Friday, June 27, 2014

Triathlon in the Wall Street Journal! Discuss...

It's not actually that rare for triathlon and specifically Ironman to be featured in a Wall Street Journal article. The WSJ seems to have an affinity for Ironman coverage although I was unaware of this until I googled "Ironman Wall Street Journal" not five minutes ago. What led me to that particular Google search? Well, this particular article, which I saw posted in r/triathlon (the triathlon subreddit) a few days ago.

Take a read, if you can, though I'll go ahead and TL;DR for all you lazies. The article summarizes a struggle that's currently happening between Ironman branded races and independent long and ultra distance races. A long course triathlon is typically (and perhaps detrimentally) known as a half-Ironman. This entails a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run. An ultra distance triathlon is traditionally known as an Ironman and entails double the aforementioned distances (2.4, 112, 26.2 miles, respectively).

For anyone I haven't lectured about this, it's important to know that Ironman is not a race distance, but a brand. Are all Ironman (or half Ironman) races ultra (or long course) distances? Yes. Are all ultra and long course races Ironmans? No. Much like all squares are parallelograms but not all parallelograms are squares.

The Ironman brand is owned and run by the World Triathlon Corporation and most people will recognize it as having a sort of (if not an actual) monopoly over the industry. As is stated in the article, many Ironman races sell out within minutes of registration opening. Independent races on the other hand, some most noticeably produced by HITS or Rev3, often struggle to register 100 participants despite the fact that fees are almost always lower than those of Ironman races.

That's the main takeaway, though there are a couple other good points made in the article. The fact that many finishers like getting a tattoo of the Ironman logo and that triathletes can only qualify for Kona (the holy grail of triathlon entries) by placing extremely well at an Ironman are two. Interestingly, the article does mention two independent ultra distance races that don't seem to hurt for registrants. These are Beach2Battlship, which I did last year, and Vineman. I think it is important to note, though, that both cap their registrations at around 700 participants versus the thousands that usually compete in Ironman events.

There is a really good quote at the end of the article that makes the point that after someone completes one or even a few Ironman events, the importance of the brand fades quite a bit. I related to this a lot. Once I'd done an Ironman, I didn't feel a particular need to pay the premiums for those events and looked to find something a little more affordable for my second. Although I think I might be able to qualify for Boston maybe, someday, I am infinitely less optimistic that I would ever be able to qualify for Kona. Therefore, it's not all that important to me if my long or ultra distance triathlons are independently run. On the other hand, one of my coaches at Everyday Triathlete was very intent on qualifying for Kona and it made sense for him to only compete in Ironman races to accomplish this.

I don't often get comments, but if anyone is so inclined, here are two discussion points:

1. If you have completed an Ironman or ever plan to, have or would you get an M Dot (the Ironman logo) tattoo? Why?

2. Would it be important to you that your first long course or ultra distance race be an Ironman event? Why?


  1. 2. Nah, I don't care about the brand. As long as the services provided by the organizers are comparable, it doesn't matter.

  2. 1. I've done 1/2's but no intentions of doing a full. Even if I did a full, I wouldn't get a tattoo since I'm not a fan of tattoos to begin with. If I was, I wouldn't need to get an IM logo tat just to show off that I did one. With the right amount of training and dedication, anyone can do one. However, if I was in the Olympics, I'm totally getting the rings as a tattoo.

    2. Not really. I like to build up to things, not just go out and do something with no or little experience.