Category Archives: Triathlon

9 Biggest Trends/Stories in Endurance Sports in 2013

By Pete Williams

Obstacle racing gets more intense.

Obstacle racing gets more intense.

When we launched Endurance Sports Florida nearly three years ago, we could not have imagined that this booming field still had lots of room for growth. Back in January of 2011, obstacle racing still was flying under the radar. Stand-up paddleboarding was a regional phenomenon and nobody had coined the term “theme race.”

These days, the market for all things endurance sports is flooded. No matter where you live, there are numerous opportunities to compete every weekend. In Florida, it’s impossible to find fewer than six endurance sports events within a 45-minute drive any weekend of the year, especially in 2013 with Christmas falling on a Wednesday.

The Sunshine State remains the epicenter for all things endurance sports. The hub might be Benderson Park, a sprawling rowing/swimming/paddling/triathlon complex going up in stages in Sarasota.

With that in mind, here are the top 9 stories/trends in the industry from 2013.

A young competitor at the Dash N Splash in St. Pete in May

A young competitor at the Dash N Splash in St. Pete in May

No. 9 – OPEN WATER SWIMMING: These competitions have existed for years, but there’s suddenly increased interest. Maybe it’s because the roads have gotten crowded (and dangerous) with all of the runners and cyclists, to say nothing of motorists focused on their smart phones. Maybe it’s because swimmers are realizing it’s a lot more fun than training in the pool. Maybe it’s because competitive youth swimmers (above) discovered they can get out of the pool and beat 90 percent of adult recreational swimmers in open water. Maybe it’s because many triathletes didn’t learn to swim as adults and want to put their skills to use as often as possible.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: Diana Nyad brought attention to open-water swimming in September by becoming the first to complete the treacherous Cuba-to-Key West swim without a shark cage. In January, 15-year-old Becca Mann won the Frogman Swim, the 5K trip in chilly waters from St. Pete to Tampa. Mann, now 16, hopes to reach the Olympics in 2016 in both open-water swimming and pool events. Anyone who has seen her train and compete for the Clearwater Aquatic Team knows this is a distinct possibility.

ArmstrongIronmanNo. 8 – LANCE ARMSTRONG CONFESSES: It seemed like such a foregone conclusion to all but his most ardent supporters that Lance Armstrong cheated his way to seven Tour de France victories that it’s easy to forget that his confession to Oprah Winfrey actually happened in 2013, back in January. It seems much longer ago. Lawsuits have piled up, sponsors bolted, and Lance even had to part ways with Livestrong. Since Armstrong can’t compete in sanctioned events, he’s not even allowed to enter triathlons, though Chris McCormack has challenged him to a one-on-one tri smackdown.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: The Tampa-based World Triathlon Corp. trumpeted its partnership with Armstrong only to look foolish when he was charged with doping in 2012. So vast was Armstrong’s deception that we’re left to wonder if he even raced clean on the triathlon front and whether his Ironman 70.3 win in Haines City in 2012 was legitimate. Surely, he raced clean there, right? Oprah didn’t ask.

RockRollHalfNo. 7 – NATIONAL EVENTS STRUGGLE IN FLORIDA: So often we see a national race promoter come to Florida and assume the masses will show up. After all, we have great year-round weather and hordes of athletes. Unfortunately, race promoters underestimate the number of established, affordable local events we have. Florida athletes are savvy customers with no patience for overpromising, overpricing, and underdelivering. That’s why it was no surprise that Competitor Group pulled its Rock ‘n’ Roll St. Pete event after another disappointing turnout in January. Tough Mudder, which had a traffic-related debacle in Sarasota in December of 2012, saw attendance plunge for events in Homestead (March) and Palatka (May). Even Spartan Race officials, who never seem to back down from a challenge, quietly canceled a proposed Spartan Beast event at Little Everglades Ranch for 2014. Ironman continues to sell out its Ironman Florida race in Panama City in a matter of minutes a year in advance, though that’s essentially a home event for the Tampa-based WTC. Warning to out-of-state promoters: Past performance elsewhere does not guarantee future return here and promoters can and do lose money.

Paddlers compete last month at Benderson Park in Sarasota.

Paddlers compete at Benderson Park in Sarasota in August.

No. 6 – SUP — UP AND UP: You know a sport is thriving when it seems every interview with a 24-year-old actress/model/singer mentions how she recently discovered stand-up paddleboarding. SUP has become the new yoga or Pilates, which makes sense since it works the body in a similar fashion and there’s now a cottage industry of SUP/yoga and SUP/Pilates classes. Surf Expo, which comes to the Orange County Convention Center each January and September, might as well be called SUP Expo. SUP board manufacturers have taken over the OCCC floor and the Thursday board demo day at a nearby watersports facility has become a highlight of the event for many.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: Besides SUP, er, Surf Expo in Orlando, the Florida Cup has become one of the sport’s premier events after just two years. St. Pete lawyer and avid paddler Bruce Denson has built a late May weekend event in Pinellas County that belongs in the same discussion as the Carolina Cup and perhaps one day soon the Battle of the Paddle in California. The Miramar Beach-based YOLO Board has become a major player in the competitive board manufacturing industry. Then there’s Dunedin’s Karen Mirlenbrink, who is a YOLO Board athlete, a race promoter (Shark Bite Challenge), and a SUP Pilates instructor — basically the Queen of all SUP.

PumpRun2No.5 – THE SPORT OF FITNESS: CrossFit and endurance sports traditionally were polar opposites. CrossFit tended to attract the gym rat demographic while runners never touched the weights. But once Spartan Race and Tough Mudder began actively courting the CrossFit crowd in 2011, the two met in the middle. You’ll still see groups from CrossFit boxes tackle obstacle races, though these days you’re more likely to see them enter CrossFit-style competitions or hybrid events such as the Pump N Run, a Tampa event (above) where athletes bench-pressed all of most of their weight and based on their performance deducted time from a subsequent 5K run. We’re not sure where all this is evolving, but it’s an interesting trend to watch.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: In addition to the Tampa Pump N Run, hosted by Tampa trainer Whit Lasseter in November, CrossFit box owners Clint and Maci Lowery stage regular obstacle races from their Sweat Factory facility in Minneola (near Clermont), which is adjacent to a running trail.

TriGroupNo. 4 – MARKET SATURATION – Back in 2005-07, we hosted a Friday afternoon fitness radio show that featured a brief segment previewing the weekend’s endurance events in Central Florida. The segment took about five minutes. These days it no doubt could fill a half hour and not just because of SUP races, obstacle events, and theme runs that didn’t exist back then. The number of triathlons and road running events has perhaps quadrupled and while that’s generally a good thing, it has diluted many races and created others hosted by organizers who have no business doing so. Triathlon seems to have peeked in popularity in 2011 after a decade of unbridled growth. Our theory is that some would-be triathletes instead turn to obstacle racing or CrossFit, where there’s no need to buy an expensive bike or learn to swim. But while there seems to be the same number of triathletes, there are more triathlons. As for running, it’s impossible in many markets to drive on a Saturday morning without being slowed by race road closures. What’s next? We’re guessing more road runners and obstacle racers will find the happy medium with trail running, which is easier on the body, generally offers a more pleasant race experience, and is often the best value in endurance sports. Which means, of course, that we’ll see a ton of trail races.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: It seems like ages ago when the St. Anthony’s Triathlon in St. Petersburg sold out in a few hours in December. These days, it’s possible to register the day before the late-April event. This year St. Anthony’s is hoping to stop the attendance decline by offering a sprint distance to go with the traditional international race.

FlavorRun3No.3 – THEMES, THEMES, and MORE THEMES: We’re not sure if color runs, beer runs, zombie runs, and all of the rest are endurance events or merely festivals with jogging and walking involved. But there’s no denying the impact. The Color Run, which debuted in January 2012 with 6,000 runners in Phoenix is now partnered with sports colossus IMG and stages more than 100 runs annually worldwide. The untimed Color Run, in which white-clad runners pass through stations where they’re doused with colored powder, has inspired numerous knockoffs, including the Florida-based Flavor Run. Most athletes walk or slowly run the events, which are great fun for kids.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: Like every other endurance sports category, Florida leads the nation in themed races. The Color Run alone has five Florida events scheduled in 2014 before Mother’s Day with more to come.

JenCalendarNo. 2OBSTACLE RACE SHAKEOUT – With a new obstacle race popping up seemingly ever week, it was only a matter of time before races started crashing in spectacular fashion. Mud runs have a bucket-list, post-the-Facebook-photo quality to them and events quickly have discovered it’s difficult to draw repeat customers. The zombie-themed Run for Your Lives endured the true death the day before Halloween. More surprising was the demise of Hero Rush, the Maryland-based, firefighter-themed obstacle race that we considered the best produced obstacle event of 2012. It flamed out in August, a victim of growing too big too fast. Who will survive? We’re betting on the races that position themselves as competitions rather than muddy office team-building exercises, which tend to attract the one-and-done crowd. That’s why we’re bullish on events such as the Mile of Pain/Battle Dash, sort of an outdoor version of American Ninja Warrior produced by Central Florida’s Rock On Adventures. Ditto for Spartan Race, which still trails the untimed, team-oriented Tough Mudder in popularity. With Spartan’s every-athlete-for-himself (or herself) format, new national sponsors such as Reebok, a recent one-hour special on NBC Sports Network, and races of three distances that include events in sports venues, we’re betting on King Leonidas and the gang.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: Hero Rush folded shortly before scheduled events in Ocala and South Florida. Through some poor scheduling (or perhaps intended) Tough Mudder and Spartan Race will go head to head in South Florida during the April 12-13, 2014 weekend. Spartan Race also brings its sports venue edition to Florida for the first time with a Spartan Sprint race at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium in February.

BostonStrongNo.1 – BOSTON STRONG – The Boston Marathon was the biggest endurance sports story of the year for all the wrong reasons. Two pressure cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the storied race on April 15, killing three people and injuring hundreds of others. The violence drew attention to the vulnerability of endurance events, which take place in wide-open settings, unlike sports competitions in enclosed venues. Runners and non-runners across the nation rallied to stage support runs and raise money for the victims. The Boston Red Sox surprising run to a World Series title further helped the healing process.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: An FBI agent shot and killed Ibragim Todashev, a friend of suspected bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, in Todashev’s Orlando apartment in the early hours of May 22 after a violent confrontation. A Florida prosecutor is expected to release a report of his investigation into the shooting early next year. On a positive note, numerous Florida runners have qualified for the 2014 Boston Marathon, which promises to be the most watched, most secure marathon ever.

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The Day-Night Triathlon Doubleheader

By Pete Williams

SunriseSunsetTriathlon2Perhaps it’s not as grueling as an Ironman Triathlon, but racing two triathlons in one day presents its own set of challenges.

Just finding two relatively close events on the same day, one in the morning and one in the evening, is difficult. Heck, Saturday’s scheduling of the Top Gun Triathlon at Fort DeSoto Park in St. Petersburg and the Twilight Triathlon in Crystal River might be (for the second straight year) the only opportunity in North America.

Evening triathlons are unusual. It’s much easier to shut down roads in the early morning hours. Race directors do not have to provide much additional lightning or require racers to have their own. Triathletes tend to be morning people anyway and prefer to race as the sun rises.

But the novelty of completing two triathlons in one day – even modest sprint distance events – was too much for about 60 of us to pass up last year. By all accounts, there will be more of us on hand on Saturday.

It’s not so much the distance of the races – quarter-mile swims, 10-mile bikes, and 5K runs – that are as short as it gets for sprint events. It’s the two-hour drive between race venues. Even if you live midway between them it’s a challenge to grab a few hours sleep. Assuming you get up at 4 a.m. for the 7 a.m. Top Gun start, you’ve already been up for 15.5 hours (and completed a triathlon) when you get in the water for the Twilight event.

Racing at Fort De Soto Park

Racing at Fort De Soto Park

Since both events have terrific post-race parties, it tends to be close to a 24-hour day. It also helps that race directors Fred Rzymek (Top Gun) and Chris Mohling (Twilight) are among the best in the business, having staged dozens of races at their respective venues. They bill the doubleheader as the “Sunrise Sunset Triathlon.”

If you’ve never raced a triathlon in the evening, you’re in for a treat. I started doing the Twilight Triathlon in 2010 when it came a week before Top Gun. Then last year with leap year the calendar shifted and the events ended up on the same day and have remained there.

It’s possible to do two obstacle races in one day since start times go on well into the afternoon. With so many OCR events, just do one at 8 a.m. and a nearby race at noon or later. I’ve done two OCR events in one day, an OCR event at night (last Saturday’s Mud Endeavor at the Pasco County Fairgrounds) and even a triathlon (Escape from Ft. DeSoto) and obstacle event (Savage Race) on the same day. But this is the only shot we get at two triathlons in one day.

The most impressive performance likely will come from Whit Lasseter, a thirtysomething fitness guru from South Tampa who will do her first triathlon and then her second in one day. That’s got to be a first.

Racing at night is a blast with the breathtaking sunset and the sight of hundreds of blinking bikes in post-race transition. With two events, it’s not a day for PRs, but perhaps the most memorable triathlon race experience of the year.

Listen to Twilight Triathlon race director Chris Mohling discuss the Sunrise/Sunset Triathlon Challenge on The Fitness Buff Show HERE.

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The Pro Triathlete College Student

By Corrie Seabrook

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATAMPA, Fla. –  At 9 on a Friday morning, Michael Poole jogs a lap around the trails by the University of South Florida’s tennis courts. His new orange Saucony shoes leave imprints in the dirt. The warm up barely makes him sweat, but his hair is wet from the swimming workout just before. His lean body stands at 6-foot-1-inches and his skin is tan from being in the sun for years.

This morning his training is light because the next day he will be racing in Barbados. There he races what he says was the best race of his life.

At 21, this New Zealand native spends 30 to 35 hours per week training for triathlons, while balancing a 15-hour course load for chemical engineering.

Poole discovered his passion for triathlons at age 16, when he joined his high school team. He met the challenge of coming into the sport late in adolescence. “I ran growing up, but didn’t start swimming until age 16,” Poole says. “That is something I have had to work very hard to catch up on.”

At 18 he began to excel and win race after race in Auckland. At that point in time he made the choice to go pro. In 2012 he was ranked seventh in the U.S.

Poole made decisions that many young people cannot imagine. Realizing that his best shot at making a living as a professional triathlete was in the United States, he decided to move to Florida, specifically the Tampa Bay area.

His area of study, chemical engineering, serves as his plan B.

“This is more like a backup plan,” Poole says. “Some guys get to 35 and they have to retire from triathlons, and they have nothing. I don’t want to be like that.”

MichaelPoole2So he researched what college he wanted to study at with the help of Google. He weighed the qualities of all the universities in the state, the locations and the fees. He decided that University of South Florida was the best place for him.

Before Poole moved, he endured a horrific bicycle accident when a car knocked him off of his bike, smashing his face. The driver drove off after the accident. The friend he had been training with called Poole’s mom to rush him to the hospital.

“At that moment I really realized I needed to go to college; it could’ve been worse,” he said.

Although he now has a fear of cars and sustaining another injury, Poole hasn’t allowed the incident to prevent him from racing.

In January of 2010 Poole competed in New Zealand’s Half Ironman Championships and met the professional triathlete standards. “It’s not complicated to stay a pro, I just need to be consistently getting top placings in races,” he says.

Another hurdle Poole had to jump was getting sponsors to invest in him. “Many triathlon related companies are willing to give me products,” he says. “But it is very hard to get a company to invest cash, which is important for me to be able to make a living and pay tuition.”

He is sponsored by New Zealand businesses like the bike company, Orbea. He receives two bikes and triathlon clothing throughout the year. His sponsors pay for 50 percent of each race’s fees, and Poole must come up with the rest. He manages to use the money he wins to finance his future races. For some of the races he stays in hotels when the race organizers pay for his stay. Otherwise he finds someone to stay with for that weekend.

MichaelPoole4“I have found Americans to be amazingly generous at inviting me into their homes,” Poole says.

Poole lives at an apartment alone near the USF campus. He trains by himself. No trainer or nutritionist guides his training. He starts his school days with 5 a.m. workouts and begins exercising later on his free days. He spends five hours every day training.

Poole suits up in his Lycra and takes his bike to a park called Flat Woods Park. There he rides a seven-mile long course for three hours. Next he runs in circles around the neighborhoods by his apartment for an hour. Finally, he swims freestyle for an hour and a half at USF’s indoor recreational pool.

“In a week I do 250 miles cycling, 60 miles running and 20 miles swimming,” says Poole, who has been away from New Zealand for more than a year.

He keeps in touch with his father, Alwyn, who acts as Poole’s agent and coach. Poole misses many things from home like the culture but most importantly his wife who works in Australia.

Every other weekend Poole travels to races. He takes a shuttle or catches the bus to the airport. So he doesn’t miss any classes because he usually flies early Saturday mornings and comes back to Tampa on Sunday evenings.

This year alone he has competed in 20 to 25 races. His dedication to this career has led him to travel to 20 different states for this sport. Poole doesn’t focus on Ironman races anymore, but instead concentrates on the Olympic distance races.

“I no longer do Ironmans as it takes me too long to recover from them so I would rather race Olympic distance races every weekend,” Poole says.

MichaelPoole3His favorite race by far has been the Escape from Alcatraz in San Francisco. The athletes zip up their wetsuits and swim from the former prison through 1.5 miles of freezing waters to the St. Francis Yacht Club. They then bike up hilly terrain for 18 miles and finish by running eight miles along the ocean side.

When Poole is not training he is taking five classes two days a week. His favorite thing to eat is Snicker’s ice cream and Asian cuisine. He gets through each race by picturing a bowl of ice cream at the end of it.

A sophomore, Poole has two more years to go in school before he can graduate. On average, he wins about $1,000 a race. He pays for most of his living expenses, but he hopes to attract more sponsors so he can provide more financial support for his wife.

His most recent race took place in Barbados, which was an International Triathlon Union Continental Cup. He placed second.

“Must have been a combination of shaved legs and the short run on Friday,” he laughs.

Poole hopes to continue to advance in this sport.

“In five years time if I am not the best, I am not stuck,” Poole says. “I can do something else with my life.”

View Michael Poole’s fan Facebook page HERE.

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Triathlon Training by Obstacle Racing

By Pete Williams

The bike leg at Fort DeSoto Park

ST. PETERSBURG – I wedged my way through the crowd Saturday for a look at the results of the Top Gun Triathlon, doing a double take at the number next to my name.

59:32.

I had broken an hour in a sprint-distance triathlon for the first time anywhere, including three previous attempts at Top Gun. This despite riding my bike just once since the St. Anthony’s Triathlon three months ago and undergoing just three modest swim workouts during that period.

Granted, the Top Gun swim course apparently was 80 yards shy of its usual quarter-mile and nobody could remember more favorable conditions for the 10-mile bike. The giant American flag at the entrance to Fort DeSoto park was still, the park’s notorious winds absent.

Still, I ran a fastest-ever 5K run leg at Fort DeSoto, broke my overall PR (set in 2009) by four minutes and finished seven minutes ahead of last year’s effort. I finished 32 seconds ahead of a friend of mine the same age who I’d never beaten, a guy who finished four minutes ahead of me in mid-April at the Escape from Fort DeSoto Triathlon, a slightly longer course, and who crushed me by thirty-one minutes at the Olympic-distance St. Anthony’s Triathlon two weeks later.

Later on Saturday, I headed to Crystal River for the Twilight Triathlon and finished three minutes faster than last year – despite doing two triathlons in one day.

How could this be?

Maybe I’m onto a training secret: get faster by not training. This could be a best-selling book.

Actually, it probably has a lot to do with training for obstacle races. I’ve done nine in the last nine months, ranging from the 5K (Warrior Dash, Highlander, Mud Crusade, Hog Wild) to the 5-6 mile range (Savage Race, Dirty Foot Adventure Run) to the 9-mile Super Spartan Race  to the 12-mile Tough Mudder. Then there was the YAKathon, sort of the middle ground between obstacle racing and triathlon with a 1-mile kayak (or stand-up paddle), 6-mile mountain bike ride, and 5K obstacle run.

Some triathletes scoff at obstacle racing since there’s little-to-no swimming involved and because some participants walk much of the course.

But if you push yourself through obstacle work, both in preparation and the race itself, it’s a brutal all-around workout that produces incredible results. Consider:

TRANSITION TIMES: One of the toughest things about triathlon is transitioning between the swim and the bike and the bike and the run. It’s not just a matter of efficiently changing gear but also catching your breath, getting your legs to adjust, and maintaining speed. Even the best triathletes struggle with transition at times, especially running the first half mile after the bike when your legs feel like cement.

Still, that’s only two transitions. Obstacle races have two dozen running-obstacle-running transitions. Sure, the transitions are more modest, but there’s a lot more of them. Obstacle races are won by people who clear obstacles quickly and regain their speed immediately. Do enough of those and triathlon transitions seem a lot easier.

It’s funny. After doing a lot of obstacle races, it no longer bothers you to run 1.5 miles in sand during a triathlon, as is the case with Top Gun. In fact, it feels easier not having to stop and deal with an obstacle every couple hundred yards.

During triathlons, you’ll often get passed on the run by people who appear to have fresh legs. Some of them do, since they’re competing as part of relay teams. But on Saturday I passed a few people with “R” on their right calves. Part of that is conditioning from obstacle race transitions. The rest has to do with interval training and obstacle-specific work.

INTERVAL TRAINING: It’s no secret that interval training, alternating between hard bursts of effort and lighter recovery periods, is the most effective way to get faster. But runners and triathletes often fall into a lull of training long and slow. I’ve been as guilty of this as anyone.

But obstacle races encourage interval training. Traditional running intervals are effective (i.e. two minutes running hard, two minutes walking or jogging, etc.) but what really works is alternating between strength moves and running.

National races like Tough Mudder and Spartan Race have aligned themselves closely with CrossFit. It makes sense since all three have soared in popularity over the last two years and all three market themselves as grueling, tough-as-nails endeavors.

The one shortcoming with CrossFit is that there’s not much running involved. CrossFitters often cruise through obstacles at races but move slowly between the challenges. (Of course, a lot of runners and triathletes race through the course but struggle with the obstacles.)

But if you can alternate between strength/core moves and running, as the folks at the CrossFit gym TNL Tampa do on Saturday mornings, you have an effective program to thrive in obstacle races. Eric Stratman, the owner of CrossFit, says he jumps in an occasional triathlon and does reasonably well despite not training like a triathlete.

I was skeptical of his claims until Saturday. Apparently if you want to be a faster triathlete, cut down the hours on the bike, swim, and run and just train for a few obstacle races.

 

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Triathlon alternative: the ‘YAKathon’

By Pete Williams

Part of the Roper Ranch ‘YAKathon’ course

Jonny Simpkins is a big fan of kayaking. As the race director for such popular events as The Highlander adventure run, he hears from a lot of would-be triathletes who are intimidated by swimming.

So he created the YAKathon adventure race, which debuts Saturday (July 14) at the Roper Ranch in Clermont. Instead of swimming, athletes will kayak nearly a mile before biking off road 6.2 miles and finish by trail running roughly three miles. They’ll also run an additional mile since the transition area/start and kayak launch are about a half-mile apart.

Athletes can bring their own kayaks or use one of the 50 that will be provided. Simpkins says those of us who want to bring a stand-up paddleboard instead of kayaking are welcome to do so. A field of 250 or so is expected. (Athletes go off in waves so there will be plenty of kayaks.)

“I like putting on different races and I’m hearing from both triathletes and people interested in adventure racing,” Simpkins says. “It’s going to be tough, but it’s also going to be a lot of fun.”

Simpkins has a background in motocross racing and endurance sports. He’s also owned an irrigation company for years. Those were good qualifications to launch Rock On Adventures, which debuted last year with The Highlander, one of the more popular Florida-based adventure runs.

Simpkins staged The Highlander twice at a facility in Bartow but opted to move to the Roper Ranch and expand his offerings to include the Yakathon and the zombie-themed Monster Bash Dash, which debuted in May and will be back on Oct. 27. The third edition of The Highlander takes place at Roper Ranch on Sept. 22.

By using the same sprawling property for all of his events, Simpkins can overlap some of the courses. The run leg for the YAKathon, for instance, will incorporate some of the Monster Bash Dash course, including some of that race’s minor obstacles. A recent tornado took down a couple of trees on the course, which add to the challenge.

The YAKathon begins at 8 a.m. with waves of 50 every half hour. Simpkins recommends participants bring plenty of water and two pairs of shoes in case they get wet during the kayak leg. Like a triathlon, athletes will have a transition area where they can set up bikes, water, food, towels, and changes of shoes. He says most athletes will take about two hours.

“With just 250 athletes, this will be a very well-organized event that I think athletes really are going to enjoy,” Simpkins says. “Endurance athletes are always looking for something new and I’d be surprised if we didn’t have double the field next year.”

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The Triathlon Doubleheader

By Pete Williams

There is no shortage of triathlons in Central Florida, sometimes three or four within driving distance in the same weekend.

But rarely is it possible to attempt two triathlons in one day. This year, through a quirk of Leap Year scheduling, the early morning Top Gun Triathlon and Twilight Triathlon (7:30 p.m.) both take place on July 28.

The promoters are encouraging triathletes to complete the “Sunrise Sunset Triathlon.” Athletes who manage to attend both events, which are roughly 100 miles apart, will receive a Sunrise Sunset T-shirt, along with T-shirts for each of the events.

“We’re getting a lot of interest from people who want to do both,” says Chris Mohling, whose DRC Sports company puts on the Twilight Triathlon. “It’s an unusual opportunity for triathletes to test themselves.”

We’re big fans of both well-organized events, staged by promoters who each put on multiple events apiece at the July 28 venue. The 12th annual Top Gun Triathlon, with its quarter-mile swim in usually calm waters, along with a 10-mile bike and 5K run, at beautiful Fort De Soto Park in St. Petersburg, is a favorite among first-timers, drawing about 1,100 athletes. It’s the second of three Fort De Soto triathlons staged each year by longtime race director Fred Rzymek.

The sixth-annual Twilight Triathlon (quarter-mile swim, 10-mile bike, 3-mile run) is one of four events DRC Sports puts on from the end of W. Fort Island Trail in Crystal River. It’s the only one that starts in the evening, and most athletes finish as the sun sets. That’s not an unusual experience for Ironman athletes, who can take 12 hours or more to complete a race, but it’s not something sprint triathletes experience often. At the Twilight Triathlon, athletes must have lights on their bike and wear reflective clothing on the run.

Racing at Fort De Soto Park

The Twilight Triathlon is held at a smaller venue that accommodates about 400 athletes, but it’s a popular beach site. Athletes typically hang out for an hour or two after the race for the post-event party.

The toughest part of racing in two triathlons on July 28 might not be the distance of the events or between events but rather managing sleep and recovery. Most athletes typically get up around 4 a.m. for a morning triathlon.

“There’s probably going to be a nap involved for most,”  says Rzymek, who will work his own Top Gun event and then race the Twilight Triathlon. “There aren’t many people who can say they’ve done two triathlons in one day.”

(Listen to our interview with Twilight Triathlon race director Chris Mohling on The Fitness Buff Show HERE.)

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Ironman Spins Off Lava Magazine

By Pete Williams

Lava’s June issue

World Triathlon Corp. continues to focus on its core business. The Tampa-based parent company of Ironman today announced that it has sold its two-year-old Lava Magazine to “a group of private investors with a long-term tie to the triathlon community.”

The new group will be known as LAVA Media, LLC and retain its current staff with Heather Gordon as publisher. WTC CEO Andrew Messick said in a statement that “Ironman is in the business of creating extraordinary races and event experiences, not publishing.”

The sale is the latest move by Messick to focus Ironman on its primary business of long-distance triathlons. Messick was installed as CEO last May by the Providence Equity Partners’ Group that purchased WTC from the Gills family in September of 2008.

Since taking over, Messick has scrapped Ironman’s plans to launch an obstacle mud race series called Primal Challenge, sold off a timing business, scaled back WTC’s one-year-old 5150 Olympic-distance triathlon series, and reevaluated every aspect of the company beyond the signature Ironman-distance races and the 70.3 (half Ironman) events.

In an interview with EnduranceSportsFlorida last month, Messick said: “I think that we may have lost sight a little bit of what we do and what we’re uniquely good at. We’re uniquely good at long distance triathlon, creating these very hard, very important, life-changing events for our athletes and I worry that by focusing on other stuff, we run the risk of not being as good as we need to at our bread and butter, the core of our business. We don’t have as many 5150s this year. We don’t have Primal Challenge. We don’t have our own timing business anymore. There’s a whole series of things we were getting into that in my mind took our eye off achieving real excellence at the things we need to be excellent at and that’s creating these extraordinary athlete experiences.”

Lava, a reference to Ironman’s world championship in Hawaii, seemed like an attempt by WTC to take on Competitor Group, which publishes endurance books and magazines in addition to organizing the Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon series, Muddy Buddy races, and shorter triathlons.

Lava is produced in California, far from WTC’s headquarters in Tampa, and comes across as a more upscale version of Triathlete magazine, which though owned by Competitor also tends to focus on Ironman events and professional triathletes.

LAVA Media, LLC, will own and operate the magazine’s print, online and digital properties. Ironman and Lava will continue a partnership, with Lava designated as the official magazine of Ironman.

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The Amazing Story of Matt Miller

By Pete Williams

Matt Miller had no business surviving a bicycle accident in November 2008. The 20-year-old University of Virginia student and triathlete collided with an oncoming Porsche along the Blue Ridge Parkway, smashing into the vehicle with his face.

He broke every bone in his face, essentially lost all of his teeth, and experienced severe brain trauma. Remarkably, the first person on the scene was an anesthesiologist, who knew how to position his head. That was the first of a series of fortunate circumstances that got him alive to the University of Virginia hospital, where doctors gave him little chance of surviving 72 hours, at least without permanent brain damage.

Instead, Miller walked out of the hospital in 25 days, scored a 95 on a makeup physics exam with a class average of 65, and two years later completed Ironman Cozumel in a top 10 percent time of 10:30 — during his first semester of medical school, no less.

As an undergraduate, he shadowed a doctor at the University of Virginia hospital. His family’s medical background goes back to his maternal great, great grandfather, a Civil War surgeon and Virginia graduate.

If Matt Miller’s story was a work of fiction, it would seem too farfetched. That might explain why Michael Vitez, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who chronicled Miller’s recovery for The Philadelphia Inquirer, was rejected by fifteen New York book publishers who no doubt are waiting for the next Kardashian book proposal.

Thankfully, Vitez decided to self-publish the book via CreateSpace.com and the result, The Road Back: A Journey of Grace and Grit, is an adrenaline-charged book that I read in one sitting after downloading Monday morning. Vitez won a Pulitzer for a series of stories on five people as they dealt with the end of their lives. He also wrote a book called Rocky stories, spending a year interviewing people who ran the “Rocky steps” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Those themes resonate in The Road Back, where Miller’s family spends three agonizing days wondering if he’s going to make it. Miller even has a shy, pretty girlfriend, Emily, who for weeks spends nights at his hospital bedside even as his face is mangled far beyond anything Rocky endured. (The two are still together, fellow medical students at the University of Pennsylvania, and, well, we won’t spoil the ending.)

Miller, a walk-on swimmer at the University of Virginia who quit the team after one year to focus on triathlon, showed a superhuman tolerance for pain and proving medical experts wrong. He was studying his physics texts in bed within days of emerging from major brain trauma. He found a way to consume nearly 4,000 calories a day with his jaw wired shut and underwent eight root canals in one day with minimal painkillers. While still in the hospital, he got his former swim coach Mark Bernardino’s calves burning as they walked stairwells together.

Vitez, a University of Virginia graduate who in the late 1970s edited a Cavalier Daily student newspaper staff that included classmate Katie Couric, learned of Miller’s story early in 2009 while playing poker with a co-worker of Miller’s father. A gifted storyteller, Vitez soon was in Charlottesville chronicling Miller’s recovery and marveling like everyone else at his upbeat personality.

Perhaps the most poignant moment in the book is when someone finally handed Miller a mirror in the hospital. He just shrugged at the sight of his disfigured face that would require many more surgeries.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” says Vitez, who joined us on The Fitness Buff Show. “I sent a draft of the book to my agent and she sent it back. She didn’t believe it and told me to go back and talk to him some more. She thought there must have been a point where he was devastated and I wasn’t going deep enough. And I went back and asked again and again, but I found that Matt felt that as long as his girlfriend was with him and that there was no hesitation on her part, that he was fine. He said, ‘I’m a vain guy. I used to be upset about a pimple on my face. It’s not that I don’t care how I look, but I’m up thinking and walking, living my life, and Emily was still in love with me and the rest didn’t matter.'”

Three months after the accident, Miller jumped into a pool for the first time, swam a 100 free in 59 seconds, and vowed to do an Ironman triathlon. He started with the Charlottesville Half Marathon, posting a 1:27:28 – 10th among the 436 men entered. In the fall of 2009, he finished 28th among the 2,500 competitors in the Nation’s Triathlon in Washington.

Most cyclists and triathletes can recall every detail of bicycle accidents and struggle not to think of them while riding. Miller, who remembers nothing of his crash, scared his family and girlfriend by getting back in the saddle – of his repaired bike no less – agreeing to wear a motorcycle-like helmet and ride on roads without automobile traffic.

Miller completed Ironman Cozumel among the top 10 percent of the field and vowed to do another – after medical school. He still competes in shorter triathlons and other races. Over the weekend he completed the 10-mile Broad Street Run in Philadelphia in 59:26, a pace just under a 6-minute mile.

Not bad for a guy wrapping up his second year of medical school.

Vitez says he still struggles to explain how Miller got through the ordeal with such an upbeat personality.

“I think he put his family through such a horror that he was determined not to complain or let anything slow down his recovery out of respect and love for Emily and his family since he had caused them such pain,” he said. “There are such great qualities in this kid and it was a thrill to share it.”

(To hear an interview with Michael Vitez, author of The Road Back, click HERE)

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A Smaller More Enjoyable St. Anthony’s

By Pete Williams

ST. PETERSBURG – The St. Anthony’s Triathlon staged an Olympic-distance event today for the first time since 2008, which means the 3,000 or so athletes on hand got to enjoy the event they paid for without weather disruptions for the first time since before the economy crashed.

When an event is joint promoted by its health care provider owner and the World Triathlon Corp. (aka Ironman), which seems to be going through the motions with its second-annual 5150 series, it’s not surprising that it comes across as tone deaf to the economy. No wonder St. Anthony’s has gone from a race that used to sell out in December at nearly 5,000 athletes to one that attracts about 3,000 and does not sell out.

That’s bad for Baycare and WTC, but awesome for the athletes. The event seems more manageable with fewer participants, though we’re not sure if moving the swim start north from Spa Beach to just beyond North Shore Beach had the desired effect of keeping athletes out of rough waters. In fact, athletes now seem to spend more time navigating the washing machine immediately in front of the Vinoy basin.

No wonder more than 80 percent of athletes wore wetsuits this morning. That’s a strange thing considering many Tampa Bay homeowners haven’t turned on their heat since February – of 2011. Air temperature was 75 when the pros went off shortly before 7 a.m. and well into the 80s by the time the last of the age groupers entered the water. Race officials announced the water temperature at 76.5 degrees, a wink-wink fudging of the numbers to ensure everyone, especially the hundreds of first-timers, could wear their wetsuits.

It’s a sound strategy. I was among the idiots who swam without a wetsuit. Though the water was plenty warm, just as it was two weeks ago during the half-mile swim at the Escape from Fort DeSoto Triathlon 10 miles to the south where hardly anyone wore wetsuits, I paid the price with an extended stay in the Vinoy basin rinse cycle.

The bike course is where St. Anthony’s has really improved because of decreased attendance. Putting nearly 5,000 bikes on a twisting, turning course through St. Pete more suited for the Honda Grand Prix was making things dangerous. But with just 3,000 cyclists, it’s much safer. St. Anthony’s always does a great job with volunteer support and it doesn’t seem they’ve cut there even as registrations have dropped.

Having endured a few Baycare medical bills in the last 15 months, we’re confident St. Anthony’s can get by with “only” 3,000 athletes. Ditto for WTC, which seems unwilling to admit that the 5150 branding of Olympic distance races was just a bad idea. Even many avid triathletes can’t explain the 5150 specifics, especially in a year involving a Van Halen reunion tour. We’ve never understood the odd relationship between WTC and Baycare. The 5150 series, which didn’t gain any fans in these parts by canceling the inaugural year-end race in Clearwater in November, only further blends two polarizing brands.

WTC has gotten into the habit recently of canceling events that don’t meet registration expectations. The M-Dot doesn’t hold that kind of sway over St. Anthony’s and even if it did, we hope that wouldn’t happen, even if registrations drop another 20 percent in 2013.

After all, it seems the smaller St. Anthony’s gets, the more enjoyable it becomes for the athletes.

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One-on-One with Ironman Chief Andrew Messick

By Pete Williams

WTC CEO Andrew Messick

TAMPA – When Andrew Messick spoke to the Triathlon America trade organization last month, the CEO of the World Triathlon Corp., parent company of Ironman, prefaced his address with “I come in peace.”

It was a reference to Ironman’s historically stormy relationship with the sport’s governing bodies, race directors, sponsors, media, and even the athletes themselves. Under the company’s former leadership of eye surgeon owners James and Pit Gills, and former CEO Ben Fertic, the company developed a reputation of being secretive at best, arrogant and tone-deaf at worst.

Messick, installed as CEO last May by the Providence Equity Partners’ Group that purchased WTC from the Gills family in September of 2008 just days before the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy triggered the recession, has spent his first year mending fences and boosting a brand that for all of its financial success remains under the radar in the sports world.

A two-time Ironman finisher, the 48-year-old Messick came to WTC after four years as president of AEG Sports, where he oversaw such iconic endurance events as the Amgen Tour of California cycling race and the Bay to Breakers running event. That followed a seven-year stint working for the NBA.

We never had any luck getting an audience with the previous WTC regime, even when writing stories on the growth of triathlon and Ironman in 2007 for The New Year Times and SportsBusiness Journal. So we were pleasantly surprised when Messick accepted our offer to have an hour-long conversation about all things Ironman at the WTC offices in Tampa on Tuesday.

EnduranceSportsFlorida: Were you surprised at how disliked WTC was among triathletes?

Andrew Messick:No, because in my former life I was a lousy age grouper (from 2004-2006) when I was racing a lot. I had a clear point of view of how WTC was perceived even then. I did Ironman Canada and Ironman Lake Placid and those were great races, races that had soul and great community and people who were happy you were there. Even then people didn’t like WTC and it wasn’t clear to me exactly why, but that perception existed and there was the usual things you would see on message boards. “WTC didn’t care about athletes,” the usual stuff. It’s been there a long time and I knew it would be one of those things that would require effort, energy, and attention. It’s frustrating to a lot of people in this organization. People don’t acknowledge how much work and effort goes into the athlete experience. It’s easy for people to just assume that all the stuff that happens at a race – registration working, volunteers are there, having swim/bike/run courses that are safe – that all of that miraculously happens. It’s WTC people who do all that. I don’t think WTC as a company ever spent very much time focused on talking to athletes. The folks that used to run the place didn’t feel like they had any obligation to communicate to their customers, which I don’t agree with. I would much rather communicate and have disagreements now and then than never say anything, which is kind of what used to happen. There was a culture around here of you do what you think is right, you announce it, but you don’t explain why and eventually people will get over it. That’s not the way I was taught to do things.

Messick at Ironman Melbourne last month (Photo courtesy http://www.FinisherPix.com).

 

ESF: How much progress have you made on that front?

AM: We’re getting there. Whenever you’re running anything, you’re faced with lots of decisions and you have to choose.  Either we’re going to keep the way we do Kona qualification the same or we’re not and that’s a decision. Keeping it the way it is perpetuates the things that don’t work and it also perpetuates the things that do work. Changing it introduces new ideas and thinking but also upsets the status quo. No matter what you do there’s a choice involved. We’ve got super-smart, super-motivated athletes who do our races and there’s a super high level of engagement. If you explain what you’re trying to do and why you made the choices you did, by and large people understand. Not everyone will agree with you, but at least people understand why you did it and they don’t think you made a decision in a vacuum or made a decision without consulting any of the other shareholders and stakeholders. Understanding why you did something is very important and I don’t think we did a very good job historically of doing that. We’d say, here’s the new procedure and that’s it.

ESF: You’ve talked about expanding the Ironman customer base from 66,000 athletes annually to 150,000, and also bringing more races into the mix. Are you suggesting getting involved in races of shorter distances?

AM: We’re really good as an organization at producing – not necessarily destination races – but sort of the key races on athletes’ calendars. That’s what we’re good at. I was in Galveston (Texas for the Ironman 70.3) this past weekend and Melbourne (Australia) the weekend before. Those are great events, expensive, highly produced events that are the key races for our athletes that year. And we have a cost structure that is really designed to be able to deliver those kinds of events. I don’t think we have a cost structure that’s designed to deliver the Olympic distance. You can charge a premium for fulls, for 70.3s. It’s harder to charge a premium for Olympic distance events. Athletes want an event that’s at a certain price point and the Olympic distance race that’s more than $100 – there’s a lot of resistance to that. One of the things the 5150 experience taught us last year is that if you’re going to charge a lot more than $100, what is the additional value added? And if you can’t provide that, it’s a hard sell. So we’re in the process of trying to figure out if we can deliver the level of service of a 70.3 and an Ironman at an Olympic distance race at a price point that works for our consumers.

ESF: So this is the year to figure that out?

AM: Yeah. We’re a premium brand. BMWs struggle to hit Volkswagen price points. There’s nothing wrong with Volkswagens. I love ‘em; I’ve driven them my whole life. But you have to have a Volkswagen business system to make Volkswagens. We have a BMW business system to make BMWs.

Ironman athletes haven't always been at peace with WTC.

ESF: You have Iron Girl and IronKids. Are they in the same category as 5150 or is that a different conversation?

AM: That’s a different conversation. Iron Girl and IronKids are very different animals. With Iron Kids, we have a good partnership with HyVee, and HyVee supports our Midwestern Iron Kids series. We have a strong skew to the midwest. Most of our non-Hyvee Iron Kids races are attached to existing events. We leverage the fact that we’ve got a 70.3 in Boulder and we have a staff, team and infrastructure so there’s a ton of things we don’t have to replicate. Without a partner like HyVee, it would be pretty hard for us to have separate standalone IronKids events because it’s a low price point. With Iron Girl, we’ve got 16 North American events this year and we have a separate operational marketing and management team and they live the Iron Girl brand and that’s different from beginning to end in terms of what we deliver and how.

ESF: There seemed to be a point last year where Ironman was chasing every popular endurance trend such as half marathons and mud runs with Primal Challenge, which you canceled before it started. Was there a concern that you were getting away from your core business?

AM: I think that we may have lost sight a little bit of what we do and what we’re uniquely good at. We’re uniquely good at long distance triathlon, creating these very hard, very important, life-changing events for our athletes and I worry that by focusing on other stuff, we run the risk of not being as good as we need to at our bread and butter, the core of our business. We don’t have as many 5150s this year. We don’t have Primal Challenge. We don’t have our own timing business anymore. There’s a whole series of things we were getting into that in my mind took our eye off achieving real excellence at the things we need to be excellent at and that’s creating these extraordinary athlete experiences. Ironman Canada and Ironman Lake Placid changed my life. As an age grouper, training for those events, being part of the Ironman community, and crossing that finish line – it indelibly marked me like it does for a lot of our athletes. This organization is fiercely protective of that experience for our athletes and we need to make sure we stay laser focused on creating great races and treating our athletes the way they need to be treated and making sure the journey of our athletes is as good as it can be. To be that focused you have to be pretty systematic about getting rid of distractions. We had a lot of distractions and still have a lot of distractions. But we have fewer than we had nine months ago and we’ll have fewer a year from now.

ESF: What if you purchased a race registration site? Would that be a distraction or would that fit with your business model?

AM: That’s a big question for us. Active has been a great partner of ours for a long time. But at the same time there’s lots of other registration solutions out there and it’s clear we need to have more versatility in terms of what happens when athletes sign up and the ease of athlete sign-up and how we manage these incredible spikes in demand. It’s a complex set of choices we’re trying to figure out right now in terms of the whole race registration process. We need to have a better solution for our athletes and figure out what we’re going to do to handle demand. Melbourne sold out in less than five minutes a week ago. We’ve always had this situation for our races. Ironman Florida sold out in 11 minutes, Arizona in six or seven minutes. Our full Ironman races are selling out really quickly. Somewhere in the next year is a real serious conversation about what’s the fairest thing for our athletes. Is it at noon Eastern Time, Active registration opens and the fastest guys on the mouse get it? That’s fair if you live in the U.S. maybe but if you live in Australia and it’s three in the morning, I’m not sure that’s fair. I’m not sure it’s fair for people who are at work. There’s a whole question of how you handle demand and our registration partner is an important part of that. Is it a sign-up, a lottery, first in, best-dressed, which is how we do it today? Should there be an advantage to those who did it last year, to those who do more races with us? There’s a whole bunch of ways you can go and so we need to be pretty thoughtful in the next year about how that whole thing comes together.

ESF: Could you go the route of buying a system like Competitor did?

AM: The RaceIt system that Competitor has is a really good one. It’s designed for race registration and a lot of the problems we have. The system isn’t fully built out yet and it hasn’t been fully beta tested for all this stuff, for the unique things we have. To the best of my knowledge there aren’t any other systems, with the exception of concert systems, that have the kind of super high immediate demand. Trying to register thousands of athletes in three or four minutes creates a unique set of challenges.

The always dramatic Ironman swim start. Ready for increased television exposure?

ESF: What was your own Ironman experience like?

AM: I did Ironman Canada in 2005 (time of 12:34) and Lake Placid in 2006 (11:07). I did Canada with a broken arm, which is not recommended and completely blew up on the run. I did the Boston Marathon in 3:09 in 2006 and I don’t think I did a single mile at Canada in less than 11 minutes. I started cramping coming off Yellow Lake  (bike course) and my Ironman Canada run was 5:24. I’d walk 100 yards, jog 100 yards, just five and a half hours of severe pain. I had crashed my bike five days before in Central Park on my last tune-up ride. Someone stepped out in front of me, I went over the handlebars and had a radial head fracture in my elbow. The doctor said there was no risk of it getting worse unless I crashed again. So it was just a pain management exercise. I had played rugby and wore a rugby mouthpiece during the swim, which was very painful. What I hadn’t planed for was that I usually reach for bottles with my right arm (on the bike), and couldn’t do so because it was broke. I could only reach with my left, which screwed up my nutrition and I started cramping. That was my first Ironman experience. Lake Placid was the makeup race.

What impact will the biggest name in endurance sports have on triathlon? (Photo courtesy of http://www.FinisherPix.com)

ESF: You spent seven years (2000-2007) working for the NBA, which perhaps more than any other league leveraged its brand around superstars. How important is it to build bigger names in triathlon?

AM: Triathlon is unique in that its beating heart isn’t pro athletes; it’s age groupers. That makes it different than most other sports. When you go to an NBA game, you’re going to see Kobe Bryant or LeBron James or back in the day Michael, Magic, Larry, or Dr. J. People sign up for Ironman Lake Placid to do Ironman Lake Placid; it’s their journey. That said, there’s a huge opportunity for us to use pro athletes to talk more broadly about our sport, to increase awareness of our sport, to talk about the benefits, the things that triathlon uniquely delivers in terms of quality of life, setting goals. All of those are broader messages and benefits that our lifestyle promotes. Our pros are super smart, articulate, and motivated and by and large there hasn’t been the kind of connection between the company and professional athletes that you’d like. One of the big insights for me was seeing how disconnected pro athletes are from the rest of the business compared to cycling, running, or the NBA. It’s a huge untapped opportunity and I think we can do much better with our pros to build better relationships, to have them be stronger, more powerful advocates for our races and the sport and for us in return, to give them a better platform to make a living and attract sponsors. There’s an integration that hasn’t occurred, but we’re making progress and it will take some time. That was one of my bigger surprises, how much professional athletes weren’t integrated into what we do.

ESF: So how do you integrate them more into the company?

AM: When we go and pitch a sponsorship to Company X, we don’t do anything with our professionals. We don’t introduce our pro athletes to companies; we should. When we’re pitching an automotive company, we don’t say we have four pro athletes you should put under contract, and we’ll guarantee that you have six days a year for athletes A, B, or C. They can go to the regional dealer meeting in Tucson and talk to a group of your dealers about setting goals, working toward objectives, and telling their stories. Those types of things are really powerful and yet we’ve never viewed professional athletes as an asset. By doing that, you can introduce your athletes to important companies and they become ambassadors for you. So there’s really low hanging fruit there that we’re only now becoming organized enough to capture.

ESF: Do you need a dominant performer like Mark Allen or Dave Scott to emerge?

AM: Stars help in every sport and having people who have the ability and the charisma to take a sport off the sports page – or in our case to take the sport out of the endemic media – and get broader distribution is helpful. If you look at what Tiger Woods did for golf or what Magic, Michael and those guys did for basketball, those are transformative personalities. Look at Lance Armstrong and cycling in terms of television ratings, interest in the sport, and bikes sold. No question it’s helpful.

Armstrong considers the run his weakest leg of triathlon. (Photo courtesy www.FinisherPix.com)

ESF: Speaking of Lance Armstrong, if he’s only a top 10 finisher and not a contender in Ironman races, does that lessen the impact he has in triathlon?

AM: If you’d told anybody two months ago that Lance Armstrong at the age of 40 will go pro, finish top 10 in his first two (70.3) races and go under 3:55 in both of them, people would have said you’re out of your mind. Or if you flip-flopped Panama and Galveston and he went seventh in his first race and second in his second, we’re talking about an entirely different story. He came off the bike first in Galveston, was fourth until mile 12 (of the run) and like a lot of people who race, he had a bad last mile. It happens. It’s going to be exciting to see what happens, in Haines City (Fla.) and Nice and later in the year. It’s a great opportunity to get people focused on the sport of triathlon, people who wouldn’t ordinary be interested.

ESF: People love the NBC Kona package and watch Ironman races online. Obviously there are logistical challenges to broadcasting triathlon on television. But in 2012 shouldn’t there be live coverage of Ironman events somewhere on TV?

AM: We won’t have live television in 2012. We’re live online everywhere in the world. Our production and product is getting better. We’re seeing increases in traffic and viewership. We had more than 250,000 watching (Galveston 70.3) on Sunday and there are a lot of TV shows that don’t get that many watching. Whether it will be on TV or not, that’s hard. From a production/logistical perspective, it’s super challenging and we need a pretty compelling reason to do it. The races are long. You need big windows and you need to be on a network that has broad distribution and that’s not easy.

ESF: Is there anything in your NBC contract that precludes it?

AM: No. Between Universal Sports and NBC, contractually we’ve got the right to do all kinds of stuff. Whether NBC is going to create a multi-hour television window for us, I know the answer to that.

ESF: What about any of its sister networks?

AM: It’s a conversation but not one for 2012. For 2012, we’ll continue to have a strong relationship. Universal Sports will broadcast recaps of our races. Kona will be on NBC and we will have a live package that will get better over time that will largely be focused on our site (Ironman.com), not UniversalSports.com.

ESF: How important is it for Ironman to get more mainstream media coverage?

AM: I think it’s really important and what we have to do is find stories that mainstream media finds compelling enough to cover and without stars it’s really hard. There’s a lot of competition for writers’ time and column inches and you need to have a compelling story to tell and we’re trying every day to do that.

ESF: Can you answer the off-asked trademark question regarding Ironman and Iron Man? Is it simply that WTC owns the trademark as it applies to triathlon and Marvel owns everything else?

AM: It’s more complex than that. We’ve got areas where we can play and they can play. There are things we can and can’t do and things they can and can’t do. It works and has been heavily negotiated over many years.

Tough Mudder: Competitor or Complementary?

ESF: Obstacle races such as Tough Mudder and Spartan Race are drawing huge numbers of people looking for a life-changing accomplishment. Do you view them as competition?

AM: I don’t think so. I haven’t been presented with any evidence that suggests someone wakes up and says, “I’m going to do Tough Mudder or an Ironman 70.3.” If anything I think it’s good for us. Ultimately, the more people who are out racing and competing in events – and I feel the same way about the Rock ‘N Roll marathon series – the more people eventually will move into our wheelhouse. The real base of the pyramid is signing up for events, whether it’s a local 5K or Tough Mudder. Getting people into the process of signing up and preparing for an event, doing a race and finishing, puts people on the way. The broader the base of participants, the broader the base who find their way to our events. We’re at the very top of the pyramid in that, if you’re a marathoner, someone doing Gran Fondos, or a competitive swimmer, at some point, Ironman is in the back of your head. If you’ve had a transformational life experience – you’ve had a heart attack and recovered or lost 50 pounds and you attribute it to achieving your goal – even if it’s only a 5K, you start thinking of your next goal and we’re part of that.

ESF: You’re a Southern California guy. Triathlon has strong ties to that region. There’s no longer anything tying Ironman to the Tampa Bay area. Do you plan to stay here long term?

AM: We’re about to expand to the other side of this floor and will have the whole floor. There’s a lot of other things to be focusing on right now. We’ve been in Tampa a long time; the staff is from Tampa and I have no plans to leave Tampa. I sold the house in Los Angeles. It’s been a really busy eight months and it will be a really busy next year. When I think of all the things we have to do and priorities and all the stuff that needs to happen, there’s a ton of mission critical stuff we have to tackle. That’s not mission critical. We’re fine here and have no plans to move.

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