Earlier 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).
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:
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.
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.
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!
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!