to be a wonderful life changing experience (just watch one of the old replays of Kona and you'll see), so what about the volunteer that made the commitment to be an Ironman in 2013? They signed up to volunteer, spent all day helping WTC put on an event, spent money on hotels, food, and travel so they could get a guaranteed spot next year, only to be told that the price doubled! What if they didn't have the financial means to cover the cost? What if the 17 hours was a stretch goal, but one worth pursuing? All of this was considered I'm sure, and then WTC made the decision to screw those people anyway. Enough of WTC, especially when other series are trying harder to earn athletes business and respect (Hits, REV3, Set-up, etc).

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  3. I'm a local who volunteered and spectated at the race (with no intention of signing up next year - though if I had, I would have been really angry at the unannounced price increase). I'm still on the fence about this one. I've never done an Iron distance but I plan to in the next few years. I'm a back of the packer, generally. The 15:30 time cutoff made NYC instantly less attractive - keep it the traditional 17:00, and maybe I sign up; shorten it, I don't. The heat is another deal breaker for me. If the race was in September or even October it would be ideal, but as it stands it's not something I think I would voluntarily subject myself to. That said, the course seems fine to me (if they could figure out a way to open it to spectators, that is) and the cost, as you've said, is ameliorated by not having to find a hotel, transport the bike,sleeping in my own bed and eating my own food, etc. It was a fantastic event to witness and I hope they find a way to bring it back - I could see this race growing in the public consciousness to be as iconic as the NYC Marathon.

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  4. I live in Texas and have done the IM TX event at The Woodlands both years. It is great to be able to drive to it, but the thought of flying to NYC, paying hefty fees for everything...no way. And then WTC does their usual inconsiderate last minute changes to alienate their core supporters? I am taking a year off from WTC events.

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  5. Anonymous

    how do you sign up to volunteer? i dont see it anywhere on the ironman pages

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  6. I did the NYC IM so let me put in my 2 pennies. Reduced cutoff shouldn't be an issue b/c you basically get that time back by swimming down the Hudson River w/ the current - the avg swim times were around 51 min, which is easily a good pro swim time in any other IM race - you could probably throw a stick in the water and it would float the 2.4 miles in under 2:20. The bike course was a couple of easy out and backs w/out any ridiculous climbs - not even any real turns, pretty much straight out and straight back. While the run course was difficult (hilly & heat), the stairs were a bit ridiculous & the endless winding switchbacks thru Riverside Park were annoying, surely there are other stand alone marathons that are much more difficult. Besides, this is Ironman and if you want the title you need to suffer a little bit. If the race you're doing doesn't push you to a place you haven't gone then you need to do a harder race. Logistically this race was a little difficult, but not more difficult than the NYC Marathon and 40k people make that 4am trek to Staten Island every Nov. WTC did a good job of arranging numerous ferries leaving from numerous locations in Jersey and NYC to get you right to the transition area - you literally walked right off the ferry and you were right in the transition area. I live here & was shocked by the $1200 price tag, but this is NYC and people will pay whatever it costs for things so you would def be drawing from the tri-state area to fill this race. As far as the volunteers go, that is horrible what happened - period. From a spectator's perspective this was not the best setup. There were only a couple of small areas where they could be over in Jersey (basically the start/finish of the bike and a few times on the run due to a couple of 3.5 mile out and backs), but when you got to Manhattan the crowd support was great b/c you were running thru a park where people normally hang out so there were tons of people there. Mike Reilly did what he could at the finish line after 10pm and it was basically like every other IM finish line, but w/out the sound. There were quite a few people there cheering the last few people who came in close to the cutoff and there were only 2-3 in the last 15 min or so - not sure how many were still out on the course so I can't speak about that. I believe NYC denied the permit for sound after 10pm for this race b/c there is tons of noise in Times Square every New Year's Eve and it almost seemed as if NYC did not want this race here at all b/c I didn't see one sign advertising it in Manhattan, while people told me there were tons of signs in Jersey. One of the race organizers I spoke w/ said NYC would not allow them to put up signs. I signed up for the race the day registration opened last year w/out seeing the course (b/c it wasn't finalized yet) and if I would have seen that prior to registering then I would not have signed up and I would have opted to do Placid instead. All in all, the NYC IM was a good experience and the WTC did a great job w/ the event given all the limitations put on them from a monetary perspective and by NYC. People like to bash the WTC, but they really do put on a first class race and have done a good job of marketing themselves as the standard in the industry. I'm glad I did the NYC IM, but I def would not do it again and would opt to do another IM race. This was the first time this race was done so there were going to have to be changes going forward - Kona & Placid are great races now, but in the beginning they were different courses than they are now. Congrats to everyone who finished the NYC IM and for those who haven't done one and are thinking about doing an IM distance race (whether it be WTC, Rev3, etc), stop thinking about it and do it. It will change your life and you'll be glad you did. Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal. Ok, maybe 3 pennies here.

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  7. Great recap of the situation at hand. That being said, as someone who raced and reviewed it (link below) I think there is a TON of potential for this to become a premiere race on the circuit (especially if the community gets behind it). BUT, WTC was wrong to make the last minute changes, especially for those that volunteered. That being said, the price is what it is and folks need to do their homework, and then decide whether it's right for them. And if it's not, then move on to an alternative.

    link to travlete.com

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  8. As someone who doesn't live in the New York/New Jersey area I can say that no I wouldn't even consider this race. First with the issue of the Hudson, I realize it was an accident and bad timing, making me wary of the race, then the so-called "city that never sleeps" not allowing a proper finish line ending. The race is barely in NYC from what I understand, you don't run/ride by times square or broadway or any other iconic NYC landmarks- if you are going to call it IMNYC it needs to be NYC. The time of year sucks compared to other choices at the same time, example vineman.

    So kill it, you pulled it off it was moderately succesful now go find a place that wont cost an arm and a leg to put on in a place that will help WTC put on a great event and will welcome the athletes and make the experience that much greater.

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  9. I think it's great that there is an IM in NYC but, there is a slim chance of me ever going. Getting into NYC when you're visiting a friend is a hassle never mind trying to get all your stuff there for an IM. The price would not deter me, the logistical nightmare would deter me. I don't really have a desire to do any race in NYC. I'd rather go some place a bit more relaxed so I can relax after the race.

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  10. I am not thrilled with the setup and layout of the race, so it was never on my radar to do - when Lake Placid and now Mt. Tremblant are in the region. Some driving time is all I am adding - the venues at either are more attractive than what is offered at New York. If NY had cut through the city, or something similar perhaps, but this barely scrapes by as a "city" event.

    Meanwhile - did you notice that 22% DNS the race? Seems terribly high.

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  11. I volunteered at the mile 23 run station and turned up the next morning to register - I was really set on it. The price increase didn't affect my choice, though I was grumpy at not having had any advance notice, but the shorter cutoff was a dealbreaker - I'm back-of-pack, this will be my first full iron race and literally as soon as I heard that (I still can't believe they didn't send it out in writing by email the day before), I walked away. I'm looking at IMWI 2013 instead. NB: I've done a lot of the NYC Swim open-water events in the Hudson, including the Little Red Lighthouse 10K - it is very variable whether the expected tidal/current assists really materialize or not, and I've had a couple times where I did a race that was promised to be x2 in terms of speed and really ended up being a straight swim. Different waves will end up with quite different benefits in terms of lowered swim times (you can see this in this year's age group times), and I think it would be pretty rash to count on getting the exact same assist that many got this year.

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  12. Speaking of Hits Triathlon. This is a very good move by them to bring Barry Siff on board.
    link to hitstriathlonseries.com

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  13. Great recap of the event. I raced it this year and tend to agree with you on a few points.

    For a local its cheaper. Correct. Thats one reason I chose this race. I saved a few thousand on airfare, hotels, rental car, and getting my bike to the race. I think it unfair they raised the price last minute for the volunteers though. I woke up and took a cab over the GW to the start which is priceless.

    I think for what the WTC had to deal with they pulled off a successful race. NYC is and always will be unpredictable.

    On the issue of it not being in NYC... it can never be in NYC. They could never shut down 170 miles of NYC roadway for 17 hours.

    Would I race it again? Perhaps, but not for awhile as I want to explore other race sites.

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  14. I'm not planning on doing an ironman anytime soon, but I live in CT, so I could probably get away without getting a hotel room, and calling on friends of the family closer to the city for a place to stay. I would still be a bit hesitant to spend so much on a race. I'm also turned off at an Aug. race in the city. The phrase "Urban heat pocket" keeps running though my rain. To top it all off, I hate cities and would much rather race in a more rural setting.

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  15. As someone who did the race, I can say that I wouldn't do it again. This does not really have much to do with the price or the cutoff time, but once you've done it, why do it again with other options?

    Also, the scenery is pretty aweful, i.e. nonexistant on the bike, the run was BURTAL and although the trumpet it as the NYC IM, you only really do about 7 miles (most of which is switchbacks) in NYC.

    I think that WTC did the best they could, but they certainly didn't get any love from NYC. As I heard or read somewhere, when a home Yankee game brings in $15MM, who really cares about the $15MM that an IM event brings in?

    I'm glad that I did it - kind of - but I don't think that the swim makes up for the 90 minutes they cut off. The swim was shockingly fast, but not 90 minutes faster. If you were a back-of-the-pack person, that would really upset me.

    As for the 22% that didn't start, my guess is that, based on how much (young/stupid) money there is in the city, there were a ton of people thought it would be awesome to do an IM in their hometown, so they signed up on day 1. However, as the race got closer and closer and the sewage leak become an issue, I'm guessing the idea of doing an IM in their hometown got to be a lot less appealing -- I'd guess not many of those who dropped out were sewage related, as opposed to coming to grips with the reality of what they had signed up for.

    If this race is a "one and done" situation, I can say that I've got a swim time that very few will ever beat!

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