I’m numb now. When I first heard the news, it felt like a punch to my stomach. And then I thought about what makes an Ironman.
A Race Director’s Decision
Because of Hurricane Matthew, the Ironman North Carolina (B2B) bike course was reduced from 112 miles to 49 miles. Many of the roads on the original bike course are either still under water, damaged or needed by county vehicles for recovery efforts. There was simply no way that the race could use those roads.
At this point, I can only speculate on why the race director made the decisions she did. And I admit it: my speculations are biased because I know the race director and I’ve worked for her. However, I’m also an athlete in this race, so I think I have a pretty good perspective on this.
I don’t know exact details, but some facts are apparent
- Several roads on the bike course are closed to vehicle traffic as of 10/19 (the race is on 10/22).
- The race requires support from participating counties in the form of law enforcement, permitting, and planning.
- County and state agencies have the power to grant and deny special use permits.
(A bit obvious, right?) That’s not much information, but those are the facts that won’t be changed before the start of the race.
Given those facts, the race organizers have a few options:
- Cancel the race
- Postpone the race
- Modify the bike course
How the race company handles customer service is a totally different matter. I’ll address that later.
I don’t know why the race was neither postponed nor canceled. I’m sure it has to do with economics and finances, as well as other factors. However, I think I can speak to the reason the bike course is only 49 miles long. It comes down to two words: GOVERNMENT APPROVAL.
I was not involved in any of these decision processes, but I know the bike course directors and the race director and I am 100% confident that they explored every possible detour in the area to get 112 miles. I’m sure that even the contingency routes have been flooded and are off limits. I have had discussions in the past with them about loop courses, contingencies, obtaining permits and rerouting bikes. If you look at a map of the area, you will see that there are many roads that could be used. In fact, I have ridden the vast majority of those roads on training rides. However, what the map won’t show is just how difficult it is to obtain permission to use those roads.
Some possible reasons that permits will not be issued for the alternate plans. Keep in mind that I don’t agree with all of them, but I think these are some of the reasons:
- Two way bike traffic on a two lane US highway is too dangerous.
- Every U-turn or left turn on a major highway causes a delay in traffic and increases the chance of an accident.
- Each intersection will require law enforcement to monitor and control vehicle traffic. It’s possible that the number of law enforcement officers required on an alternate route would be cost prohibitive or too high for the counties to supply.
- Vehicle traffic is too high on many of the proposed alternate routes to allow a safe race.
I’m sure there are other reasons. I do believe that if 112 miles were as important to the community as it is to us athletes, our permitting agencies would make sure that we had 112 miles to ride.
Is This An “IRONMAN” Course?
Ironman is a brand. It is owned by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC). So whatever or whomever they want to call an “Ironman” is an Ironman.
That’s not a very satisfying answer, is it?
- I trained for a 140.6 mile multisport race.
- I probably won’t feel like an Ironman after this race, but I won’t know until I cross that finish line.
- I certainly can’t compare my results of this race with my previous Ironman races.
- The results of this race will be biased toward good runners more so than other Ironman branded races.
- Will there be a midnight finish line?
To me, Ironman embodies much more than a brand. It means more than 140.6 miles. My finish time hardly matters. To me, Ironman is an experience that involves the distance, the challenge, the aid stations, the finish line, the doubt, the pain, the nerves: all of it. I paid over $700 for that experience and I don’t know if I will get it, because the 140.6 is part of it. But if I cross that line at the end of the new, short course and I feel like an Ironman, then I don’t care what anyone else thinks: I am an Ironman.
I don’t blame the bike course directors, because they made some very difficult decisions. And I don’t blame WTC… yet. It depends on how they handle the situation.
What Can WTC Do?
What WTC does about all this is the big question. They have to be very careful because the Ironman brand must be kept in tact for WTC to be successful.
- They could change their minds about the race and cancel it all together. That would be devastating for the athletes who want to continue with the race and for the community that is counting on the economic boost. And if they do that, then what about the money we paid to participate. I don’t think they are legally entitled to refund anything in the event of a natural disaster but they should offer something as compensation.
- They keep the short bike course and offer a percentage refund.
- What about giving athletes an option to either participate with the short bike course OR take entry in a different race in the near future?
I obviously don’t know if they will do any of that, but I do hope they seriously consider making “it right” for all of us.
Perhaps they have insurance for these kinds of things.