The facts are pretty clear. When it comes to non-Ironman branded 140.6 races, there are simply not many options in the United States.
By my count, in 2015, there were 31 full iron distance races in the US, excluding Kona. Approximately 28,000 athletes finished those races. That sure seams like a lot of races and a lot of athletes, right?
This graph shows the distribution of athletes finishing each of the iron-distance races in 2015. Note that I was unable to find results for a few races (Vineman, Redman and Bear Lake Brawl) and one race was canceled (Michigan Titanium), therefore the overall numbers are likely a little skewed.
It’s pretty clear from looking at the chart above that the vast majority of athletes who did iron distance races in the US in 2015 did them as a branded M-Dot race.
The bottom line here is that the options for athletes wanting to do an iron-distance triathlon that is not an Ironman brand race are severely limited. And even shrinking.
Well documented is the fact that Ironman purchased the historic Vineman race earlier this year and discontinued the iron distance race. The pool of race candidates appears to be shrinking even further, with the rumored sale of Setup, Inc’s Beach to Battleship (a popular independent race in North Carolina) to Ironman.
This leaves not even a full handful of non-Ironman branded races for an athlete to consider: Rev3 Triathlon’s Cedar Point race, Sommer Sports’ Great Floridian Triathlon, Michigan Titanium, and the full distance races that HITS puts on at each of their venues.
Here’s the issue: if you read Triathlon bulletin boards, blogs and websites, tons and tons of athletes bemoan the race experience and product that Ironman puts on. They complain about entering the water with close to 3000 other racers. They hate the blatant drafting that happens at some races. And they complain about the cookie cutter approach taken for race medals and swag. All that being said, athletes still sign up for Ironman brand races as if they are going out of style. Many races still sell out within minutes or days of opening to the public.
Certainly one could argue that first-timers personify the word ironman with the brand Ironman. Why wouldn’t they? M-Dot does a hell of a job marketing their races and brand. They have an awesome TV show that inspires lots of newbies to take up the sport. They put their logo on everything from watches to mattresses to people’s leg.
But if so many people talk about not liking M-Dot and hating certain aspects of their races, I don’t understand why people don’t sign up for other brands’ races?
I mean, seriously?! HITS races averaged just 28 athletes per full distance race – and that average was skewed by Palm Springs (which had 129 athletes). Most of their races had fewer than 20 athletes! Neither Challenge Atlantic City nor Rev3’s Cedar Point race had more than a couple of hundred athletes.
The two biggest independent races were Beach to Battleship and Great Floridian – both with slightly less than 500 athletes each.
I just don’t get it. People complain about M-Dot, but don’t sign up for other brands.
And therein lies the problem. Without a sufficient athlete population at a particular venue, putting on an iron distance race just isn’t an economically viable proposition. I have no idea what a break-even point might be in terms of the required number of athletes at a race, but I’m positive that said break-even is higher than 20 athletes.
If we athletes really do want an alternative to Ironman branded full distance triathlons, then we need to step up and support some of the independent races. Go sign up for Rev3’s Cedar Point race. Go do Great Floridian. Do a HITS race.
Because if you don’t, in just a few years, I am not positive that there will be such a thing as an independent iron distance race. The smaller races will likely fold. The bigger races may get gobbled up.
And that lack of race diversity makes me sad.